The Psychological Reason We Obsessively Text People Who Ignore Us

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The Psychological Reason We Obsessively Text People Who Ignore Us
Self, Heartbreak

You swear to yourself and anyone who will listen that you won't call, write, or text your ex ever again. And obviously, going to pay them a visit where they work or live is completely out of the question.

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

RELATED: 5 Emergency Techniques To Use When You Want To Call Your Ex

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 talking 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 even 80 times.

It's embarrassing, but you can't seem to stop yourself. You feel out-of-control and kind of insane.

But there's good news about why we obsessively text someone after a breakup and why we so intensely like people who don't like us anymore.

The psychological reason for the way you've been acting is a behavioral process known as an extinction burst.

An extinction burst is defined as (with added details pertaining to your own situation in brackets): "the phenomenon of a previously reinforced or learned behavior [i.e., texting the person you love] temporarily increasing when the reinforcement for the behavior is removed [I.e., the person you love ignoring your texts because, you know, you broke up].

"Learning theory suggests the organism [i.e., you] is increasing the frequency of the behavior [i.e., texting obsessively] in an attempt to regain the original reinforcement for the behavior [i.e., hoping they will finally text you back].

"In the absence of additional reinforcement [i.e., they keep ignoring you, and probably have you blocked], the behavior will diminish to lower (pre-extinction burst) levels and eventual cessation [i.e., you finally get the message and move on]."

Here's another example of an extinction burst in action:

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"? Unlikely.

What you probably do is push the button again... and again. You continue pushing the button, changing it up and pushing harder and faster, maybe even making up weird sequences where you push buttons other than the one for the 12th floor, hoping something will kick the response you're used to seeing into gear.

RELATED: 8 Really Good Reasons To Finally — Permanently! — Let Go Of Your Ex

The good news is that, when you continue to call and text your ex even though you know you shouldn't, you're taking the first step toward stopping or extinguishing that behavior.

If they never respond or give you other forms of positive reinforcement, you'll eventually stop trying to contact them.

You just have to get through the extinction burst to get to the other side of having no contact and not really caring.

Now that you understand why we like people who don't like us and why we obsessively text our exes when they ignore us, you can also try deleting all of your ex's contact information and blocking them on Facebook, Instagram, and any other social media on which you're still connected.

It might be less humiliating than the process of extinction bursting, no matter how understandable and normal it really is.

RELATED: If You Send Your Ex These 9 Texts, You're Not Getting Back Together

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Christine Schoenwald is a writer, performer, and teacher who loves writing and performing personal narratives. She's had pieces in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Woman's Day, Purple Clover, Bustle, and is a regular contributor to Ravishly and YourTango. Check out her website or her Facebook page.