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Saturday, March 6, 2010

The BreakUp: When the Need for Closure Turns into Harassment

Breaking up is almost never easy, especially for the person who wants to reconcile the relationship. For many people, there are times when the breakup of their relationship comes as a shock. For those people, who thought their relationship was going well, when they hear their spouses or partners tell them that it's over, the words land on them like a ton of bricks. It seems incomprehensible and unreal--as if they're stuck in a nightmare.

Years later, in hindsight, some people say that there were signs all along that the relationship was not gong well, but they were in denial and didn't see it. Many others, even with the benefit of hindsight, say there were no signs that their partners were unhappy. Either way, the end of a relationship can be traumatic, even when it's mutual. But when it's not a mutual decision, the person who wants to continue in the relationship often feels abandoned and wants very much to understand what happened and have a sense of closure about the breakup. However, the need for closure, especially when the partner who is leaving is not open to further discussion, sometimes leads to desperate attempts (by the partner being left) for a discussion, an explanation, maybe there's even some attempts at bargaining that they'll change whatever the other partner didn't like.

But how do you do you know when you've crossed the line from a need for closure into a form of harassment?

The following is a list of signs that you (or your partner) have crossed the line and are engaging in harassment. There are countless other forms of behavior that would be considered harassment, so this list gives you an idea, but it's not exhaustive:
  • Making endless calls and leaving numerous voicemail messages to your former partner, after s/he told you not to call any more
  • Showing up at your ex's house uninvited (and unwanted) after the breakup to discuss, plead, or argue
  • Calling your ex at his/her job numerous times after you've been asked to stop
  • Showing up at your ex's workplace uninvited (and unwanted) after the breakup
  • Waiting around at places that you know your ex typically frequents in an effort to see your ex or talk when you know your ex doesn't want you there
  • Sending numerous email messages either begging, threatening or arguing about the breakup
  • Threatening to reveal information about your ex to your ex's family, employer, friends or others that you know would be embarrassing, jeopardizing your ex's job or other relationships
  • Divulging confidential information that you know will be harmful to your ex or talking badly about your ex to people who could use the information against your ex
  • Running up credit cards that are in your former partner's name as a form of retaliation for the breakup
  • Damaging your ex's property (this can involve his/her car, home or other possessions)
  • Stalking or following your ex, your ex's family, friends or new partner
  • Calling your ex's relatives, friends, employer or new partner as a form of retaliation
  • Making false police reports against your ex (e.g., making a false report of domestic violence)
  • Making false reports of child abuse regarding your ex to the local bureau of child welfare
Needless to say, any form of violence towards your ex, your ex's family, friends or new partner is considered an assault and it's a crime.

You should be aware that many of the items on the above list are legally actionable, your ex can file a police report against you and, possibly obtain an order of protection. In some cases, you might be arrested, especially if you persist.

Although breaking up is almost never easy, the vast majority of people eventually grieve the loss, accept the breakup and don't engage in harassing behavior. After a period of time and, sometimes, with the help of psychotherapy, most people heal from the heart break and move on with their lives.

But for some people, the breakup can trigger strong emotions, often, of unresolved feelings of abandonment from their family of origin. When this occurs, the anger and sadness can be intense and overwhelming to bear. But this is never an excuse to harass your ex or people close to your ex.
If you find that you're stuck in an obsessive cycle of angry thoughts or compulsive or harassing behaviors related to your breakup, you should seek the help of a licensed mental health professional before it's too late. Most experienced psychotherapists have dealt with these issues before, and you don't need to feel embarrassed to seek help.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.