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How to Stop Obsessing About Your Ex’s New Relationship

How to Stop Obsessing About Your Ex’s New Relationship

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She’s the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Until now you’ve been handling your divorce or break-up process well. You’ve gone through the confusion of whether to stay or go, and all the angst and hard decisions that come with leaving. But you’ve been coping.

Then you found out that your Ex is sleeping with someone new.

Now, waves of rage, pain, self-doubt, and resentment are crashing over you. “Coping” has been overwhelmed by a storm of emotion. It feels like your blood has been replaced with Arctic seawater: Frozen and stinging at the same time.

What’s worse? It. Is. All. You. Can. Think. About.

Are they on the motorcycle right now? He’s probably taking her to that restaurant I always wanted to go to that he said was too expensive. Are they holding hands right now? I bet they’re kissing. Maybe they are having sex right this very second. They probably skipped the motorcycle ride and decided to spend the day in bed. We used to do that…

In your mind’s eye you play out scenes from your life together. Except your role is being played by someone who might be sexier, more fun or more interesting. You see your Ex — the happy, sweet, fun one you first fell in love with — sharing the best parts of themselves (and hiding the rest).

It’s worst at night, when there are no distractions. The joy and passion you envision for them is made all the more cruel by the stark contrast to your own silent bed. You lay sleepless, writhing in agony at the injustice. You want to stop thinking about it but you can’t. You feel trapped… in your own head.

Believe it or not, the part of your brain that sees things in your mind’s eye cannot differentiate between something that you’re thinking about and something that is actually happening. So when you’re imagining your Ex and their new sex partner making out on the couch, you react to it emotionally (and physically) like you were seeing it happen right in front of you: Your heart starts racing, you feel nauseous, and you are filled with pain and rage.

Being victimized by these intrusive images is incredibly traumatizing. Ruminating does not bring any value to your healing process. Instead, it keeps you from moving forward.

In order to rescue yourself from the impotent madness of this obsession, you must learn and practice three new skills very deliberately, every day, until you’re in the clear: Self-Awareness, Mindfulness, and Shifting.

1. Self Awareness

Self Awareness is the ability to think about what you’re thinking about, and the fact that you are having an internal experience—not an actual experience. It sounds simple, but it’s very easy to get swept away in our thoughts without even noticing what’s happening.

The practice:

As soon as you become aware that you are thinking about your Ex, say, (out loud, if necessary) “I am thinking about something that is not happening right now.”

2. Mindfulness

Recognize that your vivid thoughts are activating all these scary, painful feelings, but in reality nothing bad is actually happening to you right now. You are sitting at a table, eating a bowl of cereal. You are breathing. Anchoring yourself to the reality of the present moment by using your senses creates a protective barrier between you and intrusive thoughts.

The practice:

Look: Notice what your phone / tablet / laptop looks like right now. Notice the colors, shapes, things you can see in the room around you.

Hear: What are you aware of hearing, right now? Yammering in a coffee shop. Music through your headphones. The hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen.

Feel: The chair under your butt. Your feet on the floor. The breath in your nostrils. The aching feeling of heartbreak in your core. Emotions are really just physical sensations. That’s why they are called feelings. Notice how your body feels, in the present moment, without judgment.

3. Shifting

You’ve broken the obsession, and are in the safe space of reality. The third step to stop intrusive thoughts about your Ex is to intentionally shift your attention to something positive or pleasurable.

For example, you can shift to thinking about going to lunch with a friend this afternoon, or weekend plans. If shifting mentally is too hard you can also shift your attention to something that is happening in the present moment: Watching a movie, listening to music, or petting your dog.

Shifting is important because the thoughts we habitually think about get stronger. When you practice shifting, the intrusive thoughts about your Ex will get weaker.

Putting It All Together

You get stabbed in the brain with the image of your Ex having hot sex with the new person.

  1. Become aware that you are having a thought about something that isn’t happening right now.
  2. Shift your attention to physical reality: The color of the table, the taste of your tea, your heart pounding in your chest.
  3. Then, very deliberately, think about going skiing with your friend this weekend.
  4. Repeat as needed. (And plan on doing this many times a day, at first).

