“My ex-girlfriend was very manipulative towards me and I left her. I still have strongly unwanted feelings toward her. How can I stop having these feelings?”
Welcome to cognitive dissonance. Fun isn’t it?
You're discovering that your mind can both want something, and not want something at the same time.
The easiest way to explain this is to see your mind as having three separate minds within it, which are often described as the triune brain.
These 3 minds are often referred to as-
- The Reptile brain- which cares about survival and sex.
- The Mammal brain- which cares about relationships with your tribe, parents, romantic partner, and children.
- The Human brain- which cares about future, problem solving, prediction, abstraction, language, self-reflection, etc.
The reason you can both dislike someone and yet still want them, is that each of your three minds is built for a different purpose, and sees the world differently.
What's more, each of your minds are perceiving the world, and reacting to events of your life simultaneously... all day long.
Stop and think about that.
You and Your 3 Sportscasters
If you've ever watched professional sports on TV, you've seen sportscasters at work, observing the game with non-stop commentary,
Your 3 brains act like 3 sportscasters too.
While you are on the field, playing the game of life, they're reacting suddenly and unpredictably as events unfold. One moment they're excited, and another, they're terrified.
Over-reactions are standard operating procedure.
Frequently, they are giving badly misinformed opinions, on situations that you never asked for their advice on.
And... they never, ever shut up.
This is what's happening for all of us, all the time.
In your own brain right now, your sportscasters are probably saying things like...
"Sex, sex, SEX!" "I want her!"
"You should have a woman in your life."
"It was nice having a relationship."
"Sure it wasn’t a great one, but we had good moments."
"She's not that bad, maybe you should give her a call."
"After all, we really don't have anyone else to look after us, you know."
"It was nice to have someone to care about, and look after. And someone around to look after me if I needed it."
"I felt more secure, and sometimes appreciated. I miss that."
"This relationship was totally not for me."
"It deeply violated my core beliefs."
"I respect myself too much to be with a person like this."
"I was never going to have a decent future with her as my partner."
"I’d rather be alone."
Do you see how each of these has a very different worldview?
Try this Exercise
- Take a piece of paper, and make 3 columns.
- Title them “reptile” “mammal” and “human”
- Ask yourself what each of those brains is feeling, thinking, and wanting, and write that under each column.
You’ll develop a clearer perspective on what you want in your life, and why, and what you need to do to create it.
Clearly, your ex is not the partner you want for your life, but your mammal brain is designed to pursue relationships, and your reptile brain is designed to pursue sex.
Right now, you might not have those in your life in a significant way, which means...
- Every time your mammal brain feels lonely it will remind you of her.
- Every time your reptile brain feels horny it will remind you of her.
Their job is to motivate you to pursue those things, and from their perspective, she's the easiest and most familiar option.
Your rational, human brain might see the future more clearly, and know that she's not the right partner for you- but your emotional minds simply don't understand why you're not with her right now.
From their point of view, you're just making their job difficult.
Learn from the Wins
On top of this what your emotional mind is busy doing, I've no doubt there were a few things about the relationship with her that you really enjoyed at a rational-mind level too.
- She must have had some qualities that you appreciated.
- And your relationship must have given you some great experiences you appreciate as well.
Identify those, and reflect deeply on them, it's important to identify what you've learned from her, and your relationship, and what you've learned about yourself.
Once you've consciously identified those qualities that you appreciate, you'll be better able to separate your feelings of desire from her as a person.
The reason is that you'll see more clearly that it's not really her that your mind wants, it wants a relationship, with similar positive experiences, and perhaps certain specific partner qualities.
Understand those well, and go build the relationship that’s right for you.
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