moving on after a divorce or breakup

Trying to move on from that breakup but you can’t stop thinking about him? Want to get past that divorce, but she’s on your mind day and night? You’re trying to distract yourself, but all you can think about is them! Trying to move on after a divorce or break up can leave you feeling anxious, frustrated, and even ashamed of yourself. Today I’m going to tell you the surprising real reason it’s so tough to move on (so you can stop being so hard on yourself) and then (as always) the 7 things you can do to find peace and joy as quickly as possible.

Why You’re Obsessed with Your Ex: It’s an Addiction

The real reason people don’t move on as quickly and painlessly as possible is because they’re not taking into account their brain chemistry.

All the best-meaning tips, platitudes and conversations won’t move you past your last relationship the way you want if you don’t take into account that your brain has been hijacked! Just like you can’t reason initially with a drug addict, all the reason and rational thinking in the world won’t have you moving on the way you think you “should” (hence feelings of self-loathing and declarations of “What’s wrong with me?!”)

So, let me throw a little brain stuff at you so you really understand what I’m talking about. (No, I’m not just trying to be nice and make you feel better, this is science!) This is based on the work of biological anthropologist, Helen Fisher and the research she and her colleagues have done over the last 15 years.

When Fisher and her neuroscientist colleagues did brain scans on people who’d just been dumped, they found activity in three regions of the brain:

1. The same regions that are lit up by intense romantic love are lit up by those who’ve been dumped (yes, it’s supremely unfair!). That reward system I just described for all your wanting, craving and focus becomes even more active when you can’t get what you want! When relationships end, the same mechanisms in our brain get activated as when addicts are withdrawing from substances like cocaine or opiates.

2. They also found activity in the region of the brain associated with calculating gains and losses, your nucleus accumbens. When you think of the other person you’re literally calculating what you lost. What went wrong? This is when you start thinking “If I’d only tried this.” “If I hadn’t said that.” “If her mother hadn’t come to visit.” This is also the part of the brain that becomes active when you’re willing to take enormous risks for huge gains and huge losses. We start creating conspiracy theories and mysteries and digging, digging, digging trying to figure out “why.” I’ve had clients get told, “I’m just not in love with you; I just don’t feel it,” and they STILL search for deeper meaning and what they could have done! You’re not really trying to solve some big mystery; you’re actually trying to get your fix!

3. Third, they found activity in a region associated with deep attachment to another individual. When you break up, even if you’re the one who left, you’re feeling deep attachment to your ex.

OY! So, what do I do, Abby?

You treat it like the addiction it is and follow these 7 steps:

1. Stop talking about it

After some initial venting or catharsis, you’ve got to stop talking about it or thinking about your ex so much because every time you reminisce, complain or romanticize, you’re creating strong emotions. Getting into these emotional or “feeling states” triggers all the same brain chemicals as when you first broke up so you end up retraumatized!

2. Cut off Contact or Limit Seeing Them

Once again, you don’t want to shoot up or take a drink multiple times a day or week if you’re trying to step away from your addiction and change your life. If you’ve got kids together then you can still limit contact as much as possible.

3. Exercise

Exercise can be a huge help. Remember, so much of this is neurochemical. The endorphins and enkephalins you get from exercise, as well as the balancing of your other neurotransmitters and hormones is much needed when you’re not getting past the hurt of a break up or divorce. It’s also a great way to start to create a new sense of self and fill the void left by your ex (which brings us to #4).

4. Fill the Void

Depending on how long you were with your ex, there were a lot of places where your lives intersected. Even if you weren’t getting along well for a while, there’s still a void left when they’re not there anymore. So, you’ve got to identify where these voids are and fill them up.

5. Make a List of Why Not

What I see a lot after a divorce or break up is idealizing your ex. All of the sudden they were awesome! I don’t want you to vilify and hate them but, if you’re one of those who wants to get back together or is just missing them often, create a list of “Why Not.” This is a written list of all the ways you weren’t a good match. This is not a list of all the things you hated about them – hate is just love disguised. Instead, it’s a list of the ways that you’re just not a good fit. It’s more about how you like X and they didn’t.

6. There’s No Closure

You need to accept that it’s over and stop hoping. Stop keeping it alive. If you can’t do that on your own, get thee to a therapist!

7. Ask for Help

Last but not least, let your friends know you need them. You can spend a few days or a week alone wallowing, but then it’s time to reach out to your peeps and start connecting with others. Otherwise, it’s too hard to do what’s on this list.

Above all else, remember it’s going to take a minute to move on. Don’t put a time limit on this (why do I still feel crappy six months later?!). What you’re looking for is progress. Do you think about them less and less? Are you finding more good feelings? Are you broadening your life again? We say in 12-step meetings, “progress not perfection.” Since you’re one of us now, that should fit.

All of this boils down, on some level, to finding a way to focus on what you do want and not what you don’t want; to focus more positively and stop thinking negatively about your ex, your past or any regrets you have.

Because I love you so much, you can check out my free visualization to stop negative thinking! If you, literally, take just 3 minutes each morning, you can start your day off with positive momentum.

Resources and Links

Helen Fisher et al., “Reward, Addiction, and Emotion Regulation Systems Associated with Rejection in Love,” Journal of Neurophysiology 4, no. 1 (2010): 51-60.

5 Reasons Why Having a Couples’ Business Meeting Will Change Your Relationship

Guided Visualization to Stop Negative Thinking

 Ready to find out what goes on inside that crazy mind of Abby’s? 

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