I don't want to be a crazy ex-girlfriend.
November 28, 2010 3:31 PM   Subscribe

How do I stop my obsession of stalking/thinking of my ex so that I can start liking myself again?

Before the therapy suggestion gets thrown out there--I am on a waiting list for a college counselor but will probably not start seeing one until late January.

I obsessively think of/cyber-stalk my ex. He is often my first waking thought and is always on my mind right before I sleep. I think about him throughout the day and so much so that sometimes I cannot even concentrate. When I get on the computer, the first things I check are the sites he sometimes frequents. I do daily (and usually multiple times in a day) google searches of his name/online aliases. I also check his recent activity on certain forums and youtube.

I know this is very unhealthy and unproductive. We have been broken up for over a year already and I know I shouldn't be doing this. I tried to stop by using a firefox add-on to block all the sites I check to see his online activity, however, less than a week after I did this I began using Internet Explorer to check up on all the websites. I feel like I'm addicted to this type of behavior.

Relationship History: My ex was my first boyfriend and I fell very hard for him. After a few months, I found out that he had been cheating on me repeatedly. One of the ways he did so was by soliciting sex through online ads while he was studying abroad. I was able to find some of his ads through google and have been hooked on looking him up on the internet ever since.

After I found out he had been cheating on me, I tried to break the relationship off. He told me he made mistakes and I ended up taking him back. Less than a month after that, he changed his mind about wanting to be with me again. I had low self-esteem even before I met him, but with the cheating and multiple rejections, I felt worthless and unwanted.

Every time I look him up on the internet, I'm reminded of what little will power and self-respect I have. I was very dependent on him and would have sex with him just so that I could be near him. When I repeatedly think of him throughout the day, I am mostly thinking of him with other girls or how stupid and weak I was for letting him walk all over me. Still, I often sit around in front of my computer on MSN waiting for him to log-on and message me. He usually doesn't, and after obsessively checking his profile status after a few hours to a few days, I cave in and message him first. The conversations are always about him and they don't really go anywhere.

I feel trapped by my behavior. I know I need to stop because as I continue to think about him/how stupid I was, I continue to lose respect for myself. I want to build back some of my self-esteem and I want to move on. But I don't have many friends (I don't have very good social skills and don’t know how to get close to others easily) and I am very lonely so my thoughts often drift to him.

How can I get better? I know that I need to stop thinking about him and try to make new friends or do things I like to make myself feel better/build up my self-esteem. But how? I guess what I am looking for is not so much "you should do this/that" advice but insight, encouragement, books/movies/songs I should read/watch/listen to that will help me snap out of these self-hating, stalker moods.

(Also, he does not know I cyber-stalk him. He does know that I am not over him but not to this crazy obsessive degree. He coming back to town and I really would like to end this habit now so I won't be tempted to see him again AKA have sex with him and hate myself in the morning)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
You need to find a way to make engaging in these behaviors much more difficult. Consider a demanding volunteer job. Can you do some Habitat for Humanity work in your area or volunteer at a soup kitchen? Something that gets you away from the internet and occupies your attention. Even a part time job would help. If the activity happens to boost your self-esteem in the process, all the better.
posted by prefpara at 3:46 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

It would help if you couldn't contact him directly. As long as he's fresh on your mind, this is going to continue. Can you have a friend change your IM password to something you don't know? Do you talk to him on the phone at all? Delete his number or, if possible, block it. If you can afford it, give yourself a vacation while he's in town. Tell someone close to you what's going on and let this person help you by serving as a fun distraction. Or just go do stuff on your own that gets you out of the house and puts your mind on something more productive.