Shifting your awareness or distracting yourself does not mean that you are avoiding or stuffing your feelings. “Obsessing” is not the same thing as “Processing.” It’s mentally picking at a scab that you are not allowing to heal. You have to get unstuck from the obsession phase in order for healthy new growth to occur.

I hope that these techniques are helpful to you. I’d like to hear your thoughts about them. If you have other practices that you’ve used successfully, please share your strategies in the comments so that others who may be hurting can benefit from your wisdom.

— Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

How to Survive a Breakup Over The Holidays

How to Survive a Breakup Over The Holidays

It’s not “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year” when your heart is broken.

Even if the holiday season usually delights you, it’s hard to be cheerful when you’re consumed by painful memories of holidays past. The first year post-breakup, or post-divorce, can be especially traumatic. Everything reminds you of your Ex, and the fact that you are not together anymore. Thinking about the ice skating rink that you held hands at last year, how you’re going to explain this to your anxious Grandma, or even the sight of sparkling lights is enough to throw you into a heavy state of sadness.

The holiday season can also feel particularly lonely if you’re nursing a broken heart. Emotional pain feels isolating and difficult to share when it seems like everyone else is happy and having a good time. And of course the last thing you want to do is go to a party when 1) you need to fake cheerful “okay-ness” and / or 2) you’re worried about running into your Ex or their friends. That’s not even taking into consideration how challenging it is for the newly single to to negotiate high impact social situations without their usual “plus 1.”

In short: this time of year makes a hard situation feel even harder.

If you’re like most people in this position you probably have lots of questions: “How should I handle myself in certain situations?” “Should I even try to go to parties this year, or should I lay low?” “How do I take care of myself?” and “Will this loneliness and pain ever end?”

Truthfully, the answers to those questions are not always easy or simple. The answers really depend on where you are in the breakup recovery process. On this edition of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I’m going to walk you through the stages of healing after a breakup, and show you how to actually use the opportunity of this challenging time of year to move your “heartbreak healing process” forward more quickly.

Not only will your “what to do” questions be answered, but you’ll also get a good roadmap for the recovery process ahead. I hope that this information will help you invest in yourself, and make the coming year a fresh, positive new chapter of your life.

All the best to you,
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

How To Survive a Breakup Over The Holidays

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | Love, Happiness & Success

Music Credits: “Another Lonely Christmas,” by Prince

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Are You Obsessing About Your Ex?

Are you craving contact with your Ex, even though you know it's bad for you? Are you "stalking" your Ex through social media? Are you awake at night rehashing old memories? Are you feeling stuck in sadness, anger, or guilt, and wishing you could just let go, and move on?

Help is here.

Heal Your Broken Heart: The Online Breakup Recovery Class

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is a breakup recovery expert, and she has helped countless people all over the world heal their broken hearts. Now her guidance is available to you through an affordable, online class. 

Heal Your Broken Heart teaches you how to:

Decide If You Should Try Again • Release Your Emotional Attachment • Find Forgiveness • Repair Your Self Esteem • Stop Obsessing • Restore Your Inner Peace • Trust Again •  Love After Loss

Are You an EXaholic?

Are You an EXaholic?

 When You Can’t Get Over Your Breakup…

Have you been struggling with intense pain over the end of your relationship? Maybe for longer than your friends and family think you ought to? In my experience, many people struggling with heartbreak worry that something is wrong with them for taking it so hard and “not being able to get over it.”  Some breakups are easier to cope with than others. Sometimes, it’s just a break up. Sometimes, you become an “Exaholic.”  Learn the difference and how to help yourself move on from an unwanted attachment to another person…

Why Relationships End

Regrettably, relationships end. Neglected marriages can be overgrown with the relational equivalent of cancer, festering malignant hurts so deep that not even the best marriage counselor in the world can restore the trust and goodwill. (Though like cancer treatment, early detection plus prompt treatment with evidence-based marriage counseling can often blast it into remission). Other times couples with great chemistry, over time, discover insurmountable fractures and persistently grinding fault lines between their personalities and core values. Sometimes, for mysterious reasons, one person is just less “into” the other. They apologetically leave, guilty and relieved, while their blindsided partner is left to cope with the devastation of the rejection, and their suddenly empty life.

