How do I kick him out of my head once and for all?
March 16, 2013 1:52 AM   Subscribe

He distracted me so much while we were together, and now I'm *still* being distracted by him and we've been apart for months. Any ideas? Blizzard conditions ahead.

The relationship lasted 8 months. Following a month when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I was going through a terrible situation at work, he started to fall into a major depression, and we traveled across the country to see his family (something that always stressed him out beyond belief), he ended it abruptly and completely shut me out, for reasons about which I am still unclear, three and a half months ago.

He came to my office to pick me up for the date we were supposed to go on that night, sat down next to my desk and announced, "I'm not in love with you anymore" and that was kind of it. He told me that I "didn't get him", that he had talked about this with all his friends and "a few of them told me to stay with you and most of them told me to break up with you." (He hadn't talked to me about his feelings for me changing at all; I had no idea this was even coming.)

Rationally, I can see now that he was more of a hot mess than anyone I've dated before. He sucked all the oxygen out of my world, focusing EVERYTHING on him, to the point that the stress of this relationship made me physically ill. I literally had no bandwidth available to focus on myself in any way during this relationship or to view what was happening critically, something I didn't even realize until after it was over. I'm no armchair psychiatrist, but - narcissism? Asperger's? Just being a complete dick for no other reason whatsoever? Whatever reason for the way he operates in the world, it's bad. But it's his issue, not mine. I just get to deal with the fallout.

When he left my office that night, I really did feel a great amount of relief along with the shellshock. I didn't cry about this at all, but this is definitely the worst, most painful breakup I've ever been through, and I don't seem to be able to end that pain. He's a public figure and it's hard to escape him in his realm, which, professionally, I can't avoid. And some of his friends, with whom I had become close during the relationship, made a point to reach out to me after the breakup to ask if we could still hang out - these are people I love on their own merits, not because they are friends with my ex, and I do see them every now and then. So I get these reminders of him whether I want them or not.

At this point, I understand that he did me a favor by leaving me. I'm attending to my health and feeling better physically, have been able to make some strides in areas of my life that needed my attention, and I'm feeling a million times more well rested. My logical brain is cool, I think. But I still sometimes find myself emotionally spinning out on him more than I would like to be doing almost four months after this breakup and over someone who doesn't deserve my ongoing attention.

I still picture him being with me in places we went to together, I still half expect to see a text from him in the morning when I wake up, I still think the phone will ring and it's going to be him. And it's not that I necessarily WANT any of that - the way he handled this has left no room for even the post-relationship warmth and friendliness that I enjoy with the majority of my exes, and there is ZERO chance that I would ever get back together with him, ZERO ZERO ZERO.

I'm not interested in dating right now, and that's a conscious choice I am making - I am changing career focus and want to concentrate on that for a while before I get involved with someone new - but how the hell do I get this guy out of my head for GOOD?
posted by deliciae to Human Relations (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Avoidance and denial works for me. You start by not thinking about them on purpose. That means not wondering about what kind of disorder he might have, thinking back on memories of trips you took and things you did, what it all means, and everything like that. In professional situations involving his realm, only think about him when you strictly HAVE TO for your job, and even then keep it only to the professional topics in your mind.

The next step is not thinking about them accidentally. Sometimes you will just accidentally find yourself thinking of someone. Just let those thoughts float onward.

I find, when I do this for long enough, in most cases, the person will leave my head. Then later on I can let out all the thoughts and feelings I was avoiding and denying (because you have to deal with them eventually), because I won't be consumed by them at that point
posted by cairdeas at 2:09 AM on March 16, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have been in a similar situation. Consider reading up on how to get rid of obsessive thoughts. The main message seems to be to get rid of the trigger, which is similar to what cairdeas is saying. Try to notice if there is a specific thing that sets you off and consciously remove it from your thoughts/lifestyle.
posted by asok at 2:13 AM on March 16, 2013

Breaking up is similar to grieving for someone who has died. In both cases, you're emotionally invested in the relationship, and then you lose it.

To take the analogy further: say someone dies of a long, slow illness; in a lot of ways, we begin the grieving process early, so while it hurts when that person dies, we've already got some of the pain behind us. When death is sudden, like a heart attack out of the blue, then all of the grief hits at once.

You had no warning about this breakup, so it's like that unexpected heart attack, and you've been doing all your grieving since. Three months isn't that long; just hang in there, you'll be okay!
posted by easily confused at 2:39 AM on March 16, 2013 [11 favorites]

posted by VikingSword at 3:17 AM on March 16, 2013

Relax; three and a half months isn't that long, especially if you were at the stage of meeting families and stuff. The fact that the relationship turned your world upside down with stress and everything being about him makes it even more disorienting when you break up. People cite all kinds of formulas, like half the time you were dating, but this may take as much time as the whole time you were dating.
posted by BibiRose at 3:23 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I tend to think that to get from love/lust to indifference quickly, you might need to take a detour through disgust/hate. The basis for the disgust can be real or made up, but focus intensely on his jerkiness. (Warning: this is all interior monologue stuff, and definitely should not involve action or talking to him or about him to third parties). If you must think about him, think about what a total asshole he is. Good luck.
posted by murfed13 at 4:36 AM on March 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

When those thoughts of him come into your head, imagine walling them off, like they are a little ball, and then flinging them away through the air like an alien blobual that has no place in your head. Expunge them thusly.
posted by Dansaman at 5:02 AM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Something else to try is stop feeding your thoughts about him. It takes energy to think, and you have to feed energy to a thought to "develop" it (I'm not saying this is neuroscience; it's how it feels to me). So, a thought about him comes up. You can entertain that thought, and give it strength and definition, you can push that thought away, and give it strength and definition, or you can go "huh, a thought about X," and put your attention elsewhere, which will weaken and undefine the thought until it seeps away. This takes some practice. It's better to purposefully direct your attention towards something else rather than "unthinking" about him, because, well, pushing away makes it stronger. You will find yourself slipping, but just take you attention and place it elsewhere, and your brain will eventually get the message.

I do this a lot when irritation at work situations begins to impinge on rest time; I could stew about something I can't affect at the moment, or I could actually rest and be better prepared in the future.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:09 AM on March 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

Try to observe yourself when these thoughts enter your mind, because you just can't tell your brain to never think of some thing an because it can help you look to the future. Example: thought of him bubbles up, and you follow that by thinking "ok I'm thinking I him again, but that's just because I miss having someone in my life. He was so wrong for me, and I'll learn from this experience."
posted by Philemon at 6:00 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can't get him out of your head for good, and trying to will be like trying not to think about purple elephants. All you can do is temper your response to his presence in your head. The more hospitable you are to those thoughts (giving them your energy) the longer they'll stick around, sucking energy from all the other things you'd rather be thinking about. So just be inhospitable. Acknowledge but don't feed, roll your eyes instead of making room on the couch, decide you'd rather think about springtime or the cup of coffee in your hands or career-change details or one of the friends you met through this person and what you have in common outside of him. The thoughts lose power when your life outside of them takes on meaning. That takes time.
posted by headnsouth at 7:16 AM on March 16, 2013

My ex boyfriend was also in the public eye (on television!) so for six months I did not watch TV, at least not in a capacity where there was any chance I could see him. We dated for three years and it really broke my heart when it ended and all I could do was think about him, and it didn't help that every waking moment I was reminded of our time together.

So I did all I could to make my world a friendlier place. For starters, unfriend on Facebook. I hid all the jewelry and mementos I had and just left his clothes at the bottom of my drawer until nearly a year later when I was ready to give them back.

I took different ways to work, avoided our old hangouts and maintained strict, and I mean STRICT, not even a peep no contact.

Now we work together again(I had left my job, where we initially met and he continued to work) because I decided I missed it and I wasn't going to let him take that away from me. It was hard at first, but honestly I just got used to seeing him and desensitized myself to his presence. I can look at photos of us and not even flinch. I can hear his voice and not care. I can wear the jewelry he gave me without thinking twice, and I can stroll into our old dive bar without bursting into tears.

It's time, really it is. But you have to let time do its work; you can't go around texting and emailing and stalking on Facebook. The guy sounds like a spineless jerk who didn't even have the guts to make his own decision about being in a relationship so he crowdsourced it. LAME.

When my relationship ended, I was so distraught I thought I was going to die. And honestly I do still think of my ex every now and then, but not like ZOMG OUR SONG I CAN'T EVEN!!!

And I am the happiest I have ever been in my life, even happier than I ever was with him. Really.

