Put Your Obsessive Relationship Behaviors on Notice: You Are Back In Control

Have you ever compulsively called, texted, emailed, or followed an ex-lover’s activities on Facebook, after an emotionally distressing breakup? You knew better, but could not help yourself. You just had to do something to get rid of the upset, anxiety, and anger that you felt. You couldn’t control yourself. The urge to reconnect to your ex over-powered you. But, now that the storm’s settled, and you’ve gotten ahold of yourself, you can’t figure out what motivated your obsessive behavior.

Obsessive relationship behavior is more common than you may think, especially with the many ways to keep tabs on people, today. What can you do to stop from contacting an ex-lover who has moved on? Some people recommend putting your impulses on a diet (Heidi Halvorson, Curb Obsessive Relationship Behavior, Huffington Post). That’s right—hide the chocolate cake, get rid of the alcohol, or block every way of contacting your ex. This out of sight, out of mind approach to treating addictive behavior may work in the short run, for some people. But, some studies have found that blocking and unfriending ex-lovers only stimulate the desire to know what is happening with them (Facebook Stalking Your Ex). It is like going on a restriction diet. Suddenly, you want to eat everything that is off the diet. But, staying Facebook friends with your ex isn’t the answer either. It may satiate the desire to find out what’s happening with him or her but does little to help you to heal and move forward (Seriously, Stop Stalking Your Ex on Facebook).

Strengthen Willpower

You can’t go through life restricting people and things that upset you. You have to strengthen willpower so you can resist impulses without shrinking your world. I feel some of you cringing right now. But, hold on; I’m not talking about willpower as a sign of character or moral strength. It has more to do with an inability to exercise power over impulses, because of a vulnerability to stress. People who act out obsessive relationship behaviors tend to have high levels of anxiety that makes it harder to cope with stressful changes.

In general, stress causes biochemical changes that lower the ability to cope with difficult situations. The brain releases stress hormones into the bloodstream to help us to fight or flee the threat. Our blood pressure rises, the heart pounds, palms sweat, and muscles strengthen. But, even more central to willpower and self-control is that the higher and lower areas of the brain stop talking to each other. Stress acts like the flipping of a switch. It selectively inhibits the brain’s circuitry for self-awareness and self-control (the frontal lobes in the forehead region of the brain) and, in its place, activates the circuitry of habit and impulse (the stem of the brain)” (The Science of Willpower).

So you don’t lose self-control when you are anxious, you have to learn how to cope with stress. The more you exercise will over impulse, the nerve pathways in the executive area of the brain that is associated with willpower (the brain’s frontal lobes) begin to strengthen. Then, it becomes easier to delay the gratification of destructive impulses, override unwanted thoughts, feelings, and desires, and willfully regulate behavior through strong-minded, sensible action. The next time you are faced with powerful impulses that go against what is psychologically healthy for you, the more likely the brain will override destructive desires through self-control.

Let’s Flip the Switch Back to Self Control

The stress response can challenge the coping resources of the calmest individuals, let alone anxious-prone personalities who are more reactive to stress. But, the good news is we can change our physical response to stress, and we don’t need drugs to do it. Deep breathing and visualization, meditation, yoga, running, and any other activity that relaxes you and brings enjoyment reduces the stress hormones, calms a stress response, and puts you back in charge of yourself.

If you like my post today, please let me know by selecting the Like icon that immediately follows. You can also Tweet or Google+1 today’s post to let your friends know about it.  Warmly, Deborah.

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8 Responses to “Put Your Obsessive Relationship Behaviors on Notice: You Are Back In Control”

  1. avatar leo says:

    very nice post but can you specify that how we can strengthen forebrain

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Leo, this is a great question. Yes, we can strengthen the skills of the forebrain (reason, planning and organization, imagination, meaning, directing behavior in goal directed ways, and logic) by first becoming aware of times when we wish to act out destructive anger, wishes, impulses. At these times, we have to put all our effort into resisting them and instead let reason, sensible action guide our behavior. It’s hard at first if a person has tended to let impulses guide him or her. But, it can be done through sheer will. The good thing Leo is that brain research is very clear that the more we do this–the more we strengthen the nerve pathways in the forebrain and the connections between the lower and upper brain areas. So, over time, it’s easier to choose self-control over strong impulses that come up in us.

      All of us feel angry at times, right? But, when we are exercising the forebrain capacities–we use fantasy and imagination to act out anger rather than to act it out in reality. There’s a saying amongst therapists Leo that for some therapy in which issues of impulse are on hand, we act like a patient’s forebrain, suggesting the capacity of the forebrain in problem solving until the patient internalizes what we say enough that these capacities become their own. This is what good parenting does as well. An excellent question. Be well my friend. I know you read my articles faithfully. I’m so pleased. Warmly Deborah.

