A woman stares off into the distance looking sad representing why you miss your ex

If you’re going through a breakup, it’s totally normal to miss your Ex. But it can also be a confusing experience. You might wonder, Why do I miss my Ex when I know the relationship was bad for me? Or, Why do I still miss my Ex when I was the one who ended it?

You want to recover from your breakup or divorce, heal your heart, and move forward — but you’re still longing for your Ex, months or even years down the road. You might wonder if you’ll ever stop missing your Ex, and that thought can make you feel broken and hopeless. 

I’ve worked with many heartbroken clients in breakup therapy who want more than anything to get over their Ex, but they don’t know how. I’ve become something of an accidental breakup recovery expert over the years, and I even wrote a book called “Exhaholics” about healing from heartache. I wrote this article to help you, too. Read on to learn all about the most common reasons people get stuck after a breakup or divorce, and the steps you can take to stop missing your Ex and start moving forward today. 

If you’d prefer to listen, I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on why you miss your Ex and what to do about it. You can find it in the player below, or on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Why Do I Miss My Ex So Much?

Missing your Ex doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It just means that your brain still has an emotional attachment to someone who is no longer in your life. Your feelings are a sign that you haven’t been able to detach from your Ex yet, grieve the loss, and move on — but you can, and the fact that you’re reading this is a sign that you will. 

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Releasing your attachment is always a painful stage of a breakup or divorce. But in my experience helping people heal their broken hearts, I’ve seen a few other factors that can make it more difficult for you to “get over” your breakup and stop missing your Ex. 

One of these factors is wounded self-esteem. Losing a relationship causes you to doubt your worth, especially if you were the unwilling dumpee. If you’re pining for your Ex, you may be craving their validation, love, and approval, not because of how wonderful it was to be in a relationship with your Ex, but because you are feeling crappy about yourself thanks to their rejection. This common experience is in the same neighborhood as missing your Ex, but it’s actually different. 

Another place where people get stuck is in idealization. You may have a tendency to idealize people who reject you, especially if you grew up with a critical, rejecting, or emotionally detached parent. If you haven’t yet healed from rejection and repaired your self-esteem after your breakup, you may be idealizing your Ex and missing a version of them that doesn’t really exist. 

You could also be idealizing the relationship itself. Losing someone you’re attached to is painful, even if your breakup was for the best. The deep part of your brain that’s hooked on your Ex doesn’t understand the long-term benefits of breaking up. It only knows that you are hurting right now, and so it makes up a story about how positive your relationship was and how terrible it is that you’ve lost it to make sense of how you feel. Even though you know intellectually that there’s much more to the story, it still feels true because it matches up with your pain. 

Another big sticking point can be the loss of all of the other things that were connected to your life with your Ex. Particularly if you’re going through a divorce, losing your relationship doesn’t just mean losing your Ex. It can also mean losing your home, your financial stability, your pets, your social circle, and full-time custody of your children. Even if you weren’t married, your feelings about losing the life you had (or wanted to have) with your Ex are likely tangled up with your feelings about losing the relationship itself.

Rumination can be another culprit when someone is stuck missing their Ex. Constantly thinking about your Ex can be a way for your mind to “stay in touch” after you’ve cut the cord, which will prolong your attachment, and your pain. You may be fantasizing about getting back together, or worrying about how you’ll deal when your Ex moves on with someone new, or having imaginary arguments with your Ex in your head. When you’re ruminating, your Ex becomes a squatter in your brain, draining your emotional resources and not paying any rent. It feels like you’re missing your Ex, but you’re actually oversaturated by them. 

Odds are, more than one of these “sticking points” applies to you if you’re missing your Ex. Once you’re clear about where you’re getting stuck, then you can begin to wriggle free. 

What to Do when You Miss Your Ex

So, what should you do in the moments when you miss your Ex? 

It’s one thing to sit in a therapist’s office and discuss how you’ve been feeling about your breakup or divorce, and it’s another thing to ride the waves of painful feelings as they wash over you. What tools can you use to cope when you’re alone at two in the morning and the only thing you want in the world is to be held by your Ex? 

The first tool in your toolbox is self-awareness. That means knowing how you feel, but also having some insight into where your feelings are coming from. When your brain is shouting at you that you want your Ex, try to trace that feeling back to the thoughts that are producing it. Maybe you’re feeling bad about yourself and you want your Ex to offer you love and validation so that you can feel better. Maybe you feel anxious about the uncertain future that you’re now creating on your own and you’re longing for the known quantity of life with your Ex. 

When you see the cause-and-effect relationship between your thoughts and your feelings, it helps you gain distance from them. It also helps you climb back in the driver’s seat and begin choosing thoughts that help you feel better rather than worse. More on that later. 

The next tool in your toolbelt is self-compassion. Heartbreak hurts. Don’t make it any harder than it has to be by beating yourself up for your “mistakes,” invalidating the way you feel, or pushing yourself to “get over it” on some made-up timeline. 

Instead, focus on offering yourself emotional self-care. You can start by thinking about what it is you feel like you need from your Ex and then finding a way to give that to yourself. Do you need their love? An apology? Validation? Forgiveness? You have the power to give yourself all of these things, and that’s what will actually move you forward in your healing process. 

Another tool is reminding yourself that the relationship was, at the very least, a mixed bag. I know this for certain because it ended. Either the relationship wasn’t sustainable for you and so you had to call it quits, or you were with someone who chose to leave you. That is just not good enough. You deserve to be in a healthy relationship with someone who loves you and is committed to you. I know there were other downsides to the relationship as well, and reminding yourself of these can help you stop idealizing a failed relationship and stop missing your Ex. 

