Post-Breakup Insanity, or PBI for short, refers to an unhinged state of mind after termination of a romantic relationship. Signs and symptoms of PBI can include emotional lability, intrusive thoughts of your ex, physiological distress, extreme and irrational thinking, potential stalking, aggressive confrontation, and drastic attempts at reunification with your ex. These symptoms occur shortly after the break up and generally last several days to a few months. This is not a clinically diagnosable disorder as is not found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM 5). It is however, a real phenomenon and tends to affect mostly adolescents and young adults. Both men and women are affected. It should be noted that most people do not frequently experience this, but over 3/4 of people will at one time or another in their life.
Symptoms of PBI:
- Emotional Lability typically means that even during periods of relative calm there still tends to be underlying anxiety and agitation punctuated by very strong and explosive emotional responses. It is described as drastic ups and downs or frequent and rapid shifts of emotion. An example would be, feeling anxious and unsettled one minute, then experiencing uncontrollable crying, then involuntary laughing, then intense anger, then uncontrollable crying again, then possibly feeling numb. These shifts in emotions are unprovoked and involuntary.
- Intrusive Thoughts of Your Ex are thoughts you try not to have, but they keep coming back and won't go away. These thoughts can be memories and images of past experiences with your ex. These can either be both positive or negative. They may be focused on what your ex is doing at the moment since you know their schedule. Regardless of their focus, these thoughts seem to come out of no way and just pop into your head. They are consistently present throughout your day and may also be in your dreams. You can't seem to distract yourself from them. You don't have any ability to stop them or control them in the least.
- Physiological Distress is your body basically revolting to the stress of the breakup. This is physical exhaustion, muscle soreness/pain and fatigue, physical agitation (feeling like you need to physically do something), GI upset and diarrhea, heartburn, ravenous hunger or no appetite, and headaches. No intervention will help and if something helps it is short-lived.
- Extreme and Irrational Thinking can be very alarming for a reasonable person. These thoughts are so unusual most would call them "crazy." This could be imaging that you were being physically aggressed upon by a strange person and your ex saw and came to your rescue; or thoughts about staging a pregnancy, because in your head you think he will take you back; or feeling the need to reach out to your ex to tell them how much you love and want to be with them, but they already know that and still don't want you; or thinking how you can expose your ex to an STD; or contemplating ways to ruin their life. These thoughts are so extreme and so irrational that you under normal circumstances would not ever consider them.
- Stalking can be in-person, cyber, and through a third-party. In-person stalking is usually spying on your ex. You may drive by their house, or go to their favorite hangout and hide in the back, or going into their home to just look around since you still know where they keep their spare key, or go checkout their new romantic partner. Cyber stalking is tracking them on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. If you are no longer "friends" with them on social media you may create a trojan horse, which is a made up account with personal information and a picture of an attractive person so that they accept this trojan horse's friendship and then you have the ability to watch their activity on that social media. You might have put a tracker on their phone so you can trace their movements. You may log into their email or bank accounts to see their activity. Stalking through a third-party is really just using other people for information about your ex. This could be asking them questions or even logging on to their social media to track your ex.
- Aggressive Confrontation can be directly to your ex, their property, or their reputation. Aggressing on your ex in person is to physically or verbally attack them. You may also have revenge sex (making sure they find out) with their best friend or sibling to hurt them and their relationship. Attacking their property refers to property destruction either their vehicle, clothes, office space, or gaining access to their home and destroying their belongings. Some may even go as extreme as stealing a pet and giving it away. Attempting to destroy another's reputation is making slanderous statements which may be true, great exaggerations of the truth, or outright lies. These statements will be shared with people that know your ex and even those that don't. You may also share nude photos of them or a sex tape you made with them.
- Drastic Attempts at Reunification with Your Ex may be the most humiliating of PBI behaviors. These are actual attempts at getting back into a relationship with your ex. This could be gaining access to your ex's residence and waiting in their bed naked for them to get home, thinking that your nude available body will remind them of their desire for you. Threatening to kill yourself if they leave you, or staging a suicide or accident to get them to come to your rescue.
The first step to managing your PBI and reducing the fallout is to acknowledge that you're in it. The next step, is to NOT act upon your PBI. The more you act out behaviorally, the longer the PBI will stay. Enlist a couple of loved ones to help you through the toughest times, which are usually the first 1-2 weeks following the breakup, anniversaries or meaningful dates, when you find out they're dating someone new, and following any contact you've had with your ex post-breakup. I would also suggest no sex of any kind with your ex after you break up. The final, and most important step, is to accept that the relationship is over for a good reason and dating them again will only result in the same outcome. Cut your losses...you were lucky to dodge this bullet...and focus on yourself, your needs, your goals, and your happiness!
By Delicia Mclean, Ph.D., MHA