Your relationship didn’t have the makings of “happily ever after.” You were miserable. But now you’re not only depressed and stressed over a breakup…you’re obsessed.
You know the breakup was for the best. It was only a matter of time. But why can’t you shake it? You would expect to be sad, angry, even depressed and stressed over a breakup. But thinking about your ex constantly? It’s like being haunted with nowhere to hide.
Have you done things like drive by your ex’s home to see what he/she is doing or whose car is in the driveway? Have you stalked your ex’s social media, looking for signs of both devastation and moving on? Have you called from an untraceable number just to hear his/her voice?
Do you loathe your ex, but think about her/him all day, and ruminate yourself to sleep? Does your heart race if you see your ex from a distance, or see pictures of your ex with someone else?
Perhaps you even feel physical pain as a result of your breakup. Maybe there’s a constant burning in your chest, a quasi-nausea in your stomach, a literal pain in your heart. But instead of getting less severe as the weeks go on, it gets worse.
It’s normal to be depressed and stressed over a breakup. After all, if this was an exclusive relationship, you have probably invested everything into it. It’s natural to feel all kinds of emotions in all kinds of ways and at unpredictable times.
It’s not normal, however, to obsess over a breakup.
The neuroscience behind post-breakup obsession is much the same as the neuroscience behind limerence.
The near-debilitating, socially irritating, hyper-infatuated phase of falling in love can’t last forever. In healthy relationships, it evolves into a companionate love marked by mutual attachment and commitment.
But in cases of obsession at both the front and back ends of romance, the dopamine center of the brain lights up. Every reminder of the object of affection (or obsession) activates that reward center and creates a euphoria.
Passionate love, both coming and going, is, in this sense, a drug. And when the need for it continues or intensifies for months or years, the emotional responses are abnormal and detrimental.
Feeling angry, hurt, confused, sad, depressed and stressed over a breakup is normal. That’s why Facebook introduced its “take a break” option. Social media, especially pictures, can activate that dopamine reward loop, causing a craving and an urge to satisfy it. Sometimes stepping away from provocation can help the healing process.
The proclivity to obsess over a breakup may have its roots in familial history and attachment to caregivers. If you knew love your entire life and had your essential needs met, you had secure attachment bonds.
You were set up to have fulfilling intimate relationships, emotional balance and healthy self-esteem and self-confidence. You were also primed to rebound and heal more quickly from disappointment and loss.
If you had unhealthy attachment bonds, however, a breakup in adulthood could trigger neglect and abandonment issues from your childhood. Your brain essentially can’t separate your past from your present.
You get thrown into separation anxiety, and your obsession becomes a living withdrawal from the ‘drug’ of your now lost love.
If your post-breakup misery is taking on the tone of Fatal Attraction, it’s time for some intervention. Everyone wants to get out of their pain. But obsession only fuels it and puts you at risk of causing pain to others.
Healthy love carries an awareness of its own intensity when entering and leaving the arena. It also carries an awareness of its limits. Obsession, however, does not.
If you are feeling depressed and stressed over a breakup, or fear you may be obsessing about your ex, please reach out for help. You can reach us here.