It might also help you to remember that you're not the only person to obsess over an ex who mistreated them, either. It's not healthy, no, but it doesn't mean you're some helpless psycho. Just about everyone's gone through those periods. I've experienced mine, and I've helped friends get through theirs. The more you talk about yourself like you're a crazy person, the harder it will be to pull yourself out of this. So, stop that.
posted by katillathehun at 3:47 PM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Check out "Feeling Good." Cognitive-behavioral therapy can work very well for breaking oneself out of these negative thought-patterns. When you put in the practice and hard work towards doing the exercises, no matter how silly and cheesy they seem, it'll help a lot.
posted by Anonymous at 3:48 PM on November 28, 2010

The kind of advice you said you didn't want: Maybe tell the ex that you're cyber-stalking him? Maybe then he'll stop speaking to you and nuke all his profile/change his usernames/block you for stalking him, and your problem will take care of itself. In any case, you need to delete him off of MSN/AIM/Skype/Twitter/YouTube/Facebook/LinkedIn/Friendster/Myspace/whatever you use and not speak to him EVER EVER again. He is off limits to you. Forever.

You're in college? Do you live in the dorms? If so, start hanging around more with your dormmates and classmates next semester. Join more study groups. Eat dinner on campus more. Go to campus events. You say you're shy, but try to force yourself to talk to people. Try not to be a creeper. Try to look like you're having fun. Maybe get a job, anything that gets you out of the house and away from your computer is good.

The kind of advice you say you want: The best way to get over a guy who broke your heart is to start going on dates with a new nice guy. Try OkCupid for free, fun online dating. I met my own sweet SO of a year there. Sure, it can be depressing but it can also be really fun.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 3:48 PM on November 28, 2010

Response by poster: Also, as you found with the add-on, if you're doing this kind of obsessive behavior attempting to deprive yourself of it is probably only going to make things worse. Rather than focusing on curbing the behavior, work on finding the cause and addressing the thoughts when they first pop up.
posted by Anonymous at 3:50 PM on November 28, 2010

So I read this article a while ago about ruminative thinking in depression, which I wish I could find now. One of the major ideas in the article was that this kind of fixated thinking may have been an evolutionary advantage for the human race. The idea is that if someone gets stuck turning a problem over and over and over in their mind, sometimes they end up coming to a brilliant solution. It could have made the difference for survival, in some cases.

Of course, the flip side of that is that often you don't come to a brilliant solution. You just stay stuck and get even more depressed, or maybe your thought process even impedes yourself from finding a solution.

My point is though that I think that it is natural for you to fixate on this. He had this thing that you feel you desperately need, whatever that was, even though he didn't give you that much of it it felt better than nothing. And now your brain is just trying to figure out how to get more of that, how to juice more of that out of him, like maybe in prehistoric times it would be trying to figure out how to get a fire going in stormy weather.

So I don't think you should beat yourself up over this, while you're waiting to see the counselor (and I think it's probably obvious, but it might be good to ask about depression and OCD while you're there).

Honestly, maybe you should just be forgiving with your brain about this until you get the chance to work on it with the counselor. Just be good to yourself. If your brain wants to stalk him, be kind to yourself while that's happening. Don't tell yourself insults about how stupid and weak you are. If those thoughts come into your head tell them, "Nah, you're wrong" and let them leave. Play some nice music, eat some good food while you're doing what you want to do.

And, by the way, I think you totally nailed it when you said: I am very lonely so my thoughts often drift to him. I think it might be really really useful to talk to the counselor about developing social skills. That is definitely something a counselor can help you to do.
posted by Ashley801 at 3:51 PM on November 28, 2010 [19 favorites]

How to Break Your Addiction to a Person is really the go-to book on this.

How to Heal a Broken Heart in Thirty Days is also quite good.

Facing Love Addiction is extremely useful, though some of the language is a bit out there woo-woo.

And don't overlook Feeling Good as a general handbook to breaking self-destructive patterns.

Best of luck to you!
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:52 PM on November 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

I think it might be really really useful to talk to the counselor about developing social skills. That is definitely something a counselor can help you to do.

This is a very important point! Don't think of yourself as someone who just "has" poor social skills; they're called "skills" for a reason, and the reason is that they can be learned.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:54 PM on November 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

It's one of those self-help truisms that you don't need to wait until you feel like doing something to do it, because when you do something the appropriate accompanying feelings arrive on their own. Ever not felt like, say, vacuuming, but you had to do it because you were expecting company? So you decided you'd just do one or two rooms to make things presentable, but once you got started you found you got into it, and were even kind of enjoying it, so you did your entire place?