The stories and circumstances of everyone’s relationship are unique, but the core cause of breakups is always the same: One person stopped believing that the other can ever be who they need them to be. The rest is details. When hope of improvement is lost, the relationship is over. Even if the couple is still going through the motions of cohabitation and daily life for the time being.

How do I know so much about the anatomy of breakups? As a marriage counselor and relationship coach I’ve helped literally hundreds of people repair and rebuild their relationships. But some couples show up at the door with situations that can’t be repaired. They’ve waited too long, or they are fundamentally incompatible. In these instances, one partner often stays in counseling with me to work through the loss. We walk through their divorce recovery or breakup recovery process together.

Love: The Mother of All Addictions

Through this work I discovered an important concept that has revolutionized the way we think about breakups and their recovery. I’ve written about the science behind relationships and breakups extensively in my award winning book, Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to An Ex Love,”  but here’s the punchline: Love is addictive. (Want more? Read Polly Drew’s article about Exaholics on Recovery.org).

It makes sense, when you think about it. Nature has built us to bond, fiercely, to one “irreplaceable other” just as we must attach deeply to our children. The literal survival of our species depends on the strength of these attachments. This is powerful, primal stuff. We have survival drives that compels us towards love and bonding. And when those bonds are broken against our will, the pain is unlike any other. It’s like every cell in your body is protesting the disconnection, screaming for reunion.

What Are Exaholics?

I think of “Exaholics” as people who have bonded, at a deep chemical and emotional level, with someone in the context of an unsustainable relationship. There is nothing necessarily wrong here, except the circumstance. When two compatible people become fiercely bonded to each other in the context of a healthy, sustainable relationship it is an epic love story that lasts a lifetime. But sometimes people become intensely bonded to people who can’t be good long-term partners. (Read: Are You Addicted to a Toxic Relationship?) When the relationship inevitably ends, they have the harrowing experience of being thrust into a biological / emotional / psychological state that has a lot in common with the withdrawal from other addictive substances: Obsession, craving, and compulsions for a “fix.”

Signs You are an Exaholic:

  1. You cannot stop thinking about your Ex, even though you want to
  2. You fantasize about getting back together, even if you know the relationship was bad for you
  3. You crave their love and approval, even through you know you don’t want to care
  4. You do things you know you shouldn’t to maintain your connection to them (stalking them online, pumping friends for information, accepting “friends with benefits” arrangements).
  5. You have intense and persistent feelings of anger, hurt, regret, guilt that don’t get better with time.
  6. Other relationships, even good ones, don’t feel the Ex-shaped-void in your life
  7. You feel like your friends and family don’t understand why you feel the way you do
  8. Your self-esteem has been damaged, and you feel ashamed that “you can’t just get over it”

But What About “Normal” Breakups?

Here’s the confusing part: Not everyone goes bananas during every break up. Why? What’s the difference between an “Exaholic” and someone going through a “normal” break up? We all know lots of people who rationally decided a relationship was wrong for them, returned the key and went on their way. You’ve probably done that yourself at least once in your life. Yes, you may have spent some time feeling sad, eating too much ice cream, daydreaming about the past, and feeling the absence of your once-present companion. But you also thought about how “it’s better this way,” and knew, in your heart, that this relationship really needed to end. You didn’t feel like you were slowly dying in the flaming pit of unrequited love.

