Help me stop stalking my ex and his new partner

Originally Published: January 21, 2000 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: March 26, 2014
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Alice,

I'm in desperate need of help! I have a great boyfriend but my ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend constantly plague me. I literally stalk them, unable to let go. I have tried any means possible to learn about what is going on with their lives and I just want to move on. I'm a twenty-one-year-old grad student in chemistry at Columbia right now and am on my break, so I have ample time to brood over this issue. Please help me get over this obsession!

Thanks,
Crazy ex-girlfriend

Dear Crazy ex-girlfriend,

Ending a relationship can be an incredibly painful and disorienting experience. Suddenly the person you spent the most time with, confided in the most, and looked forward to sharing meals and milestones with is gone. Very often a big void can arise in place of the person, even if someone new has come into your life. Because technology today provides a thousand ways to keep tabs on what someone's doing, it's really hard to fight the temptation to fill that void with some form of stalking, cyber or otherwise. But the fact that you are looking for help to change this behavior is a good sign that you are moving forward towards refocusing on yourself, your current partner, and more fully engaging in and enjoying your life.

When a relationship ends, it's common to experience denial, anger, fear, self-blame, and sadness, and it's not always easy to know what to do with these difficult feelings. The Mayo Clinic has done some research on a certain human trait called resiliency, which they define as "the ability to adapt well to stress, adversity, trauma or tragedy." Resiliency isn't about toughing it out or ignoring feelings of sadness over a loss. Rather, researchers find that people who are able to feel a loss, mourn, and then move back into their daily lives, are often happier and healthier and tend to avoid developing conditions like depression, anxiety, and even heart disease and diabetes. Of course, some interruption to your normal functioning is likely to happen after a breakup. People often experience disturbed sleeping and eating habits, and feelings of confusion and loss. To move on from a place of sadness or obsession and build resiliency, the Mayo Clinic suggests:

  • Get connected. Put energy into positive relationships with family and friends, who can listen to your concerns and offer support.
  • Nurture attitudes of hopefulness and optimism. While you can't change past events, look toward the future, even if it's just a glimmer of how things might improve.
  • Learn from your experience. Review past experiences and think about how you've changed as a result. If you feel worse as a result of your experiences, think about what changes could help. How have you coped with hardships in the past? Build on what helped you through those rough times and try to avoid actions that didn't help.
  • Take extra good care of yourself. Tend to your own needs and feelings, both physically and emotionally. This includes participating in activities and hobbies you enjoy, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, and eating well.
  • Work toward goals. Do something every day that gives you a sense of accomplishment. Even small, everyday goals are important. What are some goals you have?
  • Take pride in yourself. Trust yourself to solve problems and make sound decisions. Nurture your self-confidence and self-esteem so that you feel strong, capable, and self-reliant.
  • Maintain perspective. Look at your situation in the larger context of your own life, and of the world. What else is going on in the world that is important to you?  
  • Use humor and laughter. Humor is a helpful coping mechanism. If you simply can't find humor in your situation, turn to other sources for a laugh, such as a funny book or movie.
  • Write in a journal. A journal can be a healthy place to brood and articulate your feelings honestly and privately. The process of putting your thoughts into writing can also help you move beyond destructive feelings and come up with positive ideas for moving forward.
    List adapted from Resilience: Build skills to endure hardship by MayoClinic.com.

It might be helpful to set the goal of doing things with your new boyfriend that you really enjoy, or noticing what you appreciate about him and expressing your affection. Relying on your friends and family to keep you on track could also be a good motivator. In addition, many people find it comforting and useful to nourish their spiritual side in times of stress or pain. Yoga and meditation classes are readily available on Columbia's campus and in surrounding areas, many of them for free. For more support, as a Columbia student, you can see a counselor or join support groups on-campus at either Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or the Mental Health Service (CUMC).

Last but certainly not least, it might be useful to ask yourself some questions about why you are so compelled to know about your ex and his life. Are you dissatisfied with your current relationship or life situation? Would you like to develop your other friendships? Is stalking offering a welcome distraction from challenging grad school demands? This type of self-inquiry coupled with reaching out to others may help you walk away stalk-free.

All the power to you,

Alice