Letting go of this guy, whom I believe you should not even be friends with because he doesn't sound like he'd make a good friend, is kind of the same. The more you think about this guy and the more you track his online activities the worse you will feel. Unhealthy and non-productive activities generate unhealthy and negative thoughts and feelings.

You don't say what you're doing in your life otherwise, but I suspect it's not enough or not absorbing enough. You mention that you'll be seeing a college counsellor, which likely means that you're in college. So I suggest that you look for things to do so you won't have so much time to spend online. Besides your studies, go out more and see your existing friends, volunteer in the field you eventually want to be in, spend time on your hobbies. Make some rules about how often you can go online. If you, say, allow yourself an hour a day online and still wind up checking up your ex, that's still a big improvement. Don't worry if you don't feel like it or if it doesn't seem to help at first. Accomplishing things in other areas will make you feel better about yourself and your situation.

It took you some time to get to this point and it'll take awhile to get past it. But you will get past it, and if the next guy you love proves not to be a keeper you'll get past him too. Life goes on, and you can either make a futile effort to swim against the current to get back to where you were or you can face forward and let the current help you swim to somewhere you'd like to go.
posted by orange swan at 3:55 PM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Lots of great advice already in this thread. I had a similar experience with my first ex. It sounds like you've already objectively acknowledged that his presence in your life is damaging to you, so you have to proactively take steps to cut him out. Completely.

What worked for me was blocking him on the online messengers as well as Facebook (if you block someone on Facebook, Facebook does a really good job of making it seem to both of you as though the other person doesn't even exist). I asked my friends to log into other accounts that I needed to disassociate from him because it would have required looking at his profile. And basically I made a game of going cold turkey -- after 24 hours of not doing anything related to him, did I really want to ruin my record? After a week? A month? It's been a few years now.

This is one of those "fake it until you make it" situations. At first I definitely craved looking him up or contacting him, but the process of getting over him progressed much, much more quickly after I stopped doing those things.
posted by telegraph at 4:06 PM on November 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

Much good advice here. My advice for something you can do right now: find something else to do. It's better if you can make some kind of obligation for yourself, but if nothing else just find a consuming project: watch every episode of the X-Files, re-read all the Harry Potter books, learn to juggle or macrame or knit (which could be an avenue to socialization, knitters love to congregate) or something, anything, that isn't the thing you need to stop doing. It's better if your starter project is something you can do any time; later you can add recurring/time-sensitive events like volunteer shifts or group activities or whatever.

You literally do not have enough to do - or are ignoring things you need to do - if this is what you're doing to fill your time, and it's become a habit, and it comes with little adrenaline jolts to keep you nice and addicted, but they're really cheap highs and so very easily replaceable if you'll try. Make yourself a list of 50 or 100 things you could be doing instead of this - a mix of "joy of crossing them off the list" things (ex: flossing, laundry, shoe polishing, grout-cleaning, school work), "enriching" things (learning a skill, doing more than baseline schoolwork, exercise, volunteer), and "time-passing" (non-school reading, video games, walking, X-Files) and pick something from the list instead of wasting electrons on a person who does not like you.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:48 PM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I was able to find some of his ads through google and have been hooked on looking him up on the internet ever since.

So that's important. Maybe what's going on is this: Doing this, in the past, helped you - it gave you information you needed to have about the kind of person he was, to the point where you tried to call off the relationship. It gave you control over a bad, painful situation; it put the power in your hands, rather than his.

And now things are finished, but part of you still feels hurt, and angry, and frustrated about how powerless you ended up (you mention being angry at yourself for letting him walk all over you. So your brain defaults back to the thing that worked before, and you go Googlestalking him because hey, at least this way he can't keep secrets from you, he can't control how you see him, you get to be in control of how much you know about him and what you think about him. That's got to be pretty powerful, even if it's really not helping you be happy.

So instead of beating yourself up over doing this (which obviously isn't helping), maybe try to find better ways to get the kind of feelings that this behavior is currently giving you, however incompletely and unhealthily it's doing it. Want to feel like you have control over things? Be the person that sets down boundaries like "Ex, I really don't want to stay in touch any more." Want to feel like no unknown part of his life or behavior can rear up and hurt you? Imagine if you put enough distance between you that it didn't matter what he did or said or thought, it wouldn't affect you in the slightest, because he was out of your life. Imagine if you didn't have to do any of this googlestalking in order to feel like you were okay. How much more freeing, how much more empowering, would that feel like?

And don't beat yourself up for, as you put it, 'how stupid I was'. It's not your fault that someone behaved badly towards you. Your brain is already telling you that he doesn't deserve the spot in your life, and in your head, that you're giving him - trust it, and cut him off.
posted by Catseye at 5:26 PM on November 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

Instead of thinking of what you will say no to...think about what you can say YES to! say YES to a new relationship with a new man...nothing gets a person away from obsessing over an old relationship like obsessing over a brand new relationship. Actively seek out a new boyfriend. Say YES to everything involved in seeking to meet new people. Yes to new hair, Yes to some new friends, Yes to anything and everything that moves you toward new experiences.

It is important for you to replace "I shouldn't be doing this" with something like "I WILL seek someone else's company"! The best revenge is living well...you can direct every thought in your head. Make your thoughts constructive and positive---say YES to all things that move you in the correct direction.
posted by naplesyellow at 5:26 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sometime we fantasize about getting "closure" that can never really come, like verbally putting him in his place or making him feel truly sorry for what he's done. Keep your mind on the here and now and push forward, knowing that it'll subside in time. It's the sentiment expressed in Nick Lowe's song, "Don't Think About Her" (when you drive).
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:31 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think there is terrific advice in this thread, and I am responding mainly to tell you that the reason the advice here is so clear and balanced and helpful is because your question and your thinking about this situation is very fair, self-aware, and though it may not seem so, healthy.

You have recognized your problem in its specifics in terms of impulse and behavior, recognized what about your behavior is inappropriate for your development and towards this man, and what's more, you have recognized that you are the one accountable for turning your self-concept and self-esteem around.

Which is just to say--you are going to get there. You're going to wake up in the mornings and think about what will help you or interest you, not him. You're going to form new relationships with others based on how you want to be treated, and you are going to make the commitment to treat them well. And you are going to cultivate interests that feel good and don't leave time for ones that are unhealthy.

So I think you might want to print off this thread, with your question, and hang it in your workspace, to read and remind yourself of your goals as you work on yourself and before you fire up your search engines. You've been given some great books to read to fill some of the time before January, when I think you're going to get a great deal out of your relationship with a therapist--and I think you should bring your question as you wrote it here.

You are thinking clearly, even if your behavior hasn't caught up yet, and you're actively seeking help for the behavior. I think you are strong and have a lot of hope. I think, too, you may want to share where you're at and what you're trying to change with friends that you trust, so that you have a support system to use to arrest your behavior.

You've done so much work already, that it won't be long before you're able to feel good about yourself more and more everyday.
posted by rumposinc at 6:17 PM on November 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

Many wonderful suggestions so far; sometimes it might help to be aware of the narratives of your life-story, remind of yourself of the special leitmotifs that make it so unique.

Ashley801 mentioned an article on rumination, and it might be this one or something similar:
posted by wallawallasweet at 6:42 PM on November 28, 2010

That's the one, wallawallasweet!
posted by Ashley801 at 7:03 PM on November 28, 2010

Hugs to you. You're okay. Really. I have been in your shoes and I am better now, and I don't look back on my behavior as pathetic, just that at the time I was being triggered. Yes, this is the brain's reaction to something and you are being healthy in seeking help for this. People have given a lot of good behavioral advice. I want to encourage you to read BaggageReclaim for some very empowering words about reclaiming your life when you are obsessed with an ex. You will understand you are far from alone when you read this.
posted by xenophile at 11:12 PM on November 28, 2010

I join the people (like xenophile) who want to tell you that you are not crazy. You've had your heart broken repeatedly. You are going through withdrawal, and it takes its toll emotionally, mentally, and physically on your body. Your brain still has links to good times with your ex. I've been there in your situation too and it will get better.

