Why You Can’t Stop Stalking Your Ex on Social Media – Newsweek

Breakups are never easy, and thanks to social media, it’s become harder than ever to let people go.

Watching your ex do anything but cry in front of the TV during the day can be incredibly painful, so why is it so hard to stop stalking their profiles?

A lot of it comes down to brain chemicals.

Stock image of broken heart on two smartphone screens. Seeing pictures of your ex is painful, so why do you keep going back?

What happens in the brain when we are in love?

Describing love in terms of chemical reactions is not very romantic. But while a breakup can leave you heartbroken, most of it is happening in your head. So what really happens in the brain when we’re in love?

“It depends on which theory of love you endorse,” Brian D. Earp, a senior researcher in moral psychology at the University of Oxford in England, told Newsweek. “In most philosophical accounts of love, it requires that lovers care fundamentally about each other. They want to promote their own flourishing, without expecting specific benefits in return.

“Often, maintaining this kind of disposition toward someone requires a relatively healthy attachment bond, which is underwritten by various brain chemicals such as serotonin and oxytocin, a neurohormone released through touch, the hugs, the kisses, the orgasm, etc.,” Earp added.

For some people, however, love is something more primary. “To the extent that lust or libido is an important part of one’s love relationship, chemicals such as testosterone and estrogen, which regulate sexual desire, among many other bodily processes, will also be involved,” Earp said. .

“In any case, when we love someone, there is no doubt that our brain’s reward system, of which dopamine is an important regulator, is activated by their presence, by shared experiences with them, or even just to think about it.”

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have also suggested that love can alter the structure of brain areas involved in the processing of sensory and emotional information and reward.

Is love an addiction?

Whether love can be considered an addiction depends a lot on how you define “addiction.”

“There are two main ways of thinking about addiction that some scholars have identified,” Earp said.

“One is favored especially by neuroscientists, who see addiction as a kind of relationship between a person and certain substances, where, among other things, these stimuli have ‘hijacked’ the brain’s reward system, causing abnormal and dysfunctional processes that drive compulsive substance-seeking behavior and cause withdrawal when the substance is not available.

“Another way of thinking about addiction that some philosophers favor is that it is, broadly speaking, a kind of craving, for any rewarding substance or behavior…that runs counter to one’s deeper goals or well-being. a person, or that of others, and can become a problem for a wider range of substances or behaviours, from food to gambling and sex.”

Brains in love
Stock image to illustrate the neuroscience of love. When we’re in love, our brain releases feel-good hormones that create a natural effect.
royalty free/Getty

The first definition could be used to describe a “love addiction,” where the chemical high of attachment dictates addictive behavior.

“One view of love addiction is that it is a kind of compulsive desire to bond and engage sexually with a romantic object, where this involves a dysregulated reward system, where the desire to be with someone has ‘hijacked’ the brain, such as Certain drugs are believed to work,” Earp said.

“If you accept a more ‘scientific’ explanation of love, which reduces it, controversially, to biological systems and psychobehavioral phenomena, and take into account cases where these systems and behaviors are chronically out of whack, you are harmed by self or others and feel out of control. , then ‘love addiction’ would be something like that.”

Why are breakups so painful?

If love really is an addiction, no wonder we find it so hard to let people go.

“There is much work to suggest that going through a breakup, experiencing romantic betrayal, or otherwise coping with the sudden loss of a significant attachment figure can lead to feelings of grief and withdrawal that are shared by many similarities to the withdrawal associated with stopping the use of certain chemicals, both at the level of brain activity and in terms of subjective experience,” Earp said.

Breakups are painful
Stock image of a woman eating a hamburger and fries in bed after a breakup. Seeing photos of our ex-partner can induce real physical pain.

A study of Columbia University found that when participants looked at photos of a recent ex, the same centers of their brains lit up as when they were poked in the arm by a hot probe. The same did not happen when the same participants were asked to look at photos of their friends.

Why Can’t You Stop Stalking Your Ex on Social Media?

While seeing photos of your ex can cause real physical pain, it can still be hard to resist the urge to forensically study their social media.

“There are many reasons why we might be tempted to look for clues or signs of an ex-partner’s post-breakup activities,” Earp said. “Maybe we’ll miss their presence and want some kind of substitute, a little taste of the old high we felt when they were with us, albeit with little stabs of pain.”

A small studio in 2010 found that when single participants were recently shown photos of their ex, they saw the same activation of the reward system as when happily in love couples saw each other’s photo.

In other words, you’re still full of the feel-good hormones that make love so addictive when you see your partner, even though the thought of it now makes you physically ache. It seems that seeing his face really is comparable to a destructive chemical effect.

Christopher Carpenter, a communications professor at Western Illinois University, told Newsweek that as tempting as it is, stalking your ex is a bad idea. “Several studies suggest that stalking your ex on social media is associated with having trouble moving on and getting over the breakup,” she said.

Man looking at ex on social media
Stock image of a man looking at photos of his ex on social media. Seeing their posts makes it harder to move on.
Pheelings Media/Getty

“Interestingly, in mine Study 2020 with [Erin] Spottswoodwe discovered that it didn’t matter if you broke up with them or they broke up with you, it was still a bad idea to stay connected on social media.

“We also found that it was especially difficult to get over the ex if you saw your ex interacting with people of the same gender as you that you don’t know,” Carpenter added.

Seeing these people for the first time on social media is in many cases even worse than meeting them in real life due to the nature of the content people post on these platforms.

“You only see their best photos, and their comments are the ones they may have carefully chosen to be smarter and more interesting than anything you said during the relationship,” Carpenter said.

How to get over a breakup

It’s hard to resist the temptation to scroll through your ex’s Instagram, but Carpenter’s advice is to avoid this self-defeating behavior.

“My favorite tip is to see them on social media as little as possible,” she said. “So not only do you have to unfriend, unfollow, etc., you may want to mute any mutual friends so that you see your ex’s comments or posts.”

Earp agreed that keeping an eye on your ex could be preventing you from moving on with your life.

“It can really help to block the person on social media, remove their phone number, and otherwise create a physical, psychological, and emotional distance between you and them, or anything or anyone that reminds them of you,” she said. said Earp.

“You may also consciously remember the aspects of the relationship that were unhealthy or that necessitated the breakup.

“Surround yourself with supportive friends and family and let the slow wash of time take its toll.”


Song H., et al., Love-related changes in the brain: a resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging study, Front Hum Neurosci. February 13, 2015 doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00071

Kross E., et al., Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical painPNAS, February 22, 2011, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1102693108

Fisher HE, et al., Reward systems, addiction and emotion regulation associated with rejection in loveJ Neurophysiol, May 5, 2010. doi: 10.1152/jn.00784.2009.

Spottswood E., Carpenter C., Facebook jealousy: A hyperperception perspectiveQuarterly communication, August 31, 2020,

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