Why is breaking up tougher for some of us?

Why is it so tough for some to exorcise the ghosts of their romantic pasts? A friend once grumbled that,

Why is it so tough for some to exorcise the ghosts of their romantic pasts?

A friend once grumbled that, given the choice, she’d rather see her ex miserable than herself happy.

Few things in life are as traumatic as the end of a long-term, romantic relationship. Nonetheless, many people are able to eventually recover and move on relatively unscathed.

Others, like my friend, aren’t so lucky. Even years later, they remain mired in the pain of the experience. Any reminder of their former partner – whether it’s a casual mention in conversation or a Facebook photo – can elicit profound feelings of sadness, anger and resentment.

Why is it that some people continue to be haunted by the ghosts of their romantic pasts, struggling to let go of the pain of rejection?

In new research, my colleague Carol Dweck and I found that rejection actually makes some people redefine themselves – and their future romantic prospects.

In one study, we asked people to write about any lessons they’d taken away from a past romantic rejection. Analyzing their responses, we realized that a number of respondents thought the rejection unmasked a basic negative truth about themselves – one that would also sabotage their future relationships. Some said they’d realized that they were too “clingy.” Other thought they’d been “too sensitive” or “bad at communicating.”

Additional studies explored the consequences of believing that rejection had revealed a fundamental flaw. By linking rejection to some aspect of their core identity, people found it more difficult to move on from the experience. Some said they “put up walls” and became warier about new relationships. Others were afraid to disclose the rejection to a new partner, fearing that this person would change their opinion of them, thinking they had “baggage.” (This might explain why some people hide past rejections, treating them like a scar or stigma.)

We then wondered: what makes someone more likely to link a romantic rejection to some aspect of “who they really are”? After all, other respondents wrote that rejection was merely a part of life, that it was an important part of growing up and actually caused them to become better people.

It turns out that your beliefs about personality can play a big role in how you’ll respond to romantic rejection.

Past research has found that people hold divergent views about their personal characteristics, whether it’s their intelligence or shyness. Some people have a “fixed mindset,” believing that these qualities are unchangeable. In contrast, those who have a “growth mindset” believe that their personality is something that can evolve and develop throughout their lives.

These basic beliefs shape how people respond to failure. For example, when people believe that intelligence is fixed, they’ll feel worse about themselves – and are less likely to persist – after experiencing a setback.

We thought that beliefs about personality might determine whether people see rejection as a piece of evidence about who they really are – as a sign of whether they are a flawed and undesirable person.

In one study, we divided people into two groups: those who think personality is fixed, and those who think personality is malleable. Participants then read one of two stories. In one, we asked them to imagine being left, out of the blue, by a long-term partner. In the other, we asked them to imagine meeting someone at a party, feeling a spark and then later overhearing that person telling a friend that they would never be romantically interested in her or him.

We might expect that only a severe rejection from a serious relationship would have the power to make people question who they are. Instead, a pattern emerged. For people with a fixed view of personality, we found that even a rejection from a relative stranger could prompt them to wonder what this rejection unveiled about their core self. These people might worry that there was something so obviously undesirable about them that a person would reject them outright – without even getting to know them.

So what can we do to prevent people from linking rejection to the self in this negative way? One promising piece of evidence shows that changing someone’s beliefs about personality can shift his or her reaction to rejections.

In a final study, we created articles that described personality as something that can evolve throughout the course of a lifetime, rather than as something that’s predetermined. When we asked people with a fixed view of personality to read these articles, they became less likely to interpret rejections as an indication of a permanent, fatal deficiency.

By encouraging the belief that personality can change and develop over time, we may be able to help people exorcise the ghosts of their romantic pasts – and move on to satisfying relationships in the future.The Conversation

This article is by Lauren Howe, Ph.D. Candidate in Psychology, Stanford University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

  1. What a load of rubbish! Do these people really get paid for that divell? When you have given all your teenage years half of your adult years 2 kids a home and worked to help support the family for them to trade you in on a younger never married version that you wouldnt feel some mistrust? And be reluctant to make the same mistake? All of my friends are lifetime friends so thats who I am and my married vowels I made were lifetime vowels and never likely to happen again!

  2. clifford  

    As a youngster Rejection was part of my “daily life ” foster homes ” …orphanages … ect ect till the age of 18 ,,,then I escaped to Australia…best move ever ….I’ve had some marriages ..and relationships and I let very few people ” In ” ….and just was able to get past the hurt and grief very quickly ………….But, my latest sojourn …has ended how can i put it .. i allowed this lady into my inner core …..now I’m paying the price of that rejection …it has been two yrs and every time i get a snippet of information my heart churns …I’m 67 …..and I should be able to “dump ” all this crap and move on ……….but, one cannot lie to oneself….I try to move on ….but, in reality I’ve still got one foot stuck in this bucket of crap I have created for myself …….perhaps time ..is the healing part ,,,but , it still Clings & Stings ……..

  3. I am not at all haunted by my ex, who was a bad husband and a rotten father, he the one who chose to cheat, he should be haunted BUT he is not haunted at all. He done what I have done and gotten on with life. You can’t live in the past nor should you want to

  4. On my 20th birthday, my boyfriend gave me a present (glass vase which I still have it gives me strength) and said his father said he had to go out with other girls before he made his choice. We had been boyfriend and girlfriend for more than 3 years. I was devastated. Slightly suicidal and totally broken. That first ‘breakup’ was like an inoculation. My mind/body built up the antibodies I’d need for the next time I was rejected. I am grateful for having that experience so early in my life while still living at home with my parents. The next time broken engagement, I cried for a few hours then said to Dad “Lets look for another car” We did the rounds of the used car yards and I made a choice. That was it. I was free once more. Then along came this man, with his Irish heritage and his Australian sense of humour…..and we joke now that we have to stay together because nobody else would have either of us.

    • There’s nothing worse than that first love heartbreak,but as you say,you grow emotionally,and I love the bit about going to the car yard Leone! I think that should be told to all young lovers! 😄

    • Something else that struck me was that for the first time in my life, my parents didn’t know what to do or say to help. Just being there – being normal – was the best thing. Dad was relieved the first time, he didn’t like the family and as it turned out he was right. I had a lucky escape.

  5. My dear old mum used to say NO good crying over spilt milk, get up, dust yourself off and start again

  6. I am lucky as my husband was my first serious boyfriend. I had been out with a lot of other men but never for more than 3 dates. By that time I usually knew. After 3 dates no hearts were broken. We were engaged after 6 weeks and married 9 months later. Both of our family’s were in shock. I had my parents telling me I was crazy and he had the same thing. I feel very fortunate to have found him.

  7. It’s 3 yrs since my husband left…Facebook memory for today was a picture of me and him …yes I still miss him…does anyone know how to turn these memories OFF……

    • Took me years. I made a new me. Changed my clothing style, started wearing makeup, and scariest of all, started going out. With my four kids in tow. I tried to make it an adventure. Just for a while, I was someone else. For me it helped.

    • Katherine get in touch with someone who is an EFT (emotional freedom technique)/ Tapping practioner. A very effective and simple technique that may help you.

  8. EW – I was walking every day, but discouraged and stopped. I gained a lot. But in recent months I managed to lose weight 22 pounds on a diet that site here WWW 3BESTDIETS COM

  9. Pamela  

    Why would anyone want to stay with someone who doesn’t want them?

    Just be thankful they are gone!

  10. I thought I had my life partner in my 20’s in a relationship for over 7 years. Didn’t happen. I was devastated for a few years. I now have a wonderful husband. Looking back, I realise my life partner would not have been a good husband or father . Lucky me!

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