I spent a lot of time blaming myself and the first step I took was admitting that was obsessed, too. Going to therapy was the best thing that I did, and it helped me in so many other ways too--like relearning how to nourish my friendships and make new friends, take on new hobbies, establish a healthier lifestyle in small steps, dealing with my low self-esteem.

Sometimes a day will take a small dip. I went through highs and lows, but I've come so far, and you will too.

I also realized that looking at his facebook profile and other stuff online only made me feel worse. Like...I'd be feeling great for an entire unprecedented week, then I'd be looking at his profile one night and I'd feel like I had an emotional hangover. For me, it was really hard to stop this weird sort of self-punishment. It was like I fed my drug addiction (it basically was) and it was killing me. Looking at his stupid stuff online just made me feel like...I was back on his crazy emotional roller coaster all over again.

Good luck!
posted by skybluesky at 1:54 AM on November 29, 2010

I did this many years ago, and it was such a time- and emotion-suck. I know how you feel. I got into a destructive pattern of not being able to let go of old relationships, and it wasn't until I hit bottom that I was able to really see that I was unconsciously choosing bad partners in hopes that one would "stick" and all my problems would be solved. I had been self-medicating with alcohol, which made everything worse, although I didn't see it at the time.

My suggestion may seem counter-intuitive, but it worked for me: Date Date Date. Go on dates, NOT with the intention of a relationship, but for fun. The distraction will help you to see that there are other men out there who are worth your time. I'm not suggesting that you get into a relationship, but going out with other men helped me to "exorcise" the x-bfs in a way.

I definitely encourage therapy as well. And self-help books that cater to your need to feel better about yourself. Also, try to get to an understanding within yourself that you do not need a partner to be complete. That's another pitfall that can really cause one to perpetuate destructive patterns.

Much luck to you - I've been there and it can take over your life. The fact that you are acknowledging this is a good start.
posted by sundrop at 6:23 AM on November 29, 2010

Hi OP,

I think the most important step is seeing that counselor. A lot of times there will be a long wait for counselors, but you can get appointments quickly if your issue is really bothering you. I think you should consider doing this. Call up the center and explain to them that your really bothered, and that you can't wait two months to speak to someone. I am SURE they will be able to fit you in. (I did this myself on several occasions in college. I would ask for an appointment, be given one a month later, and then explain that I COULD NOT wait a month. They aren't going to penalize you for this; they probably just don't understand how tormented you feel about this.)

I say this not because I think you're crazy, or dangerous, but because I know what it's like to ruminate excessively about things (not my old relationships, but still, that same kind of ruminative thinking. The idea of getting up and having to go through the same process of thinking, every day. It's tiring. It's distressing. You can read some of my posting history if you want the details). It's a REALLY punishing way to live, and I hate to see someone suffer needlessly from it. Seeing a counselor regularly can help you realize that (a) your ruminative thought patterns are not necessarily abnormal (as you seem to fear) and (b) can give you techniques to fight back and free yourself from these lines of thinking.

I also want to point out that you have labeled yourself as "stalker", but this isn't necessarily the case at all. A lot of ruminative thought patterns can accompany depression, as well as various anxiety disorders. People who are actually "stalkers" tend not to be concerned or worried about their behavior; they rationalize it away. Obviously, none of us can diagnose you on the internet, but that is why it is imperative you see a real mental health professional sooner rather than later. Giving yourself a wrong diagnosis can be just make things worse. See that therapist, and try not to judge yourself too harshly in the meantime!
posted by HabeasCorpus at 1:44 PM on November 29, 2010

It will take a while, but I strongly recommend you go no contact. I think if you had, you would be further along by now. I don't know much about what I believe are called "process addictions" - the little adrenalin jolt you (used to) get from looking him up online - but it's highly likely that cutting off your supply will help you to detox. You'll still be thinking about him, although that will gradually wear off. Even as you are still thinking about him, your strength will start to return and you'll gradually start to get enjoyment from all those "productive" and "distracting" things that people are telling you will take your mind off him, but which you can't focus on. At all. Because they're just not as interesting as him. Even though he's boring. And you used to love all this other stuff and be obsessed with that TV show and they all seemed so fascinating and absorbing and now you don't know what you saw in them, even though you don't know what you saw in him either.

