You know your ex is toxic. But you can’t stop thinking about the good times with them. You’re teary when you hear a breakup song on Spotify, thinking about all the ways your ex gave you butterflies.
Before you know it, you feel tempted to contact your ex again, knowing full well it’d only end in heartbreak.
Don’t worry. Thinking about your ex, especially one that you had strong feelings for, is absolutely normal and common.
It doesn’t help that the pop culture you’re consuming isn’t created by the most emotionally healthy and intelligent people — they romanticise toxic relationships in digestible and addictive ways, making it terribly easy to give in to your emotions.
Here are 5 ways to stop reminiscing about the good times with a toxic ex and move forward with your life:
1. Allow yourself to think and feel
Thoughts and feelings enter our mind and body all the time; we don’t have to police ourselves every time the unwanted ones come. Especially if the breakup is still fresh, you’re prone to be thinking about your ex as your brain goes back to what’s familiar and comforting.
Remember that thoughts and feelings are the products of your brain — it doesn’t mean you have to do anything about them. Validate them — they were real. Learn to observe them and let them pass by.
Reminising means you’re not present— call it out as it happens and pull yourself back to the moment. You could even set up a time slot for the reminising, for example only talk about it in therapy or spend 15 minutes before bed journalling about it.
2. Write facts down
Interpersonal relationships can be hard to navigate because they’re not black and white. A toxic relationship isn’t only filled with bad times; a toxic ex isn’t always toxic. And you’re likely under the influence of many cognitive biases.
One of the reasons why you’re still reminiscing about your ex is because you can’t make up your mind about who your ex is; you hold conflicting beliefs about them as you remember a time they were good to you.
Write down facts to remind yourself of why the relationship has to end and who your ex turns out to be. Be as detailed as possible. And explain to yourself why those facts are important to you. Point out core issues and how those issues violate your core values. Whenever your thoughts go back to your ex, read those notes out loud instead.
3. Set boundaries
External boundaries include avoiding listening to songs, watching films, or visiting places that bring back memories of your ex.
Internal boundaries are the boundaries you set with yourself. It’s saying a hard no to yourself whenever you think about a toxic ex in a way that hinders your healing.
Use this formula:
(1) Define your limits
(2) Take appropriate actions
(3) Adopt supportive mindsets.
(1) You decide that you won’t think about your ex more than 15 minutes a day
(2) You go for a swim to disrupt your thoughts
(3) You tell yourself that it’s a waste of time to dwell on the past and you want to live your life now.
4. Work your own psychology
Your mind still circles to your ex because they still have emotional power over you and there’s still something redeeming about them.
One trick to break out of this is to associate them with something that is a complete dealbreaker or disgusts you to the point of no return.
For example, if you’re a radical feminist, think about how likely it is that this ex holds some sexist beliefs about women or beliefs you don’t agree with (you might already know they do.) It acts as an instant turn-off for you, ruining any chance for a future together, regardless of what happened between you two.
5. Make your life happen
You’ll be living in the past if there’s nothing going on in your present. Make it happen. Put yourself out of your comfort zone. Try something new. Spend time with friends and family; focus on them instead. Go on dates. Create new memories that you’ll remember fondly.
As time passes, the good times with your toxic ex will be naturally harder to recall and the positive associations with them will also fade. Your brain will come to other — better — things for familiarity and comfort.
If you struggle to get over a toxic ex, don’t be too hard on yourself — it’s inevitable. A toxic relationship has a way to mess with you from deep inside, thus it has a much stronger hold on you than otherwise.
Take your time. No healing journey is the same. You might still be missing your ex right now even though they treated you horribly — that’s okay. It’ll pass as long as you let thoughts be thoughts and focus on living your life separate from your ex.
Remember that you deserve to be freed from them and better things are coming your way.