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February 6, 2019

Getting Over a Breakup in the Age of Social Media

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Why you may not want to follow your ex.

Some people find that social media serves as a positive distraction and source of support after a breakup. For example, it is now easier to reconnect with old friends and ask for affirming messages online. This morning, one of my clients was feeling down and asked friends to share uplifting messages; funny GIFs, thoughtful memes and adorable animal videos poured in to boost her mood and served as a reminder of all the people who are willing to offer support from a distance.

Others, of course, find that social media connections are more distracting and frustrating after a breakup. You might see photos of your ex having a great time or enjoying themselves with mutual friends. You might feel resentful that shared friends are seemingly more engaged with your ex’s posts than your own. And of course, your ex might post evidence that they’ve moved on more quickly than you have and this can further intensify the suffering that results from a breakup. Once you start checking in on them, it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of looking at their old posts, their friends’ posts and more…

Most people aren’t sure how to proceed with breaking up online after breaking up in person and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Some people opt to remain friends and others make a clean break. If you opt for the former and you find their posts distressing, I suggest that you hide their posts for a set period of time. They won’t know that you’ve hid them (you’ll still be “friends”), but you’ll benefit from engaging with other people in your feed instead.

If you’re spending too much time following your ex or their friends online, you may also want to consider taking a full social media break after a relationship dissolves.  You don’t have to cut them off forever, but staying connected on social media after a difficult break-up is a recipe for disaster. Keeping tabs on one another or broadcasting scathing posts will only fuel your anger, resentment and sadness and do nothing to motivate you to seek happiness. When you’re happy, you’ll attract other good people whom you can trust with little effort.

If you’re in the early stages post-breakup, it’s probably not a good idea to follow your ex for a number of reasons:

1. Jealousy is normal and can be healthy, but after a breakup, it’s not uncommon to feel higher, more intense levels of jealousy. Social media can feed the jealousy beast, as it offers the highlight reel of our lives enhanced by filters, editing apps and carefully crafted hum-brags. If you’re following along hoping to see evidence that your ex is worse off without you, you’re likely to be disappointed, as their public posts tend to reflect their (seemingly) happiest moments. In fact, studies show that our exes (and friends) aren’t as happy as we think they are based on our interpretation of their social media posts.

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2. Social media, despite its limited ability to foster intimacy, does create and maintain connections. Every time you see photos, stories and funny anecdotes (that went through four drafts before publication), you prolong the connection with this person with whom you’ve supposedly cut ties.

3. Following an ex can be distressful. A recent study found that spending time on your ex’s Facebook page is associated with higher levels of distress, lower levels of personal growth and more negative feelings after a break-up.

If you’re having trouble calling it quits on their social media accounts cold-turkey, stop following them for 2-5 days to begin with and if you have to cave for a brief moment after this time period, give yourself two (or ten) minutes to indulge and peek. You may find that as time elapses, your desire to check in on them subsides and you can go another ten, twenty or thirty days with less effort.

And be sure to avoid passive-aggressive posts that reference your ex or your breakup even indirectly. Everyone knows what you’re talking about and posting vaguely or in a disparaging manner does nothing to help you heal. Instead, focus on self-care:

Traditional self-care advice tends to focus on being positive, socializing as a form of distraction and trying new things post-breakup. What we often miss relates to the less-shiny emotions: sadness, loneliness, a sense of loss, and others. Instead of pretending to be happy and forcing yourself to be upbeat right away to distract yourself, consider leaning into the negative emotions. Allow yourself to be sad for a period of time and sit with the feeling.

You’re more likely to reach acceptance and overcome a feeling if you acknowledge it and ignoring feelings will not eradicate them. One study found that “dwelling” on a breakup can help you to get over the breakup more effectively, so if you find yourself ruminating a bit, don’t feel guilty.

You may want to write down how you’re feeling, make lists to help you understand your emotions or keep a journal in the early days and weeks. Over time, you can decrease the time you spend doing so and set limits to ensure that you’re also taking steps to move on with your life.

I wish you all the best and hope that you put yourself first during this difficult time.