The Dangerous Psychological Effects Of Stalking Your Ex On Social Media

by Gigi Engle
Elite Daily

Welcome to the Ex Games: a content series about love lost. Whether it's the realization things need to end, the act of rejection, the reality of being single, or the resurrection that is moving on, the Ex Games has every stage of a breakup covered.

And to really bring these stories to life, we've launched the Ex Games podcast, where we delve into the two sides of a break-up story with a new couple each week, and aim to end up somewhere near the truth. Because when it comes to affairs of the heart, everyone plays, but does anyone win? Let's find out.

The only thing that has stopped me from stalking my insane ex on social media (and I do mean insane) is the fact that he's old AF and doesn't have social media profiles. Truly, this is the only reason. Even though he's mentally unstable, I still wonder what he's doing, if only to make myself feel better about the whole saga that was our horrible relationship.

I'm not alone. You know I know that you know you stalk your ex on social media. We all do it. A study from Western University found that over 90 percent of us stalk our exes on Facebook. Yet, what I'm wondering is where psychology plays into this behavior.

We've seen plenty of pieces outlining why you can't stop stalking your ex on social media and we've seen tons of people writing confessionals about this behavior -- but where does it go wrong? Does it ever mess with your head in a super unhealthy way? What are the repercussions of this cyberstalking phenomenon that Gen Y has normalized so fully?

We're All So Addicted To Our Phones, We Don't Even Know We're Addicted

Gen Y doesn't see our phone attachment as anything negative because we're all joined in this attachment.

According to a 2009 study of Generation Y and its use of social media, published in the Journal of Service Management, one of the most significant side effects of the millennial obsession with social media is internet addiction. An addiction to the internet and social media gets us into a frame of mind in which we ascertain our personal value through the lens of our digital platforms.

I can't even count the number of conversations I've had with friends where I've been asked if they should delete a photo on Instagram because “it didn't get enough likes.”

By stalking your ex on social media, you're falling into this dangerous system of valuation. If you can confirm that your ex's new boo is less attractive or that they're going nowhere in their career, you get a hit of encouragement; you feel like you did the right thing.

When We Stalk Online, We Don't Feel Responsibility Or Shame

The easy answer to why we stalk? We don't think we'll get caught and, therefore, we don't see any repercussions for our actions. If there's no slap on the wrist, why stop?

In a 2004 study in the Journal of Cyberpsychology and Behavior outlines the different ways we interact online versus in real life, our internet behavior creating an “online disinhibition effect.”

In “The Psychology of Cyberspace,” author J. Schuler says that this effect drastically changes the way we interact online, “It's well known that people say and do things in cyberspace that they wouldn't ordinarily say or do in the face-to-face world. They loosen up, feel more uninhibited, express themselves more openly. It's a double-edged sword. Sometimes people share very personal things about themselves. They reveal secret emotions, fears, wishes. Or they show unusual acts of kindness and generosity. We may call this benign disinhibition.”

How does this translate to social media stalking an ex?

Well, when you're online, and you're cloaked in a veil of anonymity, you're far more likely to do sketchy stuff you wouldn't dream of doing in real life, AKA stalking the hell out of your ex.

You feel like there's no harm that can be done. After all, they don't know you're all over their profiles making fun of their new love interests. What could possibly go wrong?

You Can't Move On If You Can't Stay Off Their Profile

A few things are very wrong with this line of thinking, actually. Grieving a breakup is normal. The ways we grieve are varied. In this social media-centric time, scanning through your ex's profiles only seems natural.

Sometimes going through their online profiles is a way of coping, but other times it can get out of hand and begin taking over your life. This is decidedly unhealthy. Moving on doesn't mean making your ex's new life your main hobby.

“Social media has certainly made it easier to satiate our curiosity about what our exes are doing. Some of this can be totally harmless. Most of us are a bit curious what our first love is doing these days and we can learn that by peeking at their Twitter or Instagram. But this can get obsessive for some people.” Kate McCombs, a relationship coach and empathy educator tells Elite Daily, “If you notice that checking your ex's social media makes you feel more obsessive, not more relieved, about your breakup, it's time to start seeking some offline help from your support network.”

The study from the Journal of Cyberpsychology and Behavior confirms that stalking your ex online will make it more difficult to move on. According to the study's authors, “Overall, these findings suggest that exposure to an ex-partner through Facebook may obstruct the process of healing and moving on from a past relationship."

Stalking someone online may make you feel better in the short-term, like you're secretly looking into the life you had as a way to cope or as a masochistic way to self-explore all the things you perceive you missed out on, as McCombs' puts it:

It's natural to think a lot about an ex when you're fresh out of a breakup, but it's important to be mindful of how much you're thinking about their life after you. Reflecting on the relationship you had with them is a normal, natural, and healthy part of healing from it. You need to do that work to learn. But if you're finding yourself obsessing about what your ex is doing now and who they're doing it with, that's unlikely to be in service to your wellbeing. A bit of curiosity is normal, but if you find that it's keeping you from healing, it might be time to stop checking their Instagram.

While it may make you feel better in the short-term, obsessing over your ex is not a healthy way to start the acceptance process that comes with the end of a relationship.

Get involved with your side hustles, spend more time with friends, and/or meditate. Try to get some perspective. Moving on is hard to do, but dwelling in the past will not help. I promise.