Everyone can agree that breakups suck. In today’s age of social media, they can be even harder and more confusing to go through. In the 90’s, nobody had to worry about whether they should stay Facebook friends with their exes or unfollow them on Twitter.
Some people choose to remain social media friends with their ex, but then end up compulsively checking their ex’s profile to see what they are up to, which ultimately can be psychologically harmful. Others choose to remove their ex from all forms of social media. Which is the better choice?
I wondered the same thing. When I went through my breakup last year, I didn’t know what to do about him being my Facebook friend or the fact we were following each other on Twitter. I actually decided to Google search what was healthier for a person psychologically: remaining connected with an ex through social media or deleting him or her from everything. That’s what inspired me to write this blog post.
First of all, why do some people choose to remain Facebook friends with an ex, and then constantly look at the person’s profile? We all know someone, maybe even yourself, who just won’t stop looking at their ex’s social media pages. It’s because love has the same neurological effects as a drug, and the effects often do not immediately go away once you have broken up. For example, a study done in 2010 had college students who had recently gone through a breakup look at a picture of their ex while an fMRI scan was performed. Their fMRI brain scans showed “neural activity in cortical and subcortical areas associated with craving and addiction.”
Ke$ha was right; someone’s love can be your drug. So, if you’re still a bit hung up on your ex post-breakup, know that it isn’t all your fault. There are uncontrollable biological factors post-breakup that make you feel that way.
It’s normal to have feelings of “withdrawal” after a breakup, but it should get better in time. Why do these feelings sometimes linger longer than they should, and make it even harder to get over your heartache? The reason is often social media. A study done by Dr. Tara Marshall at Brunel University found that people who remained Facebook friends with their ex had greater distress, longed for their ex-partner more, and had more negative feelings overall, when compared to individuals who unfriended their ex. Dr. Marshall concludes that this is evidence that remaining friends with an ex on social media may prolong the process of healing and slow down your ability to move on.
Not only does being friends with your ex on social media make it harder to move on, it can also lead some people to harass or embarrass their ex-partner. One study asked participants to report their behavior on Facebook regarding their ex. The study found that 18% of individuals publicly harassed their ex on Facebook or posted a Facebook status venting about their ex. It was also found that approximately 67% of people have checked their ex-partner’s Facebook page; so if you’ve found yourself looking at your ex’s profile, you are actually in the majority.
You may need to have an intervention for yourself if you can’t stop checking your ex’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and you don’t have the willpower to remove them from your online life. You could potentially be an exaholic. Dr. Lisa Bobby, clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Life Coaching in Denver, Colorado, and spokesperson for Exaholics (a program similar to AA) explains the concept of being an exaholic:
“Relationships tend to have an addictive quality, and research backs that up. It’s been demonstrated that romantic love activates the same region of the brain as cocaine and alcohol. In other words, “the brain on love” looks similar to “the brain on drugs.” And “the brain coming off love” looks a lot like “the brain coming off drugs.” With Exaholics, the theory is that falling in love is an addictive process, and that the process of getting over a relationship is similar to that of recovering from an addiction.”
Due to the fact that relationships have an addictive quality, we crave that person. One of the ways we can get our “fix” is by looking at the person’s social media pages. Even though checking up on your ex only results in pain and jealousy, some people experience a compulsion to do it. According to Dr. Bobby, part of it is biological; just by seeing a new picture or post from your ex will give you a surge of endorphins, similar to a drug.
If you’re having a really hard time, you may have an anxious attachment style. If a person has an anxious attachment style, they often seek approval and assurance from their partner and can be overly dependent on him or her. A study done by Dr. Jesse Fox and Dr. Katie Warber studied the relationship between people who check up on their ex-partners via social media and attachment styles. In a Psychology Today article, Dr. Warber explains the study; she says that individuals with anxious attachment styles “tend to become preoccupied with checking their ex’s Facebook page. They find themselves looking at pictures and status updates—even asking friends to monitor their former partner’s page—which can ultimately compound feelings of loneliness and loss.”
There is no psychological research that I could find that has found it is beneficial to remain connected to your ex through social media. So don’t do it! Immediately after my breakup, I chose to block my ex on Facebook. You may wonder why I didn’t just unfriend him. Well, when you unfriend someone you can still see the person’s profile pictures and public posts, and I didn’t want to have the urge to go and look to see if he had a new profile picture or post that I could see. I also unfollowed him on Twitter because I knew it wasn’t a good idea to see constant updates from him. I truly believe that choosing to eliminate him from my social media life allowed me to move on more quickly than people who choose to stay connected with their exes on social media.
Did you stay Facebook friends with your ex after you broke up? If so, did you have the urge to look at your ex’s profile?