call 082 442 4779 or email info@sanctuaryplett.co.za.  After a break-up with with your spouse, significant other or love of your life, you might try to remain friends with your ex, slowly cut off contact, or torch every last relic of the relationship.

But one thing is inevitable: Eventually you have to move on. So why is it that some people have a hard time letting go of obsessive thoughts about  it, months or even years after ending a relationship? Although it’s natural to mourn the loss of a relationship, some people take such feelings too far. If this sounds like you, perhaps it is time to do some letting go.

power plays

There is scientific evidence of love’s grip on the brain.

The obsessive nature of love is highlighted in research conducted by Helen E. Fisher, Ph.D., a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University and author of “Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love.” When Fisher applied brain-imaging technology to a group of volunteers looking at photos of their romantic partners, she discovered that the areas of the brain that lit up were the same as those that corresponded to obsession. “When I first started looking at the properties of infatuation, they had some of the same elements of a cocaine high: sleeplessness, loss of a sense of time, absolute focus on love to the detriment of all around you,” Fisher said of her research when interviewed by Psychology Today magazine. “Infatuation can overtake the rational parts of your brain.”

“All obsessions address three neuropathways needed for healthy living: arousal, fantasy and satiation.


When a relationship ends, not only do you have to struggle with the person’s absence, from your life, there is a concomitant chemical withdrawal, Schaeffer said. Even for the most stable, well-balanced individuals, that can be difficult to face.

There are many reasons a person might have difficulty letting go of an ex, Schaeffer says, including a need for control or predictability, fear of the unknown, coping with anxiety, basing one’s self-esteem on how others view them and substituting drama for closeness.

Some people experience actual withdrawal symptoms when a relationship ends, yearning for the high or rush associated with the love interest. As people we need to be wary of cross channeling our focuses at this point. Compulsions and obsessions are unhealthy for people at best.

The thought that “this person is the only one for me” is the root of the affliction. “The fantasies feed the obsessions,” says Susan Peabody, a love-codependence teacher for 22 years and author of “Overcoming Obsession and Dependency in Relationships,” who is based in the San Francisco Bay area. “You carry around these fantasies of when the relationship was at its peak, and it’s on a loop in your brain.”

Moving on

Since obsessive thoughts acted out in love obsessions is fuelled by fantasy, modifying your thoughts is the best way to get over obsessions of an ex. To break the cycle, Schaeffer outlines the following steps to help people forget the past and focus on the future.

  • Assess yourself for love obsession tendencies honestly. Some signs include obsessive thoughts about another person that interfere with your daily life and feelings of worthlessness or depression when not in a relationship.
  • Know healthy love exists, but this is not healthy love. Learn how to identify it.
  • Be willing to face the pain letting go, bit by bit.
  • Discover and address the underlying causes and psychological beliefs that support the compulsive/ obsessive thoughts or behavior. Ask yourself questions like, “What do I believe about relationships, love, and myself? Why might I fear closeness? Do I believe people will disappoint me or I will disappoint them?”
  • Don’t forget the past; utilize it. Acknowledge that you will move beyond any painful experiences and focus on future relationship success.


Persistent and negative thoughts are one of the most common signs of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety makes it nearly impossible to stop focusing on things that you don’t want to focus on. These thoughts are rarely positive, often related to either your fears or your emotions, and in many cases the existence of the thought causes further anxiety and often leads to more obsessions.

The More You Try To Stop Them

Numerous scientific studies have shown that trying too hard to “not” think about something actually causes you to think about it more than if you tried to think about it. That’s because the brain keeps reminding you of the thought in order to remind you not to think about it. It’s a strange way the brain works that makes it very hard for someone that wants to end their obsessive thoughts to actually stop it.

Stop Shaming Yourself

First and foremost, you need to learn to accept your thoughts for what they are: a symptom of your anxiety. You need to stop shaming yourself, and stop feeling like you need to push these thoughts away.

Acceptance is crucial. These thoughts are not in your control, and not something you should expect to control. Learn to accept that they’re a natural part of the disorder, and that when you cure your disorder you’ll have fewer of the thoughts.

This is obviously very hard for people, but you need to find a way. Your thoughts are what they are – they may cause you to do silly or “irrational” things, but so what? Who cares if you check a lock three times or wash your hands multiple times a day? Who cares if you occasionally think about unusually sexual or fearful things?

Yes, it’s something you’ll need to cure, but while they’re occurring, it’s much like being sick with a cold. You don’t get mad at yourself for sneezing, so you shouldn’t try to fight your thoughts or see them as a bad part of your personality while you’re still dealing with your disorder.

Before you can overcome a love obsession you first have to recognize that you are indeed obsessed with the person who you believe you love. Love is engaging and gratifying, while obsession is overwhelming and draining. Love allows you to be seen for who you are and still be accepted, obsession causes you to see character traits that are not there and makes you think you have found perfection. Love allows a relationship to grow and strengthen, obsession creates an intense feeling to form a premature commitment. When you love you become a lover, when you obsess you can become a stalker.


Items you will need

  • Journal
  • Daily Planner


Stop pursuing a relationship with the person who you are obsessed with. On the popular family sitcom, “Family Matters,” there was a character who would often profess that he was “wearing down” his love interest. This wearing down tactic is an easy technique for an obsessed person to pick up; it leads him to believe that with enough effort and persistence he can make her love him over time. In reality, the consistent pursuit only drives your love interest further away.


