People often remain stuck in a state of anger when they can’t get past the wrong that’s been done, real or perceived. Some painful pattern in the past keeps them captively reviewing the events like a broken record. They yearn for justice but can’t get relief, because they do not deal with the real hurt underlying the situation. Focusing on the ex is a way to avoid the real challenge of looking within.
As a friend, it’s not healthy to pile on with negative judgments about the culprit involved. The best thing a friend can do is to point out the harmful pattern that you’re concerned about. Listen for what’s behind the obsessive anger—usually an underlying vulnerability or fear.
People fixated on their exes often fear that they are somehow inadequate or unlovable. For instance, being married without feeling appreciated can leave a person feeling undeserving of recognition. Only when a person starts resolving his or her own hidden vulnerability is there a chance of communicating effectively about what really matters. That’s when the process of healing and growth can begin.
As a friend, depending on the underlying issue, you might compassionately say something like, “It seems that you were not appreciated very much. Maybe you’ve had a pattern of hoping to get appreciation from people who don’t give it.” Ask how they think they can best deal with the underlying need, without repeatedly going over how they’ve been hurt. Ask how they might best focus on recognizing and appreciating their own self-worth.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD