You can stop thinking about someone by refocusing on yourself, keeping your distance, and exploring why you can’t take them out of your head.
Whether you’ve just come out of a relationship or experiencing unrequited love, learning how to stop thinking about someone can feel impossible — but it isn’t.
Thinking about someone you have feelings for, particularly someone you were in a relationship with, is natural, explains Angela Sitka, a licensed marriage and family therapist from Santa Rosa, California.
If those thoughts control your daily life and influence your behaviors, however, you may want to become intentional about taking that person off your mind.
“Some red flags that you may need some extra support [forgetting someone] is making (unwanted) outreach attempts, constantly finding ways to bring them up in unrelated conversations, or looking excessively at [their] old photos and social media.”
If this is your case, you can stop thinking about that someone by:
- spending time on self-care
- focusing on school or your career
- volunteering your time to a preferred cause
- practicing relaxation techniques
- investing in other relationships
In addition to the above, these tips may also help you:
It’s natural to think about someone you love or an ex-partner, especially if you had a recent relationship. Time typically decreases the frequency of these thoughts and emotions, though.
But if you feel you’ve tried to stop and can’t, you might be dealing with intrusive thoughts. These are unwanted and distressing images and thoughts that keep popping up in your head and that you may find difficult to control.
Often, thinking about the same things over and over again may be related to stress. Sometimes, though, it may be a clinical symptom of a mental health challenge.
Having recurring thoughts about someone and not being able to stop at will doesn’t immediately mean you have a mental health condition. However, you may want to explore this possible cause with a mental health professional if you feel these thoughts are causing distress.
Some possible mental health conditions associated with uncontrollable thoughts or rumination include:
Rumination vs. obsession
Rumination refers to thinking about something over and over again and feeling “stuck” in a thought loop. It
Obsessions, on the other hand, are formal symptoms of OCD. They typically occur without any stimuli and are unwanted, uncontrollable, or intrusive thoughts and urges that can cause significant distress.
Your attachment style may also have a part to play if you can’t stop thinking about someone, especially if this isn’t the first time it has happened.
Research from 2014 found that rumination in intimate relationships was more common among people with an anxious attachment style than those with secure attachments.
What is an attachment style?
According to the attachment theory, your style is directly linked to the bond you had with your primary caregivers. How you relate to people in your adulthood depends on the characteristics of your first relationships.
Secure attachment styles are typically associated with having your emotional and physical needs met during childhood. Anxious and avoidant attachment styles are thought to be the result of inconsistent, abusive, or absent caregivers.
In some cases, past trauma may also impact your adult relationships and how you experience love. A possible sign of this may be getting attached to someone you can’t have or an ex-partner who no longer loves you.
“You might be struggling with trust issues after being cheated on or holding onto past traumas that are inhibiting you from true connection with an available romantic partner,” says Sitka.
How to take emotional and mental distance
“Explore your love for this person through therapy,” suggests Lexi Joondeph-Breidbart, a licensed social worker in New York City.
Joondeph-Breidbart indicates a therapist will help you identify patterns of unrequited love to help you stop the cycle by addressing underlying concerns. “Therapy can also help you explore why this continues to happen or why it is happening now and encourage you to process the emotions that come with unrequited love.”
Learning how to stop thinking about someone can be challenging if you’re always being reminded of them.
How to remove reminders
“Currently, social media is a big trigger for people,” cautions Joondeph-Breibart. “Mute or block this person, hide or remove chat history, and put things that remind you of them in a box.”
If you share space with this person, such as in a work environment, schedule adjustments, office relocation, or department changes might feel drastic but may be necessary if you want to get them off your mind.
Sitka says it’s not uncommon for unrequited love to involve detailed fantasies about the uninterested party.
You may have imagined your wedding with this person, for example, or have planned out where you’ll live, how many children you’ll have, and what you might name those children.
You might also fantasize about them reaching out to you or about scenarios where you may run into each other.
These fantasies may make it harder for you to stop thinking about them.
How to interrupt your fantasy with reality
“It’s important to remember that while our imagination may have created an idealized image of this person as our perfect partner, this is not reality,” Sitka explains.
She recommends working around one question to help bring yourself out of fantasy cycles:
“How could they be your perfect partner when one of the most important qualities of your perfect partner should be that they are available and interested in being a partner to you?”
Writing this question down in a journal, or having a visual reminder on a note, can help bring it to mind when you can’t stop thinking about someone.
It’s natural when someone holds your interest to feel drawn to the things they’re passionate about, maybe even feeling as though you’re also passionate about those things.
“All of the sudden, you are listening to their favorite bands, wearing the jersey of their favorite sports teams, and making social media posts about anything you think might catch their interest,” says Sitka.
But focusing on what they might like may keep you from engaging in what you’re passionate about.
How to refocus
“Whether this is returning to a previous hobby or picking up a new one, showing yourself that there are other things outside of this person that bring happiness will help you feel less reliant on them,” says Joondeph-Breidbart.
If you’re unsure where to start, you can begin by listing what your passions and hobbies were before you became interested in that person.
Setting aside time daily or weekly to explore that list can help reintroduce you to the hobbies, interests, and events that are important to you.
“Sometimes the feelings about a person are so strong that we need an outlet to release these feelings from our body and minds to truly move on,” Sitka indicates.
How to grieve the fantasy and move on
For many people, Sitka says this emotional release is a form of grieving and response to rejection. It’s a process that can be different for everyone.
“You might need to allow yourself some tears, yell into a pillow or write a long letter to your crush saying all the things you would never say to their face, and then destroy the letter,” says Sitka.
Expressing your emotions in a safe space can help you find relief and peace of mind.
Is it possible to stop loving someone?
Yes, you can stop loving someone. Love needs to be fed and fueled to survive.
When you stop learning about the other person, discontinue contact, place your energy somewhere else, and reflect on the reasons why you may not be together, love may start to fade.
If your feelings are toward someone unavailable, holding onto them may continue to cause you emotional pain and might damage any other relationship you do have with them or their partner.
Many times, explains Sitka, “love” isn’t what you’re experiencing when you can’t stop thinking about someone, especially if you barely know them.
“The feelings we can develop for an unrequited love can be quite intense, but it is different from real love,” she says. “One-sided infatuations cannot ever develop into love because real love requires a connection with the real person.”
That doesn’t mean one-sided love is impossible.
You could love someone you know deeply, even if they don’t feel the same toward you. If your love is based on the reality of who the other person is, not an ideal image you’ve built in your head, it’s probably real love.
But if this real love is unreciprocated, you may be hurting yourself by thinking about them constantly. It may be important to find a way to stop focusing your heart and mind on this person and open yourself to the possibility of finding someone who feels the same for you.
Learning how to stop thinking about someone isn’t easy. It often requires processes of introspection, deliberate distancing, and emotional