In her column on dealing with life’s challenges, life coach Karen Campbell looks at why even the most savvy of us can properly lose the plot where matters of the heart are concerned.
A lot of us have got, or have heard, stories of people falling out of their everyday personas to dabble with a bit of batshit behaviour following a break-up.
You know: the kind of doings which see you turning up at your ex’s work/home/local begging for them back; or wearing the grotty old T-shirt they left behind until it needs a health warning; or spending an unhealthy amount of time trawling social media for a glimpse into your former beloved’s life when really you should be getting on with your own.
Now I’m not talking Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction here (all bunnies deserve to feel safe in their hutches even when there’s huge amounts of provocation from a bit of an arsehole in play) but us everyday folk who, at times, can be partial to a period of, shall we say, out of the box antics.
And what I find really interesting is that us highly educated, exceedingly capable, amazingly independent people can seemingly have a total personality overhaul when a certain person enters our stratosphere. And an even worse one when they exit.
So why is it that we can behave in this way? A way that sees all logic and dignity go out the window in favour of irrational and, let’s face it, slightly cringey behaviour.
Let’s start with looking at past relationships. As Philip Larkin very rightly said, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad,” and this is especially relevant when looking at someone who is displaying such uncharacteristically obsessive actions.
It’s no great surprise that if a child was not brought up in a safe and secure environment, the effects of this could transfer into their adult life. So as soon as they’re faced with any type of abandonment, feelings of high anxiety, insecurity and fear can kick in. This, in turn, can prompt the 40-texts-a-day-to-the-ex trend.
A lot of the time, the people acting in such a way are playing out their torment from childhood, which needs professional work to look at how this cycle of pain and obsession can be reduced in the future. And it isn’t just restricted to childhood here. If there’s been a particularly nasty old relationship that hasn’t been dealt with properly, this can come to a head in future anxious moments too.
“Remember that being in love is a choice. You love a person because of who you are, not because of who they are. You are in control.”
Another thing to talk about is chemistry. When we’re in love and happy we produce oxytocin – we get a jolt of this with every hug, kiss or just an interaction with our partner, so when that suddenly disappears, the levels dramatically reduce.
When the body senses distress, it can produce the stress hormone CRF (corticotropin-releasing factor) which then triggers the adrenal glands to produce cortisol, which suppresses appetite and memory. So when you’re in the post-break-up not eating/sleeping/bathing vibe, that’s what’s going on. Lovely.
For a lot of people, this swerve into batshit territory occurs after a break-up, and often when they’re the one being dumped.
Now, I think we all can agree that being dumped is shit. It’s beyond shit, especially if you really didn’t want it to happen as not only are you experiencing the ultimate rejection, but all your plans and future dreams are simultaneously being tossed aside, leaving you like a Weeble on jelly.
This can lead to a huge amount of blurriness in judgement and actions. We focus on the idea of that person rather than the reality, and what they represented to us (marriage, kids, etc) rather than the person themselves. We can be guilty of putting them on this idealistic pedestal that doesn’t represent us or them. This can be dangerous and, at times, delusional.
So how can we recognise, laugh at and detain this sort of behaviour in order that we are seen as uber-cool dignified beasts at all times in public, while saving the sobbing, dirty-T-shirt-wearing behaviour for our nearest and dearest behind closed doors?
Remember that being in love is a choice. You love a person because of who you are, not because of who they are. You are in control.
Try to rationalise. If you are tempted to turn up to your ex’s work reciting ‘your’ song, begging for them to take you back, take some time to really think about it. Ask yourself – honestly – what would you say if your best mate was going to do it. Give yourself an hour. If you still want to do it in an hour, then go for it. But, as hard as it is, dignified silence is such a cool move.
Write things down. I’m a huge believer in writing stuff down. Write down how you’re feeling; write a letter to your ex telling them how hurt and disappointed you are (don’t send it – destroy it); write down how you want to feel in one week, one month’s time and make plans to get there. Be honest.
Don’t be in denial. Denial and obsession are great for hiding painful feelings so really try to be honest with yourself. What learnings can you take from this?
Practise self-care. When you’re fragile, this is the time you need to look after yourself.
Talk to people. Share how you’re feeling with your friends and talk things through.
Come to terms with your shortcomings and don’t beat yourself up. We can all behave badly and irrationally; it’s not coming from a bad place. If you are creating a turbulent tide around you, do some work on self-acceptance and learn why this happens.
Remember you are a wonderful, unique creature. Find yourself – what inspires you? What makes you tick? Get planning some adventures.
Catch up on Karen’s previous columns here.
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Karen Campbell is a life coach at www.your-dreamcatcher.com. She likes gin, James McAvoy and pretending she's not from Scunthorpe.