Is It Grief or Obsession? 7 Ways to Deal with Difficult Thoughts After a Breakup
by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
Author: Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (Hachette Book Group 2009)
Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After the Big Breakup (Hachette Book Group 2015)
Getting Past Your Past Workbook: The Definitive Workbook to Emotional Healing, Health and Happiness (La Bella Vita Publishing 2012)
GPYP Power! Affirmations (La Bella Vita Publishing 2019)
Is It Grief or Obsession?
7 Ways to Deal With Difficult Post Breakup Thoughts
Many in the Getting Past Your Breakup FB group seem to be struggling with the difference between obsession and grief. Many have been posting about intrusive thoughts. It seems as if there’s a bit of confusion over obsession and the normal and natural grief process.
There are two things to know about thinking about your ex. One is that there is obsession which is going over and over in your mind questions that have no answers and circular thinking and thinking about what the ex (and/or new flame) is doing now or why isn’t he or she contacting you or why did he or she do thus and so….all those things are unnecessary and where “It doesn’t matter” comes in. The other thing is necessary review and relinquishment (if you listen to the grief podcasts HERE, this makes more sense). It’s like the movie that plays in your mind of the relationship. It’s the normal and natural grief process.
It’s not that it’s absolutely necessary to differentiate which is which, but to help to get some control over whatever the hell is going on. Here are some tips to make it “bettter”:
1. Some of it you’re not going to be able to control. There is a certain amount of review and relinquishment which is a normal and natural response to loss. It’s the grief process and it’s necessary. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but grief is healing. Let a certain amount of it be okay. Listen to the grief podcasts and wrap your brain around the way your mind is working to heal you.
2. Much of your grief and pain is tied up in other unresolved losses and probably childhood issues and abandonment. Please know that all the grief is NOT just about your ex. It’s about many unresolved losses before and also secondary losses, including the ex’s family and friends and your hopes and dreams. It’s a lot for your mind to sort out. Go slow. Be patient. Most of us are running around with unresolved loss because we were never taught to “do” grief. Stop stopping the process. Grief IS the healing feeling and you can get through it. Just remember: lots of self-care.
3. Obsession is different than R&R. It’s just really intrusive and unnecessary thoughts like what the ex and the new love are doing. Or why did the ex say “and’ and not “or” in your last conversation. Or were they telling the truth when they said they liked that sweater you gave him/her on their birthday? That is NOT R&R because these are just things you’re making up in your own head. (oh the thinks you can think!)
The cures to these are rubber band snapping described in the GPYB book, journaling about how it doesn’t matter, mantra – ing “It doesn’t matter” as described in When The Person You Love Doesn’t Love You video HERE, doing hobbies and crafts while listening to relaxing music, some kind of crossword/jigsaw/logic puzzles if you can concentrate at all. More “it doesn’t matter.” I used to get very anxious in obsession and would color mandalas to ease my anxiety. Later I crocheted and did other hobbies. Learn to get in touch with which is which. Many times working with your hands helps with obsession (‘I’m not sure why but I’ve been recommending it for years because it worked for me and people tell me it worked for them. Also you can read this blog post which also discusses the difference between normal and natural review and unnecessary obsession: 5 Ways To Combat Post Breakup Obsession
4. For NECESSARY R&R journaling is the key. Talking to friends who aren’t burnt out from hearing it, talking to the group,talking to your therapist. Reading self-help books.
In the GPYP workbook, the Grief chapter contains exercises for doing “grief” and “self-care” – scheduling it….having a good cry when you need to and learning to shut it off. Give yourself some time each day to feel your feelings, but learn to shut it down. It’s necessary to moving on.
5. In the Searching post (here),I discuss how struggling with NC is about the Searching mechanism(the post is there if you haven’t read it). Once you understand that the contact compulsion is about trying to put the world back together the way you knew it is your mind railing against the loss, it helps it a bit. You know it’s grief if you’re yearning for contact “just because.” The intellectual understanding of the grief process and the Searching component of grief does help. It’s VERY important to know how grief works in a breakup situation. Knowing what the grief process in a breakup is all about is how Getting Past Your Breakup wound up on so many “Best Breakup Books of All Time” lists (for a smattering of them, go HERE)
6. Obsession about what the ex is doing or not doing and the future is what you want to NOT engage in. Thinking over the past is necessary. That is why the Relationship Inventory exists. Fantasizing or guessing or wanting to know is about the present and the future. That part is not necessary. There is NOTHING you can gain from knowing and even less to gain from guessing. Don’t do it. See also: Being Replaced By the Ex in a Very Public (Social Media) Way
7. Dreams are a part of R&R. Yes, they’re annoying. If you wake up and journal about them, it can be helpful in processing more “stuff.” I like Carl Jung’s method of “amplification.” Jung believed that dreams bridge the conscious and unconscious mind. He believed that dreams are the psyche’s way of telling us things we needed to know. He didn’t believe in dream interpretation like Freud did. He believed that each person’s dream represents things to them, but the same thing in another person’s dream might mean something entirely different. So it’s important to journal about it upon awakening (keep a journal near your bed and scribble in the middle of the night and figure it out in the morning by AMPLIFYING what each thing in the dream represents to you. Though there are “archetypes” (things common to all humans), many things in a dream are specific to the dreamer. It is only through amplification that you can find what your dreams mean to you. Instead of thinking of your dreams as irritating evils, think of them as a tool to get in touch with what your mind is busy processing. Whether or not you employ a dream journal, please employ a regular journal as recommended by Getting Past Your Breakup and the workbook.
The more you differentiate between unnecessary obsession and necessary review, the easier the process gets because you’ll know which trick to pull out when. But journaling helps in either situation…and sometimes helps us figure out which is which. Remember: getting over a breakup is a marathon and not a sprint. Grief is a normal and natural process which is healing if you allow it to happen. Obsession is unnecessary misery. Learn which is which and what to do when. The Getting Past Your Breakup program teaches it.
Learn it and do it. YOU CAN DO THIS!!!