There are lots of reasons why not every one descends into Exaholic madness with every single breakup, but I’ll distill it into the two big ones for you:

  1. You didn’t feel that intense of a connection with that particular person
  2. You came to terms with the need for the split (and grieved the loss) before the relationship ended

Again, neither of these circumstances is better or worse, or more emotionally unhealthy or more virtuous than bonding deeply. It just is what it is. It’s not your fault that you felt that way when you did the breaking up. More so, it doesn’t mean anything terrible about you if your Ex is inhabiting this space either. (Even though I understand that it might feel like it).  Similarly, being an “Exaholic” doesn’t mean anything about you except that you cared deeply about this person. 

You CAN Get Over Your Breakup

The good news is that healing and recovery is possible. You can stop hurting, get your life back, and rebuild your self esteem. While this doesn’t necessarily get better with time (as your well-meaning friends and family tell you earnestly, I’m sure) there is a path through heartbreak and into peace. The first step is establishing connection with a safe person or group to help you process your pain, and support you in the deeper work of healing.

So here’s my question for you? Who are your “safe” people that you can turn to for non-judgmental support? Make your short list, and plan to be in contact with them regularly for the time being. If no one readily comes to mind I sincerely hope that you take positive action on your own behalf and get some. You can try the free online support group available at www.exaholics.com, google “divorce support groups” in your area, or consider getting involved in supportive therapy. Breakups are isolating, and it will be worse for you if you try to go it alone. Be brave, reach out, and let caring people help support you on your journey.

All my best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

For more information and advice on handling your breakup, check out this free Q & A Webinar from exaholics.com:

 

 

Dr. Lisa's Blog & Podcast

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The First Step in Recovering From a Breakup: Validation

The First Step in Recovering From a Breakup: Validation

I’m a therapist now, and often help people heal from the pain of a breakup or divorce. But I wasn’t always. I think one of the reasons I have so much genuine compassion for people going through heartbreak is because I’ve been there too.

One of the most harrowing, soul crushing life experiences I’ve ever had was during a break up. I was very young, barely in high school.  I was too young, looking back now, to handle the emotional intensity of that relationship — but it was what it was. My parent’s unhappy marriage had become a pressure cooker of resentments that was finally cracking and pulling apart at the seams. While my mom and dad were preoccupied with their own problems I developed a deep connection with… let’s call him James. He was my age, but seemed older: Passionate, intense, demanding. Neither of us had much else to attach to, so we clung to each other.  We spent every every day together, every night on the phone. He drove me to school, and carried my books. He loved me intensely and my fragile self felt strengthened by that love. If James thought I was so special, then maybe I was. For the first time in my life I felt important, and irreplaceable. His love made me worth something.

We were together for two years. (The equivalent of two decades, in high school years). We were the ever-stable unit within in a group of friends that was my world. I’m not exactly sure when the attraction began between he and my best friend, Laura. But during the summer when I was sixteen I felt things changing. The love I’d come to depend on from him faded. He seemed remote, and irritable with me. The mirror he held up that had once shown me that I was cherished now showed me that I was annoying. But our love was something that I’d come to depend on, and it seemed as certain as gravity.  I wanted him to be happy with me again, but when I asked about the emotional detachment I was feeling from him, he agreed… and said he wanted to break up. I was shocked. But it was done.

I felt like I’d been kicked out of Eden, and into a nightmarish dream-world of pain and betrayal. Laura lived across the street from me. Late at night, I sat in darkness, fanning cigarette smoke out the window and listening to music that was even darker, and watched James’s nocturnal visits to Laura’s house. Watched him slipping into Laura’s bedroom, conveniently located just behind the sliding glass door on the ground level (her parents sleeping in ignorance, three stories above). Other nights I watched her silently run to the waiting car packed with friends — my friends — that was idling, headlights off, at the bottom of the hill. I watched them all drive away to the subversive, smokey midnight gatherings that had been the glue of my teenage social life, while I sat alone in the darkness, envisioning the two most important people in my world with their arms wrapped around each other in the dark backseat of the car.

I felt like my guts had been scooped out and replaced with broken glass. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t speak without my voice cracking into tears. I felt like I walked the halls of my high school covered in blood, enveloped in a repellant fog of aching vulnerability. I had lost. A career politician is less sensitive to falling political power than a sixteen year old, and my former friends set their gaze firmly on distant objects over my shoulder as we passed in the hall. James had moved on, taking my value with him. They confirmed his judgment. I was worthless.