Finally, whatever you do, don’t reach out to your Ex. It can feel like you need to get “closure,” or have sex with your Ex one last time, or tell your Ex how you feel, or try to become “friends” with your Ex. These are the self-defeating games that heartbroken people play with themselves. The true path to healing and moving on is allowing your attachment to fully fade away (and it will, I promise). 

How to Stop Missing Your Ex for Good

These are the strategies that will help you ride the waves of missing your Ex. But how can you stop those waves from coming once and for all?

You can start by allowing yourself to mourn your true losses. Even though the relationship with your Ex was not good enough to last, there were parts of it that were positive. It was a big part of your life. There are things about your Ex that you loved and that you miss. You may also be missing a dream about what your future could have been, which is a real and valid loss. Allow yourself to grieve these losses, while leaving space for the complex reality of life with your Ex. 

You also need to build up your self-esteem. Remind yourself as many times as you need to that, no matter what happened in this relationship, you are worthy of love and respect. You deserve to be healthy, happy, and well, even if you made mistakes or if someone else didn’t see your value. If you find yourself reflexively shrinking away from these statements, that’s a sign that you could really benefit from working with a good therapist to improve your self-esteem. 

Another important step in healing is making meaning out of your experience. This process is an active one, and it requires creativity. It involves writing your own story (mentally, or on literal paper if you need to) about what happened in your relationship, why it happened, what you learned, and what happens next for you. These are all things that you get to decide — no one else can do this for you. When you find the story that makes you feel the strongest, most hopeful, and most empowered, that is the correct one. Then, tell yourself that story as many times as you need to. This can help you put an end to rumination, create closure, and stop missing your Ex. 

As you look toward your future, think about what would have needed to be different about this relationship in order for it to be sustainable for you. What do you need from a good life partner that you couldn’t get from your Ex? How has this experience changed your approach to dating and relationships going forward? Answering these questions for yourself helps you reclaim your agency, especially if you were rejected. There are reasons that this relationship was not good enough for you, even if you got dumped — find those reasons and make a plan to not recreate them in your next relationship.

Support for Healing from Heartbreak

Longing for your Ex is a painful place to be. But the process of recovering from heartbreak is also an opportunity to grow as a person, become a better friend to yourself, increase your self-esteem, take charge of your story, and begin writing a positive new chapter. 

This is valuable work, and I know you have what it takes to do it. If you would like support from a breakup recovery counselor or coach on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby 

P.S. — I’ve created a “healing after heartbreak” collection of articles and podcasts to help you feel better, let go, and move forward. I hope you’ll take advantage of it — it’s all there for you!

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Why You Miss Your Ex (and What to Do About It)

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. If your relationship has ended and you’re missing your ex so much, this one’s for you. On today’s show, we’re talking about the growth process that will move you from feeling sad to actually feeling good after a relationship ends, and I’m glad you’re here. 

Setting the mood for today’s show is the band Perfume Genius with the song On the Floor, which pretty well captures what it feels like to be stuck in this grief that feels like you can’t move forward from. Learn more about Perfume Genius on their Bandcamp page, perfumegenius.bandcamp.com.

If you’re going through a hard breakup or divorce, one of the things that can be so difficult is really missing your ex. Even if you know the relationship wasn’t awesome or if you know that it’s permanently over, missing your ex anyway can be frustrating, especially if you would like to just move on with your life. And it can also be so painful, keeping you stuck in the house sad feelings of longing or remorse or wishing that things were different.

On today’s episode, we’re going to be talking about what to do when you miss your ex. And you know what that’s about, first of all, but also some cognitive strategies and new ideas that can help you begin to shift that so that you can heal and grow and reclaim your emotional peace, get closure, and ultimately move on mentally and emotionally. So much to discuss on this topic. And so you know, today, I’m going to be referencing different articles that I’ve written or different podcasts that I recorded around this subject in the past.

You can find all of those on our blog at growingself.com. So come to growingself.com/blog-podcast. And from there, you’ll enter the Happiness Collection of content. And there you’ll see a heartbreak, what are we calling it, healing after heartbreak? Yes, I believe that that is what the collection was called, Healing after Heartbreak. And there, you’ll have access to all of the different podcasts, I made a Spotify playlist for you with all the relevant podcasts. Also, access to different articles that I have written or different counselors and coaches on my team here Growing Self have written.

In addition, we’ll be talking about different articles and ideas and podcasts that are featured in the Emotional Wellness Collection too. So both of those would be relevant places for you to get more information, and, you know, get the links of resources that we’ll be discussing here today. 

Just to dive into this, let’s talk about why it is so normal to miss your ex after a relationship has ended and what you can do about it in order to feel like just more emotionally free of this. So the first thing to know is that if you’re going through a breakup or a divorce, it is totally normal to miss your ex. Even if like rationally, you have a lot of reasons why it wasn’t a great experience or if your ex was like not good for you or even mean to you, you might still miss them anyway. 

This can be really, really confusing. Like, you know, why do I miss my ex when I know this relationship was bad for me? Or why do I miss my ex if I broke up with them? This is even a thing. And of course, you know this can be pronounced if you’re not the one that ended the relationship. If you may have wanted to continue the relationship but they ended things with you. That feeling of missing your ex and then longing for them and you’ve been pining away from them can be even more intensely felt.

