herald

Saturday 21 September 2019

'I can't stop looking at my ex online'

Each week, adult and specialist adolescent psychotherapist Belinda Kelly answers your queries

I can't get my ex-girlfriend out of my mind. She broke up with me six months ago and it was my first real relationship. I keep wondering what she's up to and then I spend too much time looking at her on Facebook and Instagram. Photo: Stock posed by model
I can't get my ex-girlfriend out of my mind. She broke up with me six months ago and it was my first real relationship. I keep wondering what she's up to and then I spend too much time looking at her on Facebook and Instagram. Photo: Stock posed by model

Q. I can't get my ex-girlfriend out of my mind. She broke up with me six months ago and it was my first real relationship. I keep wondering what she's up to and then I spend too much time looking at her on Facebook and Instagram. I'm really angry with myself as I can't move on. I just get so jealous when I see her with other men online. I've turned into this weird stalker. It was my birthday last week and I thought she'd call or at least text me. I was so crushed that she didn't even comment online.

A. I think you're being really hard on yourself. It's only been six months since a really important relationship in your life ended. This was your first experience of being intimate and trusting someone with your heart. You say you can't move on. But maybe this isn't about moving on. Maybe you need to grieve the ending of a relationship that really mattered to you. It takes time to heal from any break-up. We are emotional beings, and even when we heal, we carry the memories and scars of all our break-ups.

It is human nature to be curious about our exes and who they are with. The dilemma for you is that nowadays, it's possible to waste all your time online obsessing and tracking their lives. Perhaps by seeing her online, it has helped you to gradually accept the reality of the ending of a relationship that really mattered to you.

Or you want to let go and by being online you are anxiously looking for closure and trying to find a reason for the break-up. In a 2009 study of peoples' habit of checking their exes on Facebook, they found that the more jealous users became seeing their ex's life on Facebook, the more time they spent looking at their posts, "whereby heightened jealousy leads to increased surveillance of a partner's Facebook page". Which basically means that by constantly checking her online presence, you are only harming yourself. You will only remain stuck in your distress and feel bad about yourself.

You now need to break this habit through willpower and discipline. Could you ask a trustworthy friend or sibling to help you reduce your need to check your ex's feeds? If you have to be accountable to them, it may make you more aware of it. If you lack the willpower to reduce the online checking, then you will need to remove her account or block it altogether.

You need to shift your focus away from her life. If you could start writing in a journal how you are feeling, it would help you process the reality of this break-up.

Make time to catch up with friends so you are not too isolated. You could start a new exercise regime or take up a new hobby. If you could replace the habit with something positive, that will make you feel good about yourself again. You are in the early stages of mourning this significant loss. It's really hard to move on from someone you loved and I hope you can be kind to yourself. You are still so young and remember there will be other loves in your life.

Q. I am 18 and I have started to get pains in my chest. They feel frightening and I get them when I'm at home or in school when everything feels too much. I'm an only child. My parents kind of hate each other and being at home is pretty stressful, so I hide in my room a lot. They both say horrible things to me about each other. At least they avoid each other. My dad works till really late and they sleep in separate rooms. If they didn't have me, there's no way they'd still be married. I just wish I had a normal family as then I'd feel less of a freak. I'm planning to move out once I get my college choice.

A. Firstly, I'd advise you to go to your GP and get your heart checked out just to rule out anything physical. Your chest pains are very likely to be panic attacks caused by your feelings of anxiety. When a young person grows up in an angry or depressed home, that sadness and fear becomes lodged in their hearts.

Your world is being torn apart by your parents' irresponsible behaviour. At 18, you should be taking ownership of your future and making all sorts of plans for yourself, but instead, you're stuck in the middle of all this. Growing up in an unhappy home, it's impossible to concentrate.

You are living in a state of bewilderment and fear. You say you feel like a "freak" but I hope you can hear me when I say there is nothing strange about you.

I have met so many young people who blame themselves when their parents fight. They believe their existence caused their parents' suffering. This is so far from the truth. You are not responsible for your parents' choices. They are responsible for you. All parents love their children even when they are causing them pain.

If there was any way you could talk to a guidance counsellor or a trusted teacher or relative, it would help you to feel more supported. If you have good friends, make an effort to open up to them. You might be surprised to learn that your situation isn't unique.

When you get to college, go and see a counsellor so you can discover your own emerging identity. That way you can try to make peace with your past and look ahead. I am sure you will find your tribe in college and start to build a happier life for yourself. I really hope you get support to move past all of this and to feel less afraid of the world which awaits you.

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