I felt trapped, and entirely powerless. I had to go to school. I had to see them every day, and watch them every night. I couldn’t get away. I had to sit in classes, watching notes being passed, plans being made, eyes being rolled in my direction. Every day brought a new trauma to endure.

It was around this time that my parents brought me to see a shrink. This was my first experience, and I was hopeful. She was youthful, with curly hair in a banana clip, and the stiff nebula of fluffy bangs arranged into a cupcake on her forehead that was so prized by my peers. I told her what was happening to me; as best I could. I told her that my boyfriend and best friend across the street were together now, and that I had been abandoned by all my friends. What I really meant to say was, “I am dying. Help me.” She apparently heard me say, “It’s just Puppy Love, I’m fine,” so she smiled kindly, gave me a relationship book, and told me that I should get more exercise. I drove to the trail-head and sat in my car, and looked at it for awhile, chain smoking cigarettes with tears rolling down my face. I knew that there was no help for me.

No one in my life had tolerance for my being a seething mess of pain. My parents were anxious about me, but had no idea what to do. Once when I was crying hysterically, my mother offered me a whiskey sour. I’d been trivialized by my therapist. I felt entirely alone. I was flailing. I started asking teachers that I felt close to for advice: My science teacher said that it would just take time to get over. My piano teacher listened with great compassion, and told me that it was James’s fault. But my psychology teacher, Mrs. Gibbs, really saw me. She got it. And I will never forget what she said:

“My high school break up was worse than my divorce. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through.”

And in that moment, I felt the first peace and healing that I’d felt in months. To have another human being validate the fact that what was happening was horribly traumatizing to me, was an incredibly meaningful and important piece on my journey of healing. I felt like I was drowning, and Mrs. Gibbs threw me a life ring. Her words didn’t pull me out, but they did keep me afloat. I wasn’t crazy. There wasn’t something wrong with me because I was so devastated. It was real.

And that is what I’d like to offer you today: Simple acknowledgment of the fact that what you are going through is agonizing, traumatizing, and very difficult to heal from. You might think you should just be able to “get over it.” That is simply not true. (Here’s lots more information on that subject if you’re curious about why I can say that with such certainty). You have every right in the world to be sad, grieving, and even afraid. The life that you had just got exploded into little bits and thrown in the air, and the pieces are going to be swirling and reassembling themselves for a long time. And some of those pieces may have names like “Rage,” “Fear,” “Guilt,” “Rejection,” and “Pain,” not to mention the experience so profane that there is not a word for it in our language: The experience of being victimized by someone you thought loved you. Perhaps there is some nifty 19 syllable German word that combines “the pain of betrayal” with “shame of rejection.” If not, let’s put it in the suggestion box.

If you take anything from my story, let it be this: As much as the people in your life might want you to — as much as YOU probably want to — you cannot “just get over it.” There is nothing wrong with you because you feel this way. Other people — every one, in fact — goes through this too, sooner or later. And as horrible as this experience is, you can heal. I know this, because my sixteen year old self grew up to be a shrink. What I do for a living now is walk into the darkness to find people, and help them back out. I’ve walked this journey many times now, and I know how to help people heal. I’ve shared a lot about what I’ve learned, in other articles, in my podcast, and I’ve even written a book on the subject of breakup recovery.

Step one in healing: Know that your pain is valid, legitimate, and understandable. It is okay to not be okay for awhile. And you are not alone. There is support for you. Send me a private message on Facebook if you’d like me to add you to our secret online breakup recovery support of people in the same situation. And I’d also like you to know what I know now (that I did NOT know as a kid, but would have shortened my suffering by years if I had) is that there is also a path to healing. If you’d ever like my help with that, I’m here.

With all the best to you on your journey of recovery…

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Growing Self Counseling & Coaching
Growing Self
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