It’s important to know that if you really want to recover emotionally, mentally from this breakup or divorce, and heal your heart and move forward, this connection to their memory this longing for them can be a major obstacle to healing. It can also persist for a very long time, like even months or sometimes years later, people can still be missing their ex. And if that’s true for you, you might be wondering, understandably like, “Will I ever stop missing my axe?” And that, you know, reality can make you feel even a little hopeless like, “Oh my gosh, it’s been years and I’m still thinking about this. Is it ever going to be different for me?”

Again, just transparently, like I have worked with so many people in breakup therapy, divorce counseling, coaching, who want more than anything to get over their ex, but they legitimately don’t know how. And I know, I’ve talked on past podcasts, but I became something of an accidental breakup recovery expert, but because of really specializing in couples counseling, and then sometimes working with couples for whom change transformation was not possible, often because they either waited too long, or were going through something that was so catastrophic, that it wasn’t able to be repaired. 

But then in the aftermath of that was sitting with a broken-hearted person on my couch, and then shifting into, okay, “How do I help this person heal after this?” And so from that, I wound up writing a book called Exaholics, about healing from heartbreak. And it has become kind of a passion project, a subspecialty of mine. And so I have a lot of passion for this topic. And, I hope that what we talk about on today’s episode will help you understand why you get stuck in memories after a breakup or divorce, and the steps that you can take to begin releasing that attachment and start moving forward.

First of all, as usual, I want to crack into the biology of this a little bit so that you can understand why you miss your ex so much. The first thing that you need to know here is that missing your ex does not mean that there’s something wrong with you. It means that you’re your brain, your body, your attachment, you have maintained an emotional attachment, an attachment bond to someone who is no longer part of your life.

The fact that you are missing your ex or thinking about them all the time is simply a sign that you still have an attachment bond to your ex that needs to be worked through. You have not yet done all of the work and moved through all of the stages of healing and recovery that will help you move on. And so that’s why you feel the way that you do. But the fact is that you can do this work and you know, that you’re listening to this podcast, obviously, is a sign that you are committed to learning and growing in the ways that will help you be able to do that.

Releasing an attachment bond is always painful. Remember, humans are built to bond, it is what we do. We were born this way. And the fact that you bonded to another human is not a sign of something being problematic. And it is a sign that you are a normal and healthy, fully functional person that forms attachment bonds to other people, right? And when a relationship has ended, then the work becomes “How do I release this attachment bond?”

Because if you don’t release the attachment bond, you will continue feeling badly about the relationship not being in existence. You will miss your ex, you’ll think about them all the time, you’ll fantasize about getting back together, you will compare other people that you’re now dating to what your ex was. Then again, it doesn’t necessarily even mean anything about your ex or about the relationship itself. It just means that you still have an attachment bond.

So let’s just take a look at this. When an attachment bond develops, it develops in the mind. Think about when you began maybe dating or thinking about your partner, your past partner who is now your ex. When we begin to develop an infatuation, a crush, an interest, a bond, we see start thinking about that person when they’re not there.

You went on a first or second or third date with a person that is now your ex and that attachment began to percolate when you’re thinking about them after the date, or on what they’re doing, or wonder what they’re thinking you imagined, who they were how they might be feeling, probably some idealization was happening. And that is the mechanism that adult attachment bonds begin with is in our minds.

Obviously, this is reinforced and consolidated and strengthened when we’re in physical contact with somebody, when we have sexual intimacy, certainly, when we begin having shared life experiences, these are things that support and build an attachment bond. But adult attachment is maintained in the mind. And you can think about it like, I don’t know if you’ve ever spent much time with like, a one-year-old. But you’ll notice, like, if you’ve ever been parent of a one-year-old, you don’t exist in their mind yet.

They’re super attached to you, that you, “my mom, my mom, or dad, dad, dad, dad”, like you are their whole universe. And when you walk out of the room, they flip out because they cannot hold a representation of you in their mind, yet. Your eight-year-old can. You can go to the grocery store and come back or they go to school for the day. And they know that you’re going to be home when they get there because you exist in their story, you exist in their mind. And so, this is how attachment bonds are maintained, and formed.

The path of healing and releasing an attachment bond also starts in the mind. So one place where people could get very, very stuck is in this, first of all, not fully taking ownership for the relationship being over. For example, if even subconsciously, you are missing certain aspects of your ex, it can mean that you haven’t really allowed yourself to grieve the ending of this relationship fully.

If, you know, maybe you have felt afraid, you have felt anxious, you have felt hurt, you have felt sad, but you know, ending a relationship is different than other kinds of deaths. Because when somebody that you love actually passes away, it is over in a very concrete way that you can’t really do anything about. But if a relationship has died, and your ex is still in existence, can be feeling a little open-ended, right? Like, ”Maybe if they changed or did some growth work, then we could have a good relationship again,” or, you know, “If they change the way that they felt about me, then we could have a good relationship again.”

It’s like, it sounds kind of counterintuitive, but in these situations, hope, like we think of hope as being a very positive thing in other aspects of our lives, and it is. And if we are indulging in hope for the relationship, like coming back to life again, even subconsciously, that is one of the things that will keep you stuck for a really long time.

Versus letting go of hope and deciding for yourself that this relationship is over and, “These are all of the reasons why I want this relationship to be over. They were not good to me. They did not love me enough to maintain a relationship with me, which by definition, is a bad relationship for me to be in. I deserve to be loved and cherished and respected by somebody who wants to be with me. And the fact that this relationship was not that disqualifies it from anything that I want to participate in.”

It’s shifting that narrative into one of empowerment. When you do that, you can expect to also be pushed into contact with intense feelings of grief and loss because one of the things that hope does is that it mitigates grief. If there might be a loophole that involves you two getting back together, you might not feel quite as sad as you would if you’re like, “And I’m never going to see them again.”

You’re going to feel really sad, when you like, embrace that and like, and you know what? “I want that to be true, I do not ever want to see this person again because they’re not good for me, and they never will be.”

An important piece of this is getting connected with a really good therapist or potentially breakup recovery coach, who can help you develop this empowering mindset and understand that the very first step in unwinding this and beginning to heal is putting yourself back in contact with your control over your narrative internally, and supporting you through the painful feelings that will come up when you do that.

The deep part of your brain that is still hooked on your ex doesn’t understand the long-term benefits of breaking up. It only knows that you’re hurting right now, and so it can make up a story about how positive your relationship was, and how terrible it is that you’ve lost it in order to make sense of how you feel. And even though you intellectually know that there’s much more to the story, that still feels true because it matches up with your pain.

The feeling part of your mind cannot tell the difference between things that you’re thinking about and things that are actually happening. And so the extent that you are feeling badly about your ex is a reflection of how much your mind is still thinking about them. And so the quicker that you can shift that, the faster that you will heal.

If you notice yourself idealizing your ex or the relationship or indulging in reunion fantasies, or comparing, you know, people to your ex, it’s also important to know that any time we are feeling rejected, it leads us to idealize the person that we imagined to be rejecting us. If on the other hand, you are the one who is doing the rejection, it leads to feelings of empowerment and being in control. So, I would encourage you to think about all of the reasons why you are rejecting your ex at this point.

One of the obstacles that you might also encounter in this work could be around wounded self-esteem. So losing a relationship can and often does, going back to this evolutionary biology, lead our self-esteem to take a dip. Either it turns into this narrative around, “It’s my fault. If I were a better person, then this person would have loved me more, or this person would have tried harder, or this person would have cared about me in a way that they didn’t.”

This can be true if you were the one that ended the relationship because you weren’t willing to tolerate it anymore. But maybe there’s still part of you that’s like, “But they could have been better if they’d really wanted to be,” right? And certainly, if the relationship ended under highly traumatic circumstances, like if you were cheated on or if somebody blindsided you with a breakup that you did not want, it’s very common for it to be very wounding towards self-esteem. 

If you’re pining away for your ex, you may be craving this validation, love, approval, not even necessarily because of how wonderful it was to be in a relationship with them but because you are now feeling so badly about yourself thanks to their rejection. And it’s important to gain awareness of that if that might be happening because, and this is very subconscious, but you’re kind of allowing your ex to hold your self-concept, to hold your worth. “If they loved you, then you would feel better. Therefore, they need to love you in order for you to feel okay.”

This is very subtle, and like it can take a lot to unwind this and put these pieces together. But if you realize that that is part of what’s going on here, the path of healing actually from the relationship and resolving that attachment is taking this part of personal power back, which is that “I need to take responsibility for how I feel, and my inner sense of well being and self-worth, I get to decide for myself as measured by my own yardstick of self-worth, and self-respect and self-esteem.”

You know “who I am,” and decide that “I am a worthy person, worthy of love and respect. And I am no longer allowing this ex to define who I am to myself,” right.? “I am responsible for how I feel. And if I am not feeling great, it is on me to figure out what needs to change in terms of my emotional management, in terms of my inner mindset, in terms of my narrative in terms, of how I am living my life and the positive things that I am building in my life, in order to restore my sense of inner peace, in order for me to help myself feel okay.”

As soon as you begin taking that power back and developing the skills and abilities to feel good about yourself and to restore an inner sense of well-being, your ex will immediately lose their significance in this equation, really. So these are some strategies that will help you stop thinking about your ex and stop missing your ex.

Another extremely fruitful area of growth here is to separate the things that you do miss from the specific person that you miss. So for example, a big sticking point when it comes to breakups, and I think this is especially true for divorce, is when people are legitimately missing and grieving for all of these other things that were connected to your life with your ex that were not like specifically about the ex like.

Iif you’re going through a divorce, and you have to sell your home, for example, your financial stability, maybe your pets, your social circle, full-time custody of your children, or dream that you had of your life. I mean, to have that dream, this vision of your shared future, be lost, that’s a huge loss. And if you weren’t married, you know that your feelings about losing the life that you had or the life that you wanted to have with your ex are tangled up with your feelings about losing the relationship itself. And so it can be extremely productive for you to unwind some of this with a good therapist or coach to help figure out, you know, “What did I actually miss about them?”

Like, “What was it like to literally be in a relationship with a specific person?” versus, you know, What was my day-to-day life like?” Then to help you be able to grieve and process those losses can then also remove this attachment to your ex. Like if your ex has become a symbol of the life that you had as opposed to that your ex was actually like a positive person in your life.

I have almost never seen relationships that have ended where it was a positive experience, even for the person who was broken up with. Like, there are reasons that relationship. And so getting clear about why that was and being able to have empowered conversations around, you know, “What were their means that I actually had, what did I deserve? What kind of relationship do I want to be in ultimately and let’s talk about all the ways that that was not actually good enough for me, you know, and yeah, I missed the life that we had I missed my envision about what our future could be. But, you know, that person did not have the qualities, the character, the ability, or even the carer for me that I really actually needed.”

That’s a totally different conversation. So, I hope that talking through some of these factors have helped you begin to think about why it is that you might be missing your ex and what you could do about it. But the biggest one that I will share is the experience of rumination itself. 

Constantly thinking about your ex, it’s like a way for that attachment to be maintained, like your mind is staying in touch with them after you’ve cut the cord, which prolongs the attachment, and also your pain, even if it’s negative. If you are still having imaginary arguments with your ex in your head about all of the reasons why you were right and they were wrong, that will maintain an attachment. And also if your ex has begun, you know, dating someone new or certainly it’s perpetuated if you’re known like a shared custody situation, mental representation representations of your ex, thinking about your ex will perpetuate the negative bad feelings. 

When you’re ruminating, it’s like your ex becomes this squatter in your brain, it’s draining these emotional resources, not paying any rent keeps you stuck. It feels like you’re missing your axe, but you’re actually you know, they’ve taken up residence in your head as opposed to genuine longing for you know what you’re missing about them. So other things that you might think about, what to do instead in these moments when your ex is swirling around in your head.

I mean, it’s one thing to sit in a therapist’s office and discuss how you’ve been feeling about your breakup or your divorce. But it’s another thing to be in contact with this, riding the waves of these painful feelings as they’re washing over you, you know, in the quiet hours, three o’clock in the morning, or first thing when you wake up or when you’re getting home from work. So let’s talk before we end about some of the tools that you can use to cope when you’re alone. 

You know, maybe what you’re imagining is being held in their arms again, and how nice those parts felt, because the other human does need to be recognized as the truth that even if a relationship didn’t have all of the pieces required to be a truly healthy, enduring relationship for you, it is, you know, almost never a thing when a relationship isn’t a mixed bag. And that even if there wasn’t enough, there were pieces that were actually really good.

Or maybe it was just getting a hug, or having somebody to shovel the sidewalk, or you know, to pick up the kids or like whatever it was, there are things that you miss and legitimately so. And so the first tool in his toolbox is your self-awareness, and that means knowing how you feel, but also having insight into where these feelings are coming from. And that’s what we were exploring in the first part of this podcast, right?

It’s like when your brain is shouting, “I want my ex, I want my ex back,” trying to trace that feeling back to the thoughts that really producing it and figuring out what it is. So maybe you’re feeling badly about yourself, it’s like that self-esteem component and you’re wanting your ex to give you that love and validation so that you could feel better emotionally. Or maybe it’s that you’re feeling anxious about your now uncertain future now that you’re out on your own and longing for that known quantity of the life with your ex like yeah, maybe it wasn’t perfect, but like I was on a trajectory, right that I felt attached to now that’s different. So sometimes that can be the source of longing. 

When you see this difference, like this cause-and-effect relationship between your thoughts and your feelings, it helps you gain some distance from them, and climb back into that driver’s seat so that you can begin choosing the thoughts that help you feel better, rather than worse. So we’ll talk a little bit more about that before we end.

The next tool in this tool belt is self-compassion and just, you know, making space for the fact that this life experience, that hurts. Having a broken heart hurts. And not to make it any harder than it has to be by beating yourself up about it. You know, this idea of “I shouldn’t feel this way anymore, it’s been nine months.” Like, no, just stop that. Stop invalidating the way that you feel or pushing yourself to get over it on like some made-up timeline, that’s not helpful.

Instead, validating the experience that you’re having and understanding that the path forward isn’t, you know, not feeling about it anymore, it’s actually digging in leaning into this emotional growth work that you need to have in order to be able to work through it effectively.

The next tool on this toolbox is emotional self-care. And you can start thinking about what this is like, if you’re thinking about what you’re needing or wanting from your ex, and then finding a way to give that to yourself. So are you craving love and affection? Are you craving an apology, validation, forgiveness, vision for your future, like whatever that is, understanding that you have the power to give yourself all of these things. And that is what will begin moving you forward in your healing process.

What do you want, and how can you access the part of yourself that can give those things to you? This is deeper work. And it’s not easy to just you know, do. But this is why working with a really good therapist or coach could be of enormous benefit, is helping mobilize this wise mind, this inner parent part of yourself to be that for you. It almost like swaps out that attachment bond that your ex still has in your mind and your heart and your physiology and replacing it with this other part of you is very, very deep and powerful work.

Then developing these cognitive strategies so that when you notice yourself idealizing or shifting into hope, having some different mindsets and ways of thinking that are reality-based and that helps support your healing. So, reminding yourself when you notice yourself idealizing your ex of all the reasons why this was actually a mixed bag, and that it didn’t have all of the pieces needed to be a whole healthy relationship because it ended, right?

Either the relationship wasn’t sustainable for you, and you had to call it quits, or you’re with someone who was not attached enough to you to maintain a relationship, which is also not good enough. You deserve to be in a healthy relationship with someone who loves you, and who was committed to you. And I know that in addition to those big like macro pieces, there were other downsides to this relationship, and reminding yourself of what those were can be sometimes the fastest path to stop idealizing a failed relationship and stop you know this missing air quote, missing your ex.

Another thing that will support you is whatever you do, first of all, don’t reach out to your ex. If you’re telling yourself that you need to in order to get closure, or that maybe you could mobilize their feelings of desire to be with you by contacting them, or that you need to tell your ex how you feel or how angry you are with them, or that maybe you could be friends, like all of these are like an alcoholic in recovery who’s still in that denial phase. Like twisting themselves into pretzels to try to like access their attachment to drugs or alcohol, right?

These are the games that your mind will play with you, that will trick you into believing that having contact with your ex is really a good idea. And it will perpetuate your suffering and it will obstruct your healing. If you have maintained any connection to your ex on social media or at work or with friend groups, whatever it is, the faster and more thoroughly you can cut all of those cords, the faster you will heal.

The things that I’m talking about today will not be nearly as effective or helpful if you’re trying to shift this narrative, if you’re understanding, “Oh, my attachment to my ex is being maintained through my thoughts so I’m going to try to shift this and do this work. But now I’m seeing pictures of my ex in my remember when you know photos that are showing up on social media, I need to get rid of all that crap.” 

Certainly, you know, if they’re engaging with you in some way, that is not helpful. So just shut that right down, and you don’t have to explain anything, you don’t have to have a reason why. You don’t have to have a final conversation about it, you can just be done. And so I would encourage you to do all of that, sooner rather than later.

The true path to healing and moving on is allowing this attachment to fully fade away. So understanding how it has maintained through your mind through contact and then doing the opposite of, essentially.

We’ve been talking about on a macro level, like what is really involved in beginning to change this emotional experience. But if you’re like most of my clients, like, I often have conversations with my guides, or the like, “Yes, I get it, that all sounds good. And even though I understand these things, intellectually, emotionally it feels impossible for me to do what you’re saying, or even consider what you’re saying.” And that is very, very real, and very legitimate. 

It goes back to this core component. And the thing that is most important to understand when it comes to healing after heartbreak, the feelings that you’re having exist in a different part of your brain and body than the one that your intellectual mind controls. So there is a huge disconnect between what you think, what you logically know to be true, what you want for your future. And this very old, deep, powerful emotional part of your brain that is still emotionally attached to your ex and who, you know, that’s really maintaining that attachment bond.

You have two different operating systems at work inside of you. One is the thinking part one is the feeling part. They are loosely acquainted, but there is not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship between the two. Well, that’s not true. The way you think creates the way you feel, the way you feel impacts the way you think. With regards to many things, attachment bonds, however, occupy an even deeper space than all of that.

We can maintain powerful attachment bonds to, for example, people who are horrifically abusive sociopaths, and we know that. Doesn’t change the way we feel about them. So I just wanted to offer that because the ideas that I’m talking about on the podcast today are all good ideas, they all work and it’s all worthy work to do. But if you would like to create the transformation that we talked about at the very beginning of the show, you know, moving through this work, starting out feeling sad, missing your ex, and then, you know, over time, shifting into a space where you get what you want, which, if you’re like most people is to feel free of this. You know, to be able to think about your acts and not have a lot of emotion attached to it.

Think, “Yes, that was a chapter in my life. Good person, we had a nice time, I learned a lot of things, didn’t work”. And you know, “Now I am actually maybe even feeling good about who I am now, the person that  I’ve evolved into, my new self-understanding, the life lessons when it comes to relationships. I have more clarity about what it is that I want in the future. And I feel very well prepared to develop a positive new relationship with somebody new, and my ex is literally not a thought in my head anymore.”

That’s really like this holy grail for breakup recovery work. And this is absolutely possible. I walk with people through this process all of the time. And what is vitally important for you to know is that it is a process. It is an active process. It requires intention and work. Without that intention and work, nothing really changes on that really deep emotional level, even after years, if you don’t know how to help yourself move through that process. 

It is also not a switch that’s flipped. I think some people, maybe you feel very frustrated with themselves that they can’t turn that off, “Why do I miss my ex, I don’t want to feel this way anymore, I just.” Like that understanding that our brains don’t work that way. You cannot flip off the switch. 

The thing that I want to do in this last part of our time together that would really be most helpful for you, is to talk a little bit more about how this process works so that you have some guidance around what to do with those. So it certainly we had talked about, you know, behaviors and some cognitive strategies that you can put into place to help yourself understand what’s going on and assist with this grieving process. And so I’ll also just give you a high-level view of what breakup recovery counselors and coaches do with their clients, like how we help like walk through that process, so that you understand what that process is, how it works, and that so you can help yourself move through that. 

In this section, I am going to be talking about all kinds of articles and resources, all for you if you come to the Healing after Heartbreak collection on the blog and podcast page. So, get goingself.com, go to the Happiness Collection, Healing after Heartbreak. To understand even some of the things that we had been talking about previously, I would invite you to check out an article that I wrote around, Are You Addicted to a Toxic Relationship? That does a deeper dive into understanding the different parts of your brain and how they operate sort of independently of each other so that you can make sense of your experience.

Also, you know, we had been talking a lot about how to have self-compassion and not be frustrated with yourself for having the feelings that you are. And for that, I would invite you to check out an article I wrote about The First Step in Recovering From a Breakup: Validation, as in self-validation. That is a very important stage of this process. And also, another article that will support you through this is around How to Repair Your Self Esteem After a Breakup. Those three will help you.

Of course, at the bottom of this content collection, all of the podcasts that I’ve recorded on the subject of divorce and breakup recovery, I put those together for you in a Spotify playlist. So you could just listen to all of them and absorb all of the ideas, including, please be sure to check out The Stages of a Breakup, which also goes kind of step by step into this breakup recovery process. And so those are all there for you, all totally free and please help yourself to all of them. 

The other piece that, just before we kind of glide to a halt, when it comes to moving away from feeling sad, like “How do I stop missing my ex?” The process involves a first, like there’s an early stage to this process that a lot of people don’t realize, and that if you don’t do this first really most important step, you can stay stuck in that sadness for a long, long time. So this is always where I start with my private therapy or breakup recovery coaching clients and also the, you guys, I probably have talked about my Exaholics book on this podcast before and so we go into some of that in there.

Although in the Exaholics book, it’s a lot more of like the science pieces, like the science of attachment, how your brain works, all that stuff. But I also have a breakup recovery online program that I created actually years ago, but just to you know, have something for people who might not be able to do like private one on one counseling or coaching to be completely honest with you. So just wanting to create a resource that was low-cost and accessible, kind of like a self-study program. 

