I Can Buy Myself Flowers
Here's Why Trash-Talking Your Ex Can Actually Help You Move On
(Up to a point — experts pinpoint when the habit becomes unhealthy.)
Let’s say you’ve just broken up with an ex, who — truth be told — was a little (or a lot) toxic, and you’re alternating between blasting “Flowers” by Miley Cyrus or “Out of Your League” by Shakira and weeping to friends. (We’ve all been there.) Maybe you ended things, maybe they did, maybe you even came to a mutual agreement. Either way, you’ve got a lot of — shall we say — feelings about this person, and you’re wondering what, exactly, to do with them.
You could pull a Miley or Shakira, channeling those emotions into a diss track about your ex. You could vent to pals for hours on end, bad-mouthing your former partner in an attempt to get them out of your system. You could pour your thoughts into salacious journal entries that no one will ever read (or, in my case, take said journal entries, spin them into fiction, and draft an entire novel about your relationship — titled Adelaide and coming out April 18 — wink!).
But is dragging your ex, publicly or otherwise, healthy? Is there a line in the sand here, a point at which you may have taken ex-bashing too far? (Spoiler alert: yes and yes.) Let’s discuss.
Is Venting About Your Ex Healthy?
The short answer? Absolutely.
If you’re dying to trash-talk your ex — even a little bit — please do! It’s a therapist-approved activity, one that could actually help you make sense of your breakup and make room for better things, including a potential new partner.
“From a mental health standpoint, I think that it can be very emotionally cathartic to talk candidly about any quote-unquote ‘negative’ feelings about your ex, point blank,” says Emily Simonian, licensed marriage and family therapist and the head of clinical learning at Thriveworks Counseling. “In general, I think to speak poorly about your ex — if those are your true feelings — that’s classic processing. … As you are able to process your thoughts, not only does it give you awareness, it also releases tension that might be built up, releasing that negative emotional energy.”
And hey, if you want to put your ex on blast outside of the group chat or your therapist’s office — like Miley, Shakira, and (ahem) myself — that’s OK, too! Sharing details of your breakup publicly can be equally cathartic, according to Simonian, and might even help others learn from your experience. Make a TikTok about your relationship woes! Throw on a “Dump Him” T-shirt a la Britney!
Maria Concha, a mindset and manifestation coach, agrees. “If you need to honor certain feelings and emotions and let it out, by all means, I’m all about releasing it and letting it out in a healthy way, in a way that serves you,” she says. “So now it’s up to you to discern what is a healthy way: How can I release this [in a way that] serves me, where I’m not going to manifest more of this kind of energy?”
Specifically, Concha recommends writing down all of the things you want to release about your past relationship on a piece of paper — “anything that was painful, that was challenging, that hurt… any limiting beliefs about yourself you may have picked up from that breakup,” she says — and disposing of it. Light it on fire! Flush it down the toilet! Run it through your office shredder! Whatever feels right — you just want it gone, Concha says.
Next, decide and declare the kind of relationship you want in your life. “Write out ‘My new relationship gets to look like this…’ and then you get to go to town and declare what that looks like,” she says. “This is you operating from a space of inspiration, not desperation.”
When Does Talking About Your Breakup Become Unhealthy?
Of course, like all things, there’s a limit to dragging your ex — a point at which it stops serving you and starts to detract from your life and overall well-being, according to the pros.
“You know that it’s crossed a line if it’s impairing your ability to live your life in a mentally healthy way where you are able to move on,” says Simonian. “Look at it in terms of functioning rather than an amount of time.”
If you find yourself unable to talk about anything other than your breakup, for instance, or your mind constantly steers itself back to negative feelings about your ex (and maybe even the hope that they’ll get their comeuppance), you may have crossed the line between healthy processing and not-so-healthy dwelling.
“If your energy is focused on the other person — whether it’s good will or bad will, no matter your intention — your focus is on someone else, and not you,” says Concha. “You are a magnet for what you think, feel, and put out into the world, so now you’re going to attract some sort of situation or experience of that [negative] nature.”
Whether or not you believe in the law of attraction, it’s decidedly less fun to focus on the negative, right? To get yourself out of that headspace and channel your energy into something more productive, Concha recommends exercise or a new self-care routine (think: anything from practicing mindfulness to curling up with a book) — something that’s going to take your mind away from your ex and back to you.
The bottom line? There’s no reason to feel guilty about bashing or dragging an ex. Getting the ick out, as I like to call it, can be a wonderful, healing thing. But don’t let a rough breakup or a toxic partner swallow all of your mental energy. Celebrate the fact that — in the words of Miley — “I can love me better than you can,” and strive to dedicate your brain space to worthwhile relationships: with your pals, with new love interests, and — of course — with yourself.
Emily Simonian, licensed marriage and family therapist and head of clinical learning, Thriveworks Counseling
Maria Concha, mindset and manifestation coach, Manifesting Ninja