Seeking out his online activity used to be the thing that gave you what power there was to be had in that situation. Now it's not. You'll be much more powerful if you set boundaries and decide that you'll have no contact with someone who has shown himself to be a hurtful person. I'm sure he has lots of good qualities, and all, but people like him always do. It still doesn't make them good people to be friends with. I mean, Ted Bundy was a great conversationalist, witty, personable, a caring volunteer on a suicide hotline, great potential as a lawyer. Still a net cost to almost everybody who had dealings with him long-term, though.

So take him off all your social networks and resolve that you're NOT allowed to talk to him directly. I was going to say ban yourself from Googling him, but that's the very behaviour you're unsuccessfully trying to stop. So, start by unlinking and deleting him in one swift defriend-a-thon, you'll have made a good first step.

Try reading Why Men Love Bitches and take a lot of time to digest what she says about setting boundaries and not tolerating disrespect. Then do what she says, even if it feels unnatural. It will always turn out to have been the right thing to do, and you will know it's right even as temptation is causing you to rend your garments.

You can do it! You're not crazy, or a stalker. Feelings like this are far more common than people want to admit. You can work through it and be okay again.
posted by tel3path at 3:33 PM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ah, you poor thing. I went through this too, like many other posters, and the fact that the ex in question was an abusive jerk just made it worse - how could I continue to give a shit? But I did. It's mostly a closure thing for me I think - I want the ex to finally admit/acknowledge what an ass they were...and I still can't really grasp the fact that that will likely never happen.

What helped me most was going on dates. I've never had a problem meeting anyone but I'd never gone on a formal 'date', and neither had/have most of my friends; it seems more an American thing. So I was dubious at first, but logged onto PlentyofFish to have a look. I got so much interest, and had so many cool IM conversations, that my self-esteem got back to normal. I'd always been pretty confident but the ex had really changed that. And meeting people for the first time and them saying what a catch they thought I was - well, that helped too :)

I only ever had a first date - I set up my profile saying I just wanted a date and not a relationship - and things never progressed beyond a tipsy snog after the pub. But I'm still in contact with all but one of those dates, and one is now a very good friend.

I was very skeptical at first of this solution, and felt a bit pathetic tbh as it was a few years ago and most people didn't really admit to internet dating, but it did work. You don't need to jump into a relationship, or into bed, or do anything but go out for the evening for dinner and drinks with a cute guy who's going to make you feel better. Even the ones who don't work out for you still wanted to meet you.

Checking his profiles every so often isn't ideal, but understandable while you're weaning yourself off him. But DO NOT contact him. Easier said than done, I know, but see it as the first, very important, step.

Good luck hon. A load of us have been there and you're totally normal. And your ex is an asshole. You know it.
posted by mudkicker at 9:35 AM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Kittens! What you need is kittens. Seriously. When I found myself stalking an ex, I made a mental note to myself that everytime I find myself clicking on his facebook/myspace page or thinking about IM'ing him, I will go look at kittenwar.com instead. And it helped! Instead of just knowing that you shouldn't be googling him all the time and then feeling bad because you just can't listen to yourself, think of a website that you love or a quick activity that you enjoy doing that will take your mind off the ex, even if for only 2 minutes. Having a specific predetermined distraction in mind is easier to follow than just telling yourself "I shouldn't be doing this." After forcing yourself to look away for 2 minutes at first, then longer periods, you'll be more used to not looking at his profiles, and then after a week of so of less stalking maybe you'll even be able to block him from everywhere and delete his phone #. If you remember his number by heart, a trick to forgetting a number is to spend some time memorizing some other numbers - memorize your friends' numbers instead, it can be quite useful!
posted by KateHasQuestions at 8:06 PM on November 30, 2010

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