Your Ex Is Not Actually A Cockroach

Photo: Ollyy / shutterstock
long-haired brunette woman looking upset in the woods, sepia-toned

I recently received a call from a reporter who was doing a story on breakups. She explained to me that her local zoo runs promotions where you can buy a cockroach and name it after your ex. And if you pay extra, you can even get a video of it being eaten by a larger animal.

Then she asked the million-dollar question: “Dr. Cortney, do you think seeing your ex as a cockroach is a healthy way to get over your ex? Can it help us heal after a really painful breakup?"

As I pondered the question in all of its animalistic glory, it struck me that wanting to see your ex as a cockroach exemplifies just how hard some breakups can be.

We can fall so madly in love that we’re euphorically giddy at even the thought of our new mate. Yet, if that relationship ends, we can feel so heartbroken, angry, and disappointed that all we want is to see our ex as a cockroach and watch as they are devoured by a big lizard.

It brought to mind this quote from the Buddha: "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."

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Letting go of feelings for your ex is the goal 

The truth is it isn’t in our best interest to see an ex as a cockroach because the opposite of love isn’t hate.

Contrary to popular belief, the opposite of love is indifference. It’s the ability to see an ex, a former relationship, and a breakup in the most honest, brutally raw way and express no reaction at all, with no attachment to it at all. 

Coming to a place of emotional indifference means that an ex:

  • Has no power over you.
  • Has no role in your current or future life.
  • Has no influence over your mood.
  • Doesn’t trigger old memories or unresolved issues from your past.
  • Isn’t relevant to your daily experience of life.

If we can come to a place of emotional indifference with an ex and let go of our attachment to a past dream, experience, and relationship, an even more compelling gift awaits.

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What we learn from loss

At some point on our journey of love and loss, we often realize that our most brutal experiences of love and loss teach us something profoundly important about ourselves. So much so that one day — perhaps many days, weeks, or even years after your breakup — we may even look back at our entire breakup experience with a little smile because we wouldn't be who we are today had we not met, loved, and ended the relationship with an ex. 

So, how can we develop emotional indifference? How can we detach from the heartache of a breakup or our desire to visualize our ex as a cockroach long enough to let go? The truth is that letting go is a daily process made up of thousands of seemingly small choices we make each day to help ourselves move on or stay attached to our ex.

It’s a journey that requires we continually engage in three basic steps.

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Here are the three A's of authenticity 

1. Awareness of your thinking, feelings, and behaviors

This means learning to notice your reactions and pausing to acknowledge them as honestly as possible at the moment.

2. Assessment of how you contribute to your suffering.

That is, deeply diving into how you’re unintentionally making your struggles worse through your responses to this breakup and how early childhood experiences are contributing to your reactions.

3. Action to change

This means that as you become aware of your patterns and assess where your tendencies are coming from, you have to do something to change them. Challenge unhelpful thinking, change behaviors that ultimately harm you, and shift your emotional state to propel you forward to a more positive place. 

Together, becoming aware of your experience, assessing how you got here, and taking action to change is the process that’ll ultimately heal your pain and inspire you to authentically move forward.

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Freedom is the gift

If you’re going through a rough breakup where your ex actually is a bit of a cockroach — even when you’re trying to be kind, some of our breakup experiences leave us strongly disliking your ex — it can be incredibly hard to let go of the anger, heartache, and emotion related to the breakup. Yet, the more you practice, the better you’ll feel. The more freedom you have to create the next great phase of your life. Practicing awareness, assessment, and action leads you away from focusing on your ex so that you can move towards exploring yourself.

Ultimately, it will remind you that you have exactly the same value as a single person as you did when you were dating your ex. You're just as valuable now as you ever were. The goal is to use this as a transformative experience to propel you into your next great life adventure. 

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Dr. Cortney Warren is a board-certified clinical psychologist and expert on addictions, eating disorders, self-deception, and the practice of psychotherapy from a cross-cultural perspective.