Written by: Jess Song

April 19, 2023

Obsessing over your ex

Circles recently interviewed Psychologist and Researcher Dr. Cortney S. Warren on the reasons why we may obsess over our ex, how that is related to addiction, and how to break free of the cycle using CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.) Join us for more live events featuring mental and emotional health experts, only on the Circles app.


Introducing Dr. Cortney S. Warren:

I’m Dr. Cortney Warren, PhD, ABPP —a Board Certified Clinical Psychologist Researcher and Adjunct Clinical Professor at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).


Although I’m a licensed psychologist who has provided psychotherapy to clients for 15 years, I’m also a writer, speaker, educator, researcher, and media consultant. More specifically, I’m an expert on addictions, eating disorders, self-deception, and the practice of psychotherapy from a cross-cultural perspective.


I’m the author of Letting Go of Your Ex: CBT Skills to Heal the Pain of a Breakup and Overcome Love Addiction (2023). I led a TEDx talk on the Psychology of Self-Deception. And I’m passionate about bringing theoretically grounded, empirically supported psychological research to the public.


Why is talking about breakups so important? Why do you focus on breakups from a psychological point of view?

 Falling in love and breaking up is something almost all humans will go through over the course of our lives. It’s a universal part of the human experience. And, at some point in our lives, almost all of us will suffer an excruciatingly painful breakup that absolutely rocks our world.

But what happens if you can’t get over your ex?

Desperate to reconnect and understand what happened, we can become fixated on our former lover as if we need them to survive. It becomes as if our life has lost all meaning without them by our side. Like we no longer have purpose or value on our own.

It may be so all-consuming that we feel addicted to our ex.

When you think about love, you probably don’t think of it as addictive. “Alcoholic,” “workaholic,” “shopaholic,” “chocoholic” —you’ve probably heard these terms to describe people struggling with addictive tendencies toward alcohol, work, shopping, or even certain foods like chocolate.


The idea of being addicted to a former lover — being an "ex-aholic" — may be new to you. Yet emerging research suggests that you can feel addicted to a person because of your basic human need for love.


The idea of being addicted to a former lover — being an “ex-aholic” — may be new to you. Yet emerging research suggests that you can feel addicted to a person because of your basic human need for love.


Pioneering neurobiological research indicates that the very natural process of falling in love is an addictive one because it stimulates a very old part of our brain that’s associated with survival.

When you act in ways that help our species survive, your brain and body reward you by making the activity feel good. And, when you fall in love with someone who wants you, feeling addicted to a lover doesn’t seem problematic. Quite the contrary: it’s wonderful!

Problems emerge when you fall for someone who isn’t healthy for you or doesn’t want you back. Then the addictive nature of love can throw you into a miserable cycle of symptoms that harms your emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being.


How does your understanding of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and perspective of addictive behaviors tie into breakups?

CBT is about disrupting faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking, breaking patterns or harmful perspectives. Psychologists apply this to breakups by intervene those patterns by shifting your thoughts about the breakup, your perspective on yourself, and shifting behaviors away from behaviors that are harmful towards more helpful behaviors in the long-term.


The truth is, there are many highly effective psychological skills we can learn and use to heal the pain of a breakup and create the next great phase of our life after a breakup.


In the book, I teach readers:

  • How and why love can function like an addiction
  • The primary symptoms of a love-addicted breakup, how these symptoms show up in our lives, and specific skills to stop them
  • Common flawed ways of thinking about an ex that keep us stuck, and how to challenge them
  • Core beliefs about love that we often develop in childhood and harm our romantic relationships as an adult
  • How to create the next phase of life by grieving a breakup and making value-based choices moving forward.


Learning CBT skills can help people let go of their ex and create the next great phase of their life.

They can create a life that emerges from a deep inner knowing that they’re valuable just as they are—with or without their ex. Based on a cognitive behavioral perspective of addictive behaviors, I wrote Letting Go of Your Ex (2023) for anyone going through a breakup who feels stuck on their ex and can’t seem to move on.

What inspired you to write this book for those going through hard breakups?

In 2014, I gave a TEDx talk on the Psychology of Self-deception—how we lie to ourselves, why it’s a problem, and how to change.

The truth is that we all lie to ourselves and, ultimately, it can leave us with massive regrets! In the talk, I used the ways that I lied to myself in my own romantic relationships as an example—because I struggled greatly through dating experiences when I was younger.

After the talk, I got so many questions from people who resonated with my examples about romantic love and breakups that I felt compelled to write it.


What advice would you give to those going through a tough breakup?

  • Having a strong social support group is incredibly helpful to the healing process. It makes us feel less alone. Feeling a sense of connection and belonging to a social group is really central to mental and physical health.


  • Know that loving another person is an incredibly vulnerable and complicated experience. We can fall so madly in love that we feel absolutely euphoric.

  • If we then break up, it can throw us into a damaging addictive cycle of symptoms that’s incredibly difficult to stop—obsessive thinking, cravings to contact them, emotional pain, and unhelpful actions to try to feel better.

  • As painful as some breakups are to live through, you can turn it into one of the most positive transformational experiences of your life. You don’t have to let it break you—you can use it to help you evolve into an even better version of yourself.

  • It takes a lot of deliberate effort and hard work. But one day, you may look back and see your breakup as a tremendous gift because it taught you something about yourself.


You can find Dr. Cortney S. Warren at her website, instagram, facebook, linkedin, and tiktok. Find her TEDx talk here. She is the author of Heal the Pain of a Breakup and Overcome Love Addiction (2023). Visit her LinkTree for specific research, consulting, social media, and Letting Go of Your Ex book links.