This program in addition to you know, the work that I do privately, begins with a lot of exploration around is this relationship really over? And the goal of the stage is to help your emotional mind, that attachment level mind, catch up and get reconnected with your intellectual brain who might actually know that it’s over and that it should be over. But it’s like, the goal here is to reconnect that so that your emotional mind also really understands that it’s over in a felt way.

Because a lot of the time, the grief of a relationship, the ongoing feelings of sadness come from this subconscious, hope, feeling, desire to continue the relationship in some way or to reconnect. And understanding that feelings of grief and sadness are actually a mechanism of staying connected to an ex on an attachment level is very profound and very healing for a lot of people. 

We can maintain connections with other humans through our thoughts, including negative thoughts, dark thoughts, dark feelings, sadness, grief, and anger perpetuates attachment, oddly enough. And so the first stage of this work of exploring “is this really over, “his is the first unit of my breakup recovery program that where I start with clients is spending time. There are often a number of sessions, honestly, where we’re going through and really putting all these pieces back together with a goal of reclaiming autonomy over the relationship being over, which can be very difficult work to do.

What my clients often experience is that through this work, they can expect to feel substantially worse in the beginning, on the path of creating emotional freedom in the future. It moves you from this sad, tortured feeling into a real grieving process that can be quite intense. We move into an emotional withdrawal phase much of the time. So people often do require a lot of emotional support as they’re moving through this. But if you don’t, if you’re not like expecting that, the intensity of some of those feelings can actually be an obstacle to your ability to move forward.

We stay stuck and missing an ex in this low-grade sadness because that is actually less intense than the grief process that comes when you really engage in this work on a deep level. But the only way out is through, frequently. And so I just want you to know that that might be ahead of you. And it’s a positive thing on the stage of productive recovery, especially if you’re doing it with somebody who knows how to guide you through that process. So I just wanted to make you aware of that. 

The next stage really focuses on that emotional freedom place. We’re working with a big emotions that have come up in that first part, to grieve the losses, and also do some of the assessment and kind of filtering and understanding that we were talking about in the beginning of the podcast.

Like, “How much of this is actually related to me missing my ex, as a lovely human that I enjoyed spending time with,” versus, “How many of these feelings are related to other related aspects of this experience that are certainly adjacent to the relationship but may or may not have anything to do with them. Specifically, it’s more about me, my life, my self-concept, you know, my hopes and dreams, rather than the fact that they were delightful.”

Because frequently that is not the case, and so that’s worthy of a lot of reflection. The stage after this often involves really moving through some of those early emotions and into like Part B of this emotional work, which is figuring out how to find forgiveness. It could be forgiveness for yourself for not handling things differently in the relationship. It could certainly be working towards releasing feelings of anger or resentment for your ex for things that may have transpired. For many people, it’s a combination of both. 

Those are things that will keep you stuck in sadness or you know, attachment to your ex if there’s a lot of like that unfinished emotional business. But then once you’re able to do that work productively, that oftentimes moves into a phase of, “Okay, so how do I put myself back together, repairing my self-esteem, my self-concept kind of re-consolidating my identity and my worth as a person outside of this relationship?”

Because, you know, when we’re in an attachment bond with another human, that really becomes part of our self-concept, our identity, our psychology, our physiology. And so when that ends, we get taken apart a little bit. And then we have to put ourselves back together again, in a new configuration that is of our own design. And this sounds like deep work because it is deep work. But again, not knowing that this needs to be part of the process is what keeps people stuck in these feelings for a long time.

Because people legitimately don’t know how to do this or that there is work that needs to be done, and so they’re kind of, you know, lost wandering around. And so that’s why I talk so frequently about the process of healing, like, here’s a map and a flashlight, go in that direction. It’s always my hope, whenever I record podcasts on this topic. So spend a lot of time working on your identity and your self-esteem, your self-concept, after you have done the work of the emotional processing that will that comes before it.

It’s difficult to do this identity work and self-esteem repair before you have processed these feelings and put other pieces of this to rest. So that’s also why they need to happen sequentially, much, much of the time. And so when you are feeling better about yourself, again, that is actually when it becomes possible to finally restore your inner peace. Only when this other unfinished emotional business has been competently handled is it often possible to stop thinking about your ex.

The grieving work has been done, we have processed the emotions, and then we can move into some of these cognitive strategies so that you can coach yourself through these moments, and really actively break this ongoing attachment. But it’s like you have to do that emotional work before you’re able to move into this cognitive space. It might be possible to do it otherwise, but I have not had that experience. Personally, when I went through a hard breakup, that is not what happened to me and I have not seen that happen with my clients either.

Because of the power of this old and deep part of your brain, the emotional work needs to come first because that part of your brain is more powerful than the conscious cognitive part of your brain. I don’t know if you’ve been exposed to the metaphor that’s sometimes tossed around in neuropsychology circles. But we think of our brains like there’s an elephant, with a rider sitting on top of the elephant.

The rider is symbolic of our thinking, rational conscious mind that,”If this then that, here’s what I aspire to do in the future.” It kind of sees things that envision things, you know, all the things and this is the part of our brain that we know, we feel comfortable with. And this is the part of ourselves that we incorrectly assume is actually in control of most of our lives. It is not.

That rider is sitting on this giant elephant, which is symbolic of our limbic brain, our attachment drives these deep, deep mammalian experiences that are often nonconscious. They show up in feelings, impulses. They can translate over into our thinking brain, but they’re really initiated by these deep, deep feelings that are confusing to our thinking mind. But this elephant is totally in control unless the riderr is able to develop a relationship with it and, you know, understand, first of all that it’s there and then how to manage it effectively.

