Steps to Successful “No Contact” After Breakup
Sitting with swirling feelings and the compulsion to make contact is very hard to do. It’s like breaking an addiction—difficult and sometimes downright painful. So do what you would do if you were trying to kick a habit. Recognize that it’s not going to be easy at first, but commit to the process because you will be a better person for it.
The first thing you must do to be successful at NC is affirmatively decide you are not going to contact your ex no matter what. You must make a contract with yourself to stop doing it, which means that you must sit with the uncomfortable emotions until they pass.
You must decide that you will not call, instant message, or email your ex. You also will not check his or her Facebook or My- Space page. This contract with yourself means that you will not put yourself in places where you could have an “accidental” meeting with your ex. You will decide that even if you think you have every reason in the world to connect, you will think it through and not act on it immediately.
Have a support system of people firmly in place so that you can contact them when you feel like communicating with your ex. If you are keeping your emotions bottled up inside, it will be tempting to talk to your ex, so make sure you have a frontline group that you can go to when the temptation gets great. This way you can call people who will support you instead of doing some thing you will regret later. Make a list of friends and family who are available at different times during the day. You can join both online support groups, such as the GPYP blog and e-mail group, and face-to-face support groups. Gather the troops and let them know when you’re having a bad day.
It’s hard to stay mentally focused if you’re physically run-down. Make sure you are taking enough breaks, getting enough rest, eating right, having fun, and doing nice things for yourself, because if you’re not, you will be more tempted to act out. If you haven’t been taking care of yourself, start now.
Maybe as you have been reading this you have been contacting your ex. If so, start NC now and forgive yourself for the communications you’ve had. Don’t dwell on the mistakes you’ve made, just resolve to not make them anymore. If you don’t start fresh, the guilt and shame you feel over your past behaviors will keep you stuck. One woman told me:
After we broke up, I stayed in touch any way I could. I called him, I texted him, I e-mailed him. I even went back and spent the weekend with him and was miserable by Sunday night. Now, the biggest challenge for me is feeling guilty and ashamed of myself for acting in such an undignified manner—being needy and seemingly pathetic—for so long. I finally put the “no contact” rule in place, and I can tell you that it is the rule to follow. Since I forgave myself for my slipups, being NC has been liberating.
It is important that you don’t dwell on your past mistakes. Put them aside and start “no contact” now.
Exercises to Help You Stay “No Contact”
In behavioral therapy, therapists often ask their clients to keep detailed daily records of particular events or psychological reactions. If you are trying to stop a behavior—compulsive overeating, for example—it helps to keep a food journal detailing not only what you eat but what you are feeling and what is going on in your physical world when you find yourself in trigger situations. By looking at the patterns that emerge in the journal, a client can break the chain before heading to the kitchen to relieve uncomfortable feelings. This journal approach sheds insight on many destructive patterns and habits, and has proven to be a successful tool in combating undesirable behaviors.
Use your journal to log how many times you are communicating with your ex. Write about your reactions when your ex contacts you and your reactions when you make the contact. Write about what is going on for you right before the urge to call comes up. Ask questions before, during, and after. Spend some time with these questions, thinking about them and writing out the answers. You’ll have your own questions, but here are some that might help you figure out what is going on:
How was this desire to call triggered?
What are you feeling? Are you anxious, bored, sad, empty, or lonely?
Is there a specific thing (thought, memory, question) driving your desire to connect?
What outcome do you expect?
Where are your expectations coming from? Are they fantasies of what you want to have happen? Or are they based upon what has happened in the past? Are you operating from fantasy or reality?
Are you trying to change the past?
Are you trying to get a certain reaction?
Are you trying to relieve the pain and the pressure?
Do you think negative attention is better than no attention at all?
Do you feel forgotten? Unimportant? Is contact your way to let the person know you still exist?
Are you thinking you can control your ex’s moving-on process?
Are you hoping your ex can’t really move on as long as you are buzzing around in the background?
What is your motive?
Why are you so focused on this one person?
Wanting to call is like a compulsion, obsession, or addiction, and stopping works the same way. If you are an alcoholic or nicotine addict, you’re not going talk yourself into thinking that one day you’ll just wake up and not want a drink or a cigarette. Of course not. You will stop the behavior (drinking or smoking) and then all the discomfort will rise up in you. You’ll be faced with either dealing with it or going back to practicing your addiction. The longer you practice it, the harder it’s going to be to stop.
After journaling you will realize that you need to put some things in place to stop the contact. The next step is to be proactive by planning specific actions that you’ll take to resist the urge to make contact. Then make a list of steps to take before you initiate contact or return a call or e-mail.
Here’s an example.
STEP ONE: Write in my journal.
STEP TWO: Call a friend or write to an online support group.
STEP THREE: Take a shower.
STEP FOUR: Work with my crafts or hobby.
STEP FIVE: Go for a walk.
STEP SIX: Go to the gym.
As you are doing your predetermined steps, say your affirmations and give yourself positive feedback. Put a plan in place so that you have prescribed steps to take before you call. This allows you to take control and not be blown about by your impulses. It will serve as a guide that tells you what to do when you are in the throes of emotion and having trouble curbing your compulsions.
You may need to experiment with different actions and behaviors and then evaluate which ones work best for you. Take time to think about it. Maybe you need to go somewhere where there are no telephones or computers. Leave your cell phone at home and drive to a park or mall or somewhere where you cannot communicate. Maybe you need to take a nap or watch television. You can invite a friend to the movies, take up a sport, or work out. Perhaps your style is to meditate and visualize your life free of this person and these urges to connect.
It is very important to think about and learn alternative behaviors when you are desperate for contact. Make lists of things you can do, consult your step plan, and have a few alternative step plans. There are many, many things you can do instead of calling.
If all of this is not working, ask yourself: Are you not done yet? Do you need to beat your head against the wall some more? The longer you roll around in the mud with your ex, the longer it will take you to get where you are going—to a new and happy life that you deserve.
The key to getting stronger and moving on is to separate yourself from the relationship and the person with whom you spent so much time. As long as this person is distracting you from your work, it will be difficult to put a period at the end of the sentence that is this relationship and turn to a new chapter in your life. Continuing to seek contact or respond to contact just keeps you stuck and adds to your hurt. It’s counterproductive to building a new and meaningful life.
Does it hurt when you do that?
Don’t do that.