"Help Me Stop Thinking About My Ex Girlfriend"

"She’s all fine and dandy, and I struggle with this every day."

Posted Oct 23, 2016

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

"I need your help please," Jim said with tears in his eyes. His ex had broken up with him a few weeks earlier. "I was beyond devastated. I slipped into a very dark and depressing place. I was taking handfuls of pills to kill the anxiety, loneliness, and pain. It was sheer torment and agony."

Jim is struggling to get through each day. He thinks about his ex constantly, even though he tries not to, but nothing helps. He is continuously sad, lonely, anxious, worried, and he keeps having self-defeating thoughts. "She’s all fine and dandy, and I struggle with this every day," Jim adds.

We see it all the time: It’s easy to get attracted to someone who is unavailable or unstable or unpredictable or is simply a bad choice for you, because the constant uncertainty fuels your feelings of attraction.

It is very simple to explain why that is the case. When we fall in love or are really physically and emotionally attracted to someone, the brain's levels of the satiation/feel-good chemical serotonin drop and the brain's levels of the pleasure and motivation chemical dopamine fluctuate.

Normal levels of serotonin give us a feeling of being satiated and relaxed, whereas low levels normally give us a feeling of being anxious and obsessive. When the brain’s levels of dopamine are unstable, we go from feeling ecstatic (when in company of the beloved) to feeling empty and unable to move (when being pushed away by the beloved or feeling uncertain about the reciprocity of their love). When dopamine levels are low, we are more likely to get addicted to alcohol, drugs, love, sex, shopping, gambling, and so on.

Potential lovers who are unpredictable, unavailable, unstable or just plain bad choices for you are likely to contribute to the instability of your brain chemicals. Their behavior lowers your brain's active levels of serotonin, and lowers dopamine when you cannot be near or in contact with your beloved.

Once you are near them or feel you are in contact with them, you immediately get a big boost in the pleasure and motivation neurotransmitter dopamine, and you want that feeling of pleasure and energy again and again. Moreover, if you are already emotionally and physically attracted to a person who acts unavailable or is unpredictable or is alternating between hot and cold, your brain may interpret the radical changes in your brain chemicals as the feeling of “being in love.”

What can you do to get over your ex if you brain chemicals still tell you that you are in love with someone not worthy of your love? Definitely stay away from them. The more exposure to the ex you get, the longer you will be addicted to their personality and behavior. Compare this to smoking. You are not going to be able to quit smoking by smoking several packs a day. Likewise, you are not going to get over your ex by constantly being in touch with them.

Treat your ex like a drug that makes you addicted. If you are like most people, you probably have already been able to get rid of various other bad habits you had (e.g., procrastination, nail biting, binge drinking, cigarette smoking). Now it’s time to get rid of this new bad habit: getting "high" from being around an unavailable, immature, unpredictable, and unstable individual. Or: getting high from being around someone who doesn't want you. Treat this habit the way you would treat any other bad habit. Don't quit cold turkey. We all know that that usually is setting yourself up for failure. Gradually get rid of the drug (i.e., your ex). Use it less and less to get a spark in your dopamine levels.

There are other more healthy ways to up your dopamine levels: over-the-counter supplements, for instance. One of these is mucuna pruriens. This herbal supplement contains L-dopa, a precursor for dopamine that can cross over the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain. Once inside the brain, it is converted into dopamine.

If that doesn't help, and you are suffering from anxiety when you cannot be around your ex, ask your doctor for a tranquilizer for temporary use or an antidepressant for long-term use. Prescription medications may help you get your ex addiction under control.

It can also in some cases be helpful to simply refuse to think about your ex. There is an old study showing that when you are not allowed to think about something, you automatically think about it. Being told not to think about a white bear will typically make you think of a white bear. But things tend to go a bit differently if you are strong-willed and you learn to take control of your own mind. Once you take charge of your own mind, you can acquire the ability to control which thoughts are "allowed" to occupy it. Meditation and mindfulness training may be able to help you shape your mind and its contents.