Letting go of someone you once loved can be a painful and emotional process. Even months after a difficult breakup, when you’ve convinced yourself you’re over your ex, they could post a picture that makes you feel a sudden flood of nostalgia, sadness, or regret. Maybe you quickly shove these emotions aside and try to ignore them, but be careful — buried feelings can impact the healing process more than you might think. To help break the cycle and truly let go, look out for the signs you’re still resentful toward an ex. Pinpointing them may help you better understand your feelings, and give you insight into how to finally move on once and for all.
These signals aren’t always clear-cut and obvious. Even if you’ve started dating other people, you could be holding onto bitterness without realizing it. And eventually, if you don’t spend time working through those feelings, they could hold you back from being truly happy moving forward. As hard as it is to stomach, the only way to let go of your ex is to truly let go of them — and this means facing your lingering pain head-on and accepting it as valid, rather than letting it fester into more cynicism.
I spoke with Dr. Erika Martinez, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist who works with people on post-breakup recovery. She provided a list of behaviors that often indicate someone is still angry at an ex, even months or years after the relationship has ended. “All these behaviors are rooted in defense mechanisms that people use to self-protect from emotions that feel intense and uncomfortable,” she explains. If you notice yourself falling into one of these patterns, it might mean you still have some healing to do.
1. You Do Things You Know Would Make Your Ex Mad Or Jealous.
You’re entitled to live life on your own terms without worrying about whether your ex would approve. But if you find yourself intentionally trying to upset your ex by partying, dating other people, or subtweeting them, it’s likely a sign you haven’t let go. Martinez explains that you might be trying to get your ex to come running back to you “only so you can reject them.” It’s an attempt to take your power back in the situation, but in the long run, it’s unlikely to make you feel any better.
2. You Frequently Trash Talk Your Ex To Other People.
Everyone needs a safe space to vent, and that’s what your friends are there for. But if you constantly talk about your ex in front of them, even when there’s no new drama to report, you might just be looking for an excuse to bring up the subject. If you’ve noticed your friends gently trying to pivot the conversation, they might be hinting they’ve heard enough about this already.
3. You’re Constantly Wondering What Your Ex Is Up To.
Still the first person to view your ex’s Instagram story every time they post an update? Doing a deep IG stalk into the girl you saw them hanging out with last week? If you’re still invested in your ex’s every action (or you’ve convinced yourself they moved on quicker than you), it’s probably time to take a step back from social media.
4. You Damage Or Refuse To Return Something That Belongs To Your Ex.
Maybe it’s an item of clothing your ex left at your house the day you broke up. Or maybe it’s a piece of furniture from your shared apartment that originally belonged to them. If you’re “deliberately making it difficult for the ex to pick up,” Martinez says you’re probably trying to mask hurt feelings by being passive aggressive.
If you recognize these behaviors, you can channel them into more productive ways of thinking. “I conceptualize anger and resentment as energy, and like any other form of energy, they can be harnessed for constructive or destructive purposes,” Martinez explains. “So I encourage clients to channel their anger or resentment into constructive outlets, like art, writing, [or] a special project. The goal is that the emotion be digested and not remain bottled up and fester inside.” You can also employ a licensed therapist or breakup coach to help you understand the root of your lingering negativity.
It may be tempting to reach back out to your ex and try to mend things, but Martinez warns that if you can avoid it, it’s best not to make contact with them. “You're clearly still hurt and disappointed the relationship didn't work out,” she says. “Reaching out again rips open the wound and often brings more confusion and pain.” Even if they’re open to having a conversation with you, think about what you truly want to gain from this scenario. A sense of peace or finality? Often, the best way to find that illusive closure is really to give yourself the strength to let go.
Even the most resilient people won’t be perfect at this. Breakups are messy because love and loss are inherently complex. But with the right perspective (and help from others when you need it), you can turn that resentment into a powerful incentive for positive change in your life. What’s done is done, but the future is a vast and open book.