There’s no way around it: breakups are hard. Whether you find yourself jumping right into another relationship right away, taking up boxing to put it out of your mind, or simply moving on, we all handle getting over an ex very differently. But then there are those that just can’t seem to let go.
Do you often find yourself with intense cravings to contact an ex, to check their social media pages, or an insatiable need to gather more information about why they ended the relationship in the first place? Yeah, you might be an exaholic.
So, what exactly is the different between having a tough time with a breakup versus struggling with something deeper?
Essentially, an exaholic is someone who has an inability to come to terms with the reality that their relationship is over, explains psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig. “Those longing feelings persist to the point where it can create, depression, low self-esteem, and an inability to function in their daily lives. Often the only idea that brings them relief is the thought of reuniting with their former love.”
While not a clinical term, exaholics exhibit similar behaviors to drug and alcohol addicts, according to experts. Love is a drug, right? It’s even been scientifically proven that romantic love activates the same region of the brain as drugs and alcohol.
“When a person experiences heartbreak, wanting to be with the person they once loved lights up the same area of the brain as a cocaine addict who desires more cocaine,” says Ludwig. In other words, the brain on love looks similar to the brain on drugs.
And “the brain coming off love” looks a lot like “the brain coming off drugs”, says Dr. Lisa Bobby, a spokesperson for Exaholics.com, an online support group for people struggling to get over an ex. An exaholic may get their “fix” by texting or calling an ex incessantly, checking an ex’s Facebook page day and night, or showing up places they know the ex will be.
“There may be a desire to find out all of the reasons why this ex disappeared and abruptly stopped the relationship, lied, or stopped loving them,” says Ludwig. “There is this idea that getting the answers will help everything regarding the breakup make more sense.”
The most powerful desire exaholics experience is wanting to remain connected in whatever way possible to the ex, even though this connection may no longer be in their best interest. And, this desire to stay connected, as self-destructive as it may be, can often get impulsively acted on, over and over again.
Untreated, exaholics can suffer major physical and emotional problems if they’re unable to recover from a failed relationship including losing a job, struggling with other personal relationships, weight loss or gain, substance abuse, and health problems, says Bobby.
The first step to get treatment is identifying that you are, in fact, an exaholic. There is a tremendous value in knowing you are not the only one going through this type of loss, says Ludwig.
Other experts say counting days to avoid contact can also be helpful. Resisting reaching out can help the exaholic remind themselves that there is life after a break up, after all.
The good news on the horizon for exaholics is that while alcoholics and drug addicts can remain so for the rest of their lives, you’re probably not going to be an exaholic the rest of your life. Like they say, all relationships fail, until the one that doesn’t. Someone new will eventually come along.