  2. avatar Katy says:

    Hi Debbie,

    Great article. What about when you have a 19 year old son who’s in an obsessive relationship. Who lies, manipulates and has no courage to defend himself or family. When we just try and teach him about balance in every aspect of life. He can have her, us, college, friends…be anything you want to be. He can’t make choices for himself without acting like he’s going to have a panic attack. They both hate us and talk behind our backs and make up stuff just because we tried to teach them about balance. Never once did we say, don’t be w her. I want to teach him to make his own decisions for himself and be everything he wants to be in this world because you only get one chance at who you are. I’m trying to get him to read about Archetypes. Lets pray he discovers who he is bc in an obsessive, narcissistic relationship on both ends creates ugliness and enabling. Although in the end they will be there own demise in the world. As a parent you want to reach out and do whatever it takes. Unfortunately doing that has made my son even uglier. They have to learn on there own.
    Xo Katy

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hi Katy, thanks for taking the time to say hello and share with me today. First, I know what a great mother you are, as I know you personally. If it’s your son’s real first love–he’s under the throes of powerful hormones as you know. He’s also using her unconsciously to separate from mom. This is what all of us do with our first loves. And, if he has had a very close connection to you, then, he will act out his moving away a little more aggressively. This is all he knows to do at this point in his development. It’s the girlfriend or you–in his psyche. So, resist fulfilling this conflicted paradigm with him.

      Katy, I know you know this, but the only thing you can do right now is love him. Let him learn and be there for him. If he falls and gets hurt, it will be a good learning lesson although I know very hard for you to watch. As you say and understand well, “they have to learn on their own.” I wrote an article that you most likely read about the early stages of falling in love. Here’s the link: http://www.psychologyineverydaylife.net/2012/03/20/the-early-stages-of-falling-in-love-euphoric-endangered-and-exhausted/ Again, it is important to remember that you are up again some powerful hormones that are making him emotionally a little crazy (not really, but you know what I mean).

      I trust that he will discover himself again, because he is your son. He identifies with you throughout his whole being and when this learning experience clears–he’ll remember all of your love and beautiful teachings. Much love to you dear Katy. I remember you so well. Warmly Debbie!!!

      • avatar Katy Schoenwolf says:

        Hi Debbie,

        You words mean so much! Thank you! I pray everyday that God leads him in the right direction, and yes because he is my son I have such strong faith that he will. There is a reason for everything in life and whether we learn it in the moment or in time there is always good that comes out of every good or bad situation.
        Blessing to you and your family! I hope someday we see each other again!

        • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

          You are welcome Katy. He will find the right direction. As you know all of us had to take a couple wrong turns in life that ended up being the most beneficial learning. Hopefully he doesn’t get too bruised along the way. Blessings to you too. Deana always keeps me informed as to how you are doing. I’m so happy for how everything is turning out for you. Love Debbie.

  3. avatar hira says:

    hey!!i read ur articles its really strenghtning..actually this is my first time m posting my problem openly.i am a medical student.i am suffering fm depression anxiey i loose all my self control n confidence n got so mch emotionally weak.dere was a guy who proposed me wen i rejected becox of his nature he spreaded rumors abt me n tortured me alot.bt still i think abt hm n i cry most of the times.dere is a friend of mine after all that mishap i contcted hm he supported me n i started expecting alot fm hm n now i guess he got tired of all ths so he moved abroad.still he sometimes contcts me n thn i shout screams n cry i dun knw what happened..i wasnt like that before.i knw m spoiling myself bt m tired nw i dun knw wot to do.have consult a psychologist bt nthng happened m still same n getting worse day by day..n wen my friend gone i started torturing hm n i say u dun care abt me that y u left me n i knw my ths attitude will soon end ths up.m full of negative thoughts.ve a fear if he will stop talking to me thn i ll b alone with whom i ll share all my thnigs and supports me.plz suggest me i dun want to ruin my carrer.i want to be the same pretty n confident girl as i used to be. thnx

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Hira, I’m so glad my articles are strengthening to you. First, congratulations on your medical studies. I know you have worked hard to be where you are today. Hira, if I understand everything you say here, it sounds like you were traumatized a little by this guy spreading rumors about you. I don’t know what the rumors were about–but this adds a lot of stress in our lives. You see the end of your relationship ended in trauma because he gossiped about you. This makes it hard to forget the situation because you are very hurt. Hira, if this person causes you a lot of pain and makes you very emotional than it may be good not seeing or talking to him. I know you fear being alone, but trust that you won’t be. I believe that it’s better to be alone than to be with a person who makes us very upset. If you are still having a hard time, then you may want to talk to a psychologist to work through your feelings so you can let this go and move forward. I wish you very well Hira. Take good care. Warmly Deborah.


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