That is kind of how this breakup recovery work happens. This is the process. First of all, we need to understand that elephant and take care of that elephant. And only then can the rider reassert its control and get that elephant to go where it wants to. And so it’s only in those later stages that we’re able to do those pieces, which is the cognitive skills of restoring inner peace. And then certainly, once that is managed, that’s when it becomes so possible to do this really exciting and often transformational personal growth work that exists very much in the mind.

“What did I learn from this experience? Let me go back and tell myself the story of what happened now that I understand it clearly. Let me author this new story. What is the next chapter of my life going to be for me? And what are the things that I learned about myself, my values, my patterns in relationships? What are frankly, you know, some of my, mistakes is such a hard word, what are some of the things that I would prefer to do differently next time?”

Right, if we reconceptualize everything as a learning experience, that is very cognitive, that is intellectual that involves the thinking part of our mind. And it’s exciting work. Often times it is in this stage of the work that I frequently have clients say, “You know what, going through all of that was hell, I felt so bad and I also know that I wouldn’t have learned these things about myself and my personality and what I need and my values and like who I am, and where I’m going in life. That would not have been attainable for me had this growth not been catalyzed by this crappy experience that I just went through, you know?”

“I am sorry, it happened. I wish I could have learned these things without having had to go through that. And yet, I’m grateful that I know this. Now, this feels really precious and important and valuable for me.” And that’s a really good feeling, particularly when it turns into this forward focus. “Now that I know these things, and I feel able and competent to create this life experience I want to have and love again and trust again, and really develop the kind of relationship that I would feel great about being.”

There is a genuine excitement and joy, about being able to do that. That is such a positive and happy feeling and you deserve to experience that. But I hope that just this discussion helps you have some compassion for yourself and understanding that you cannot be in this sad-missing-your-ex place, and then leapfrog over this whole process part that oftentimes takes months of active work to move through and arrive at this place of inner peace and happiness and like, “Yes, I’m ready to tackle this world again, and create new relationships and feel great about what happened.”

That is not how people work. And so if you have that unrealistic expectation of yourself, I hope if nothing else, this podcast has removed that from your hands, we’re going to set it aside. And then you know, given you a different concept, the map, the flashlight, here’s how it works, here’s what to do, go in that direction. Because that’s what really will help you feel not just better, but good at the end of this.

I sincerely hope that this podcast has been instructive. Again, all kinds of resources for you on the website. And certainly, if you’re interested in taking a look at the breakup recovery program that I have, you can learn more about that at breakup-recovery.com. It’s, you know, little units of instructional things with me kind of talking you through all of these downloadable worksheets to do the exercises and things that are involved in doing this work. 

Of course, though, if it would be helpful for you, as it frequently is to have a partner, a guide in this work, you are invited to connect with me or any of the other counselors or coaches on my team here at Growing Self who really know this stuff inside and out. We have a breakup recovery coaching group even, if it would be helpful for you to find a community of people to talk through some of these experiences with and connect with one of the coaches on our team who can guide you through this process in a group format. That’s another thing that we do. 

Also, you know, the counselors the therapists on my team have been working with me closely and they really understand the process of breakup recovery. They’re familiar with these ideas, we have team trainings on the subject. And if you want to work with a therapist, you know another private therapist, that is fantastic. And before you engage with a therapist, just do a little bit of research, ask them some questions, come in to this from an informed consumer empowered position.

“What is your theory of change, mister or miss therapist? What is your theory of change when it comes to breakup recovery work?” And hopefully, they will be telling you about a process like the one that I described. But be aware that this is not anything that is taught to therapists in counseling school. I went all the way through a master’s program and a PhD, never heard any of the stuff that I’m talking with you about today.

I had to get stuck as a therapist and be like, “Why is this so hard? Why are my clients stuck? Why am I having such a hard time helping them move forward because the things that I think should work are not working, so what else could be happening here?” I had to do a lot of original research going back into evolutionary biology and going back to my roots as a biology major in college to put together the, oh, this is what’s going on in terms of these different brain systems, and you know, the role of attachment and the bonding mechanisms. And then here is a much more productive path to help people move through this because if we use a top-down approach, like trying intellectually, to understand why this happens, and think about this instead, and you’ll feel better, that doesn’t work. There’s a reason for that.

Just be sure that you interview different therapists so that you do connect with one who is knowledgeable on heart heartbreak recovery work, and who doesn’t, you know, pathologize this like “Yes, you’re feeling this way because you’re depressed or because you have you know, deep-rooted attachment trauma that came from your parents.”

Those things might be true, you might be depressed, you might have attachment trauma, in which case, that line of work is extremely productive and appropriate. But all humans who are attached to other humans and a relationship fails experience the kinds of things that I’m talking about, at least to a degree. 

That doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you because this is happening. It means that you are a fully functional human who is capable of creating attachment bonds with other people and you just had an attachment that was severed, particularly if this was against your will.

You can expect it to feel this way and so you don’t need a therapist trying to make it mean something about you that is not true. That is not helpful, particularly when it comes to that self-esteem work that is such a crucial part of this process. So little big sisterly advice for you on how to find a good therapist when it comes to this work. And I hope that’s helpful.

Okay, thank you so much for spending this time with me today. I have loaded you up with resources. Godspeed, my friend, and I’ll be back in touch next week with another episode of the podcast. Take care.

Divorce and Breakup Recovery Resources