Letting them go: Social media for the broken-hearted

Hands up, who’s old enough to remember the movie ‘Fatal Attraction’ starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close? For those of you too young, it’s the infidelity psychological thriller about a married man who has a weekend affair with a woman who refuses to allow it to end. If you don’t know the story it’s well worth looking it up. Aside from being a great film, it sets the benchmark for storytelling where the focus is on ending a damaging relationship with a stalker. Spoiler alert: it ends violently.

Why are we talking about ‘Fatal Attraction’? Well, it’s a cautionary tale. With Hollywood remaking just about everything these days, you’ve got to wonder what a ‘Fatal Attraction’ reboot would look like. How would the film have been with social media playing some sort of role in the film? Can you imagine the obsessive character of Alex the stalker with social media at her fingertips? She would have been all over Dan and Beth’s social media footprint.

And herein lies the problem. Social media allows us to contact anyone at any time, and to follow that person with a degree of ease that is almost terrifying. To stalk someone, it was once necessary to leave the home. Not any more. Alex could have made Dan’s life miserable just by seeing his Facebook profile.

When it comes to relationship breakups social media can cause a powerful decline in wellbeing. The problem usually starts with a ‘little look’ at the ex’s online profile, which can spiral into untold psychological anguish as you’re drawn into a pattern where you find yourself returning to their profile again and again.

According to The MindShift Foundation’s Clinical Psychologist Dr Lars Madsen, “A third of people involved in a relationship admitted that they ‘very often’ looked at their current partner’s Facebook page, and about the same number admitted they Facebook-stalked an ex-partner at least once a week. And while Facebook surveillance is often perceived as a typical and harmless response, continual social media stalking obstructs the natural process of getting over an ex, and is associated with greater negative feelings after a breakup and lower self-worth.”

How much information do you really want?

When a relationship ends because a partner leaves or betrays the other, it’s natural to experience feelings of rejection. When you are left, it can be a devastating experience that leaves you feeling angry, sad and self-critical as you ruminate about what went wrong, but do you really need to follow them on their new journey and only hurt yourself in the process?

It’s important to realise that a normal part of grieving and letting go after a relationship is to give yourself a break from all forms of contact from your ex while you heal. Looking at their ‘happy posts’ on social media will not do you any good, and will in fact delay your healing and ability to move on.

What can you do in the short term?

When checking up on your ex becomes a problem, here are six ways to stop yourself from stalking them online:

  1. Delete their profile. You don’t want to be tempted to check up or accidentally be reminded of them as you’re innocently scrolling through social media.
  2. Keep busy. Surround yourself with friends, hit the gym and accomplish things that will make you feel really good about yourself.
  3. Find a replacement habit. Have you ever heard that you can’t quit smoking without replacing it with a different habit, like knitting or lifting weights? That logic applies to all bad habits. You want to jump onto social media? Put on a load of washing, mow the lawn, go for a walk or play a game instead.
  4. Get back in the dating game. You won’t obsess over your ex if another partner is in front of you. You don’t have to go out and get physical with the next person you see, but get comfortable with dating and the idea of being with someone else. It will help you get over your ex and keep you busy in the meantime. And who knows, you might actually have a little fun as well.
  5. Block his pages if you have to. You might need a little help from Google (or a techy friend if you’re lucky enough to have one) but you can block his pages from your computer if your stalking has gotten out of hand. Think of it as you engaging parental controls on yourself, because sometimes we all need boundaries.
  6. When all else fails, take a break from social media. You can take a time out from social media and beat this bad habit. With a little space, you’ll be able to process the break up and get back to using social media responsibly, with no stalking.

Moving forward with a new mindset

Accept the fact that it’s normal to have emotional reactions at the end of a relationship. They’ve probably been there all along and have intensified during and after the breakup process. Work on self-love. You are a worthwhile person who doesn’t have to let the end of your relationship define your self-worth. No person can complete you, so adopt a mindset of getting to know yourself better. Stay open to new experiences, hobbies or interests that you couldn’t pursue with your partner. Cultivate supportive relationships with people who accept you as this can help ease feelings of rejection. Get energised by the possibilities ahead for you.

Look at how feelings of rejection may be impacting your behaviour. Are you neglecting your health, interests, family, or friends due to grieving the loss of your relationship? Consulting a counsellor, support group, or divorce coach may help to facilitate healing. Try not to fall prey to a victim mentality and take care of yourself.

Part of the healing process after a split is recognising and accepting that the way you feel about yourself affects the way you relate to people in the world. As you learn to accept what happened and begin to love yourself again, your feelings of rejection will diminish. When you are connected to feelings of self-worth, you have more energy to relate to others in meaningful ways. You don’t have to be defined by your divorce experience. A new mindset can help you heal and move forward with your life.

Elizabeth Venzin is the Founder and CEO of the Australian Not-for-Profit Organisation The MindShift Foundation. Resources about preventative mental health can be found on the MindShift website www.mindshift.org.au

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