Photo by Mitch Duncan
When another one bites the dust, how do you overcome post-breakup craziness?
Kira Austin* is beautiful, smart and most of the time, level-headed. Armed with a copy of her ex-boyfriend’s house key, she sneaks like a ninja into his house. While he is at football training, she searches for evidence of another woman.
She brushes aside the breaking-and-entering law. “It’s just been Halloween. I’ll just say I was late trick or treating.” Her out-of-control behaviour wasn’t caused by drugs or alcohol. Kira had been dumped.
Kira is not the first sane person to confess to ridiculous, irrational or nasty behaviour in the face of heartbreak.
Former relationship counsellor Leopold Ondrasch, of the University of Western Sydney, said people show desperate behaviour when they are searching for answers, with some lonely hearts club members attempting to manipulate a break-up situation.
Ondrasch explained it can be a way “to gauge a reaction, to remind their former partner of their presence, to try to encourage their former partner towards or away from certain places, situations, or people, or even to actively intimidate or take revenge upon their former partner… [Part of this] behaviour might include aspects of information gathering.”
Information gathering can include things such as facebook stalking (often referred to as “research”) or ‘drivebys’ past an ex’s apartment to see if they are home or what they are doing. Michelle*, 27, from Adelaide, admits to having done that in the past.
“I would cut the lights, cut the ignition, and just roll by in the dark like the mafia… I couldn’t help it – I was out of control,” Michelle said.
Some people try a grand gesture as their ticket back to relationship town, but when experiencing loss of control, it can backfire. Jillian*, 24, from Surry Hills, had an ex who thought he could win her back by sending her a portrait of herself.
“It wasn’t just a photo,” she said. “It was three times the size of the Mona Lisa, just of my smiling mug and a note – ‘beautiful’. I’d never seen anything more confronting in my life. I don’t know what he was thinking – that it would win me back? As if. Psycho. It was gross.”
Drunk texting/calling is another way of acting out, one that unfortunately many of us are familiar with.
Louise*, 21, from Springwood, spent $900 on calls the month she broke up with her boyfriend.
“Don’t do what I did,” she advised. “Then I was dumped and broke. It sucked.”
Kylie*, 24, from Bondi, should also have left her phone at home. “My ex lived in Venezuela, so you can imagine what happened when I had a couple of tequilas. Three hundred dollars down the drain and I couldn’t even remember what I’d said! Brilliant.”
“I would cut the lights, cut the ignition, and just roll by in the dark like the mafia… I couldn’t help it – I was out of control”
Can we blame brain chemistry for losing our heads?
“[That] idea remains controversial,” said Ondrasch. “Nonetheless, it’s true that an intense sense of loss can produce behavioural changes which, under different circumstances, are difficult to distinguish from the symptoms of psychological disorders.”
If this happens, don’t panic, Ondrasch advised. It’s probably not as bad as it seems.
“If someone is grieving the death of a loved one, for example, a diagnosis of clinical depression is not warranted, even if they exhibit the symptoms of that disorder (although if their mood does not improve, such a diagnosis may be justified at a later point).
“The same may be true for some people who are experiencing a sense of loss after the conclusion of a particularly intense or long-term personal relationship.”
So you’re upset, pissed off, staring at your phone, not sure if you want to throw it or sob into it, how do you take back control?
“First and foremost, rule out the possibility of an existing physical or mental illness, and if any such exist, address those concerns first,” he said.
“Assuming that someone is otherwise well and that they have given in to temptation and are obsessing over a former partner in some way, there are lots of different ways they can attempt to control their behaviour.”
Here are a few examples:
• Delete your ex’s number from your phone, clear out old text messages and call logs.
• Block and/or delete connections on social media and remove photo tags.
• Avoid idolising your former partner, or giving in to nostalgia about “better times”.
• Make a list of your former partner’s flaws, bad qualities and things you didn’t have in common. If you can’t think of any, then you aren’t being honest with yourself, and you need to think about why.
• Think about why things ended. If you think you don’t know, again, be honest with yourself; and if you really, truly don’t know, resign yourself to the fact that you probably never will, and thinking about it is a waste of time.
• Remember that you can’t force someone to care about you.
• Make a list of what you want and deserve in a relationship, without reference to a specific person.
• Be strict: sever all ties, get rid of mementos, be ruthless about avoiding them, and hold yourself accountable for your actions.
• Catch yourself saying or thinking “I wonder if…” and remember that there’s no real way to know for sure.
A final word from Ondrasch, “Above all, focus on who you are and what you are doing, right now. ‘What is’ describes reality. ‘What was’ and ‘What if’ do not.”
– Jessica R. Younan
For more tips on getting through a break up, go here.
*Names have been changed to avoid embarrassment.