Just give it time.
posted by thank you silence at 7:40 AM on March 16, 2013 [9 favorites]

I read somewhere that it takes three times as long as the duration of the relationship to begin getting over it. Give yourself time. Easy, I know, to say but sometimes we need to hear that its okay, this is normal. Let it flow though you and riding the pain will be easier than fighting it and wanting and wishing hard for it to go away already.
posted by infini at 9:12 AM on March 16, 2013

I'd work less on getting him out of your head for good and work more on getting comfortable with him in there. Why must it be terrible that you think he's on the other end of a ringing phone?

So, I suggest you note every time he appears in your head and get back to what you were doing just before.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:29 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have been with Bad Guys but the one who messed with my head the most was a "good guy" who was a human vacuum, feeding on my time, energy, and general good will. He was a hot mess. I was younger and wanted to help him. I lent him money, he bought me beautiful gifts, we traveled together, he took me nice places. I bent over backwards for this guy - I literally filled out his law school applications for him. And then he didn't want me to come to his graduation or visit him at law school. So that was that.

I stupidly moved on by saying "okay" when a guy in whom I was not very interested asked me out. I also wallowed and I told our story, his story, to anyone who would listen. I tried to think about the good things I got out of the relationship and what I learned, which was actually a lot. I gave myself permission to disagree with this guy - he was really smart so I felt inclined to agree with everything he said. I also gave myself permission to not like this guy. I thought he dumped me because there was something wrong with me. I'm not perfect but he certainly isn't either.

Time and healthy distractions help. Don't feel badly about needing time and be honest, fair, and gentle with yourself. When you feel bad, remind yourself that it's just a feeling and feelings are temporary. In yoga, when we talk about focusing on what we're doing, we acknowledge that intrusive thoughts come up. It's natural. But just because an intrusive thought enters your head doesn't mean you have to dwell on it. It's just like a cloud floating by and there it goes. Good luck. You're going to be fine.
posted by kat518 at 11:08 AM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

When you need to stop doing or thinging about something, it helps a lot to replace it with something else. The simplest way is to force yourself to focus on actual, physical things in your vicinity, even if it's just rug, clock, window, etc.

You can also have a little list in your mind of positive things that exist in your present life -- like individual people who do value and care about you. It might only take a half a minute of picturing my nephew laughing to unhook my mind from something I need to quit thinking about.

You may have to do this many times a day at first. One of the hardest things to deal with is self-criticism: "Why do I keep doing this to myself? I should be able to stop thinking about him, because it's obvious I'm better off without him." That's another type of thought to let go without considering it.

kat518's phrase "like a cloud going by" is a great way to imagine these thoughts drifting away. A good friend of mine likes to acknowledge her "bad thoughts" and then silently say, "Thanks for sharing...bye!"
posted by wryly at 12:07 PM on March 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

nthing time

Also, are you sure you are not interested in dating? I think they call it a rebound. That's what it's for.
posted by ibakecake at 2:54 PM on March 16, 2013

I agree with what others have said about time and also not letting the thoughts take over. I am not particularly good at meditation, but even the little I've done has helped me practice sitting with what is and not getting caught up in it. I focus on my breath and after a bit realise that I have been thinking about stuff at work, or what to have for dinner, or my ex with whom I am still friends (that has been hard for me), and rather than get upset or judge the thoughts in any way, just acknowledge that they're there and gently, compassionately push them away again and return to the breath. It helps when not meditating, too. It may work for you, maybe not.

The other thing that might be helpful (and I say this because your story reminds me a little of my own experience with a hot mess) is to talk to a professional, if you have time/can afford it etc. I found it really useful in terms of sorting out some of the fallout from that relationship, which seemed to leave me logically understanding that it wasn't my fault whilst emotionally convinced that it was - even if only because I had been so stupid as to go there in the first place. Forgiving myself has taken a long time, and I still sometimes find myself thinking in terms of "ha, I can eat X food which she hated" - why does it even occur to me anymore? But not investing in the thoughts does help to rob them of their power to disturb/unsettle me.

I hope this helps. It's just tough. Hang in there!
posted by Athanassiel at 4:38 PM on March 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lots of good thoughts here. I would really read them a few times and take what is being said on-board. The contribution that I have is below:

(He hadn't talked to me about his feelings for me changing at all; I had no idea this was even coming.)

I'll say this as gently as possible, so that you know that no offence is intended. Neither of you sound like particularly good partners in this relationship. You each welcomed the other into your own worlds of stress and difficulty, not protecting the other person, but rather fully involving them. Eight months is still a nascent relationship, and it sounds as if 1) you were each primarily absorbed with your own stress, and then 2) brought that into the relationship.

I say this because you said you didn't see it coming. There will always be signs. Relationships are not static things, they are either getting stronger or weaker. It's a moving target, and even after years, the dynamic between people will change. That you didn't see it coming to me says that you were out of touch with him at this point. It's nobody's fault, it sounds like you just grew apart without noticing.

How he broke up with you is irrelevant. It doesn't matter what he did or what he said, the result is the same. He terminated the relationship at that moment. If you constantly replay what happened in that moment, you are going to prolong your own suffering.

Rationally, I can see now that he was more of a hot mess than anyone I've dated before. He sucked all the oxygen out of my world, focusing EVERYTHING on him, to the point that the stress of this relationship made me physically ill. I literally had no bandwidth available to focus on myself in any way during this relationship or to view what was happening critically, something I didn't even realize until after it was over. I'm no armchair psychiatrist, but - narcissism? Asperger's? Just being a complete dick for no other reason whatsoever? Whatever reason for the way he operates in the world, it's bad. But it's his issue, not mine. I just get to deal with the fallout.

Okay, as mentioned, I'm not trying to be harsh, but this paragraph is at the crux of how you feel I think. Sounds like there's a bit of martyrdom – he was a holy hot mess and you gave your life trying to help sort him out. Now, he may have any number of conditions or whatever, but the reality is he did not suck the oxygen out of your world but rather you chose to focus solely on him to exclusion of many other things. You will probably remain in confusion and distress until you accept your own accountability for the situation.

You say a lot of stuff after that. He's a public figure. You're changing jobs. Head is cool. Weirdness with friends. A lot of that is standard break-up material. A relationship ends, and you have to go on. The core problem, however, seems to be that you are not accepting the reality of a relationship. That two people come together and create something. You are just as responsible for the breakup as he is, for the relationship broke down. And there were two of you in it.

I don't know why you're holding on to this like this. Only you know that. Perhaps you had a lot of stuff you didn't want to deal with, and it was easier to throw everything into the relationship. But that is a choice that you made, and has little to do with him.

He will be out of your life, when you accept that it's your life and you are in fully control of all the decisions that you make, and the results that come from those decisions.
posted by nickrussell at 10:24 AM on March 17, 2013

It sounds like some of your difficulty recovering may be based on the observed phenomenon that it's more psychologically scarring to be dumped by someone you consider inferior to yourself than someone you consider superior. When you're dating someone who's out of your league and they break up with you, you're hurt, but you don't question your sense of your own desirability. You knew that guy was too good for you.

But when the hot mess dumps you, whoa! Are you really not good enough for that hot mess? What happened to your ranking? In this case, I imagine part of the squirrelly feeling is trying to retroactively find warning signs that you were about to be tasting the curb. On some level you're trying to figure out what you're supposed to learn from this. You've already learned it, though, which is that You Are Not Compatible With This Kind of Guy. You're done learning, you just don't know it yet.

So that might be part of it. The other thing is that you're ascribing various mental dysfunctions to him. When I think someone has a mental dysfunction, the sentiment I'm really feeling is "This person's brain doesn't work the way I expect a person's brain to work." What I expect brains to work like is my brain. Sometimes it's my brain that's actually the less normal one.

Either way, the effect is that my dealings with the person require a lot more conscious effort than dealing with people whose brains DO work like mine. I can't rely on these ABNORMAL people to interpret my words and actions the way I intend them to be received. I have to bring my full, conscious attention to every communication that passes between us, looking for things they might be reading into it. (In the case of clinical narcissists, they take everything you do personally. How dare you order chocolate cake when you know the narcissist has a traumatic story that involves chocolate cake? Clearly you were deliberately trying to activate the narcissist's PTSD, right? Eventually every interaction with the narcissist is you valiantly trying not to upset the narcissist and somehow still failing at it.)

When you train your brain to bring your full, conscious attention to someone every time you deal with him, it's going to take a while for your brain to NOT latch on to thoughts of him like a pit bull with TMJ latching onto a burglar. But "If it feels like this after four months it's going to feel like this forever!" is distorted thinking. If that were true I'd still be obsessed with Duran Duran. You just need time.
posted by cirocco at 1:30 PM on March 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

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