Control your obsessive thoughts process. Getting over a love obsession is initially like getting over a heartbreaking break-up. There are going to be multiple times in a day when your thoughts may wander to moments that you used to share, or moments that you wish you could have enjoyed together. When this happens, go with the flow. Allow yourself 10 to 15 minutes to follow this train of thought, then force yourself to stop. Tell yourself that you will have time to think about it later and find something to do that will immediately occupy your time and thoughts.


Start journaling your relationship memories and feelings. Giving yourself a positive outlet for expressing past moments and fresh emotions will allow you to keep a record of what was real and what was perceived. People who get stuck in love obsessions make the mistake of not writing down what actually happened; over time, the obsessed relationship appears to have been without any conflict or signs of incompatibility. Your logs should include specific information, such as the month, year, day and location of your recollection. Having as much detail as possible is important in getting your mind to start connecting concrete instances with what you might have perceived to be timeless and cherished events.


Ask someone close to you to be your support partner. Ideally, this should be someone who knows about your former love interest. Tell her why you are having a hard time getting over the relationship and listen as she gives you her honest opinion. Completing this process can be difficult, as it is a humbling experience to share the truth about your obsession.
Be careful to have a constant communication schedule with your support partner, but don’t make these conversations a daily confession.


Enroll in a charitable organization. Every community has nonprofit organizations that need as much help as possible. According to your schedule, plan to volunteer on your free days. This can be during the late afternoons when you might experience a certain loneliness or on the weekend when you would otherwise obsess over being with the person of interest. Focusing on something besides your obsession will help you get out of this unhealthy cycle.

Mason Cooley once wrote: “The cure for an obsession: get another one.” That’s about as good advice as any that I’ve heard on how to quiet the annoying voices inside your head. They nag, persist, harass, and endure longer than your patience or composure. I haven’t been very successful at managing mine, as I’m usually processing three obsessions at a time. But a few of my strategies have helped me from time to time. Here they are.

  1. Get back on track.

One of the most helpful visualizations for me to employ when I’m obsessing is to imagine that my mind is a car driving along the highway. When I get going on an obsession — can’t let go of a regret, insecurity, or, God forbid, a mix between the two — I simply acknowledge that I am off the road: perhaps on the shoulder of the lane, or going up a ramp, or off to a new adventure altogether. I need to direct the car back to the highway. When I’m in an obsessive thoughts state, I do that exercise once, say, every five seconds.

  1. Stop.

Another visualization technique I use is simply to visualize a stop sign. Not creative, I know, but you don’t need fancy images to get the buggers out of your head. Whenever my thoughts take on a life on their own, I visualize the stop sign. Some OCD experts recommend a ritual that you can do to remind yourself to stop (as you visualize the stop sign), like snapping a rubber band on your wrist — something to indicate that you need to direct your thoughts back to reality. I did this for awhile, but the red marks clued too many people in on what was going on inside my noggin.

  1. Keep moving.

Say you’ve employed visualization technique after visualization technique, and your mind keeps going back to that spot — analyzing every angle of the issue. You can’t take it anymore. When I’ve reached my threshold, I get moving… in any way possible.

If I’m at work, I take a bathroom break. If I’m at home, I walk around the block. If I’m in a conversation at a party, I’ll excuse myself and walk to another part of the room. I try my best to change my scenery in any (socially acceptable) way I can, because the shift can sometimes distract me from my thoughts. Sometimes.

  1. Get mad.

Some folks say anger isn’t becoming, but new research published in the journal “Emotion” indicates that anger can, at times, contribute to happiness levels and well-being. In the study, participants who chose angry music before a confrontational task showed greater psychological health than the participants who chose happy music. The first group reported greater satisfaction with life, better grades, and a stronger network of friends. It’s okay, then, to yell at your obsession, at your brain, or both. They deserve it.

  1. Beware of old baggage.

Much of what we can’t let go — or the fact that we can’t let it go — has roots in past issues. We can’t go back and change it, but the understanding of why we are doing something sometimes offers clues as to how to break obsessive thoughts pattern. “So what do we owe our personal histories?” writes psychiatrist Gordon Livingston, M.D., in “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart.” “Certainly we are shaped by them and must learn from them if we are to avoid the repetitious mistakes that make us feel trapped in a long-running drama of our own authorship.”

  1. Identify the distortions.

In their book, The OCD Workbook, Bruce M. Hyman, Ph.D., and Cherry Pedrick, RN, catalog some typical cognitive errors of worriers and persons with OCD. Take note of these:

Overestimating risk, harm and danger

Over-control and perfectionism


Black and white or all-or-nothing obsessive thoughts

Persistent doubting

Magical thinking

Superstitious obsessive thoughts

Intolerance of uncertainty


Pessimistic bias

What-if thinking and obsessive thoughts

Intolerance of anxiety

Extraordinary cause and effect

  1. Apply some humor.

Humor is your best friend. It’s the only voice that confirms that you’re not a freak, that you just are in the midst of one of your regular freak outs, and things will be just fine if you don’t take this thing you are so fixated on so seriously. Humor inserts some much-needed room between your emotional center, your brain’s limbic system, and your issue.

Rather than frustrating you with the unrealistic goal of stopping the thoughts, cognitive-behavior therapy helps by weakening the connection between obsessive thoughts and the rest of your waking life. In other words, faced with the reality that there is no on/off switch, CBT turns down the volume.

The ultimate goal of treating obsessive thoughts is to “get out of your head” and into your life. Behavioral activation is focused on just that – setting specific goals to engage in meaningful, healthy behaviors. These are learned in a recovery programme such as the well renowned one at Pathways Plett for depression or Sanctuary Wellness Clinics for depression, burnout, spiritual advancement and relationship healing. Call 0824424779 or emial info@sanctuaryplett.co.za

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