The Psychological Reason We Obsessively Text People Who Ignore Us

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Heartbreak, Self

It's all in your head, boo.

You swear to yourself and anyone that will listen that you won't call, write, or text your ex ever again. Obviously, going to where he works and lives is completely out of the question.

He's already questioning the way you've been acting post-breakup. If only he knew about all the emails you didn't send, or the times you've dragged your hand off your phone.

Your friends are doing everything that can to help you stay diligent about not contacting your ex. They take your phone away when you're drinking, when you're bored, and especially when you get that look in your eye and start to say how your ex would've loved this or that.

But still, you somehow, against your best judgment, manage to text your ex. Not just once or twice — more like 10 or 20 or 80 times. It's embarrassing, but you can't seem to stop yourself. You feel out-of-control and kind of insane.

But good news. There's a psychological reason for the way you've been acting. It's a behavioral process known as an extinction burst. An extinction burst is defined as a temporary increase in the frequency, duration, or magnitude of the target response.

Here's an example:

Let's say you take the center elevator every day at work. You get in, push the number 12 for your floor, and you're rewarded by the doors closing and taking you to your floor.

But one day you get into the middle elevator, push the button, and nothing happens. Do you just say, "Oh this elevator must not work anymore. I'll just take the stairs to the 12th floor. No biggie"? Or do you push the button again? And again?

Do you continue pushing the button, changing it up and pushing harder and faster, and making up weird sequences where you push other buttons other than the one for the12th floor?

When you continue to call and text your ex, even though you know you shouldn't, you're actually taking the first step toward stopping or extinguishing a behavior. If he never responds (or gives you positive reinforcements), you'll eventually stop contacting him.

You just have to get through the burst to get to the other side of having no contact and not really caring. In the meantime, try deleting all his contact information and blocking him on Facebook. It might be less humiliating than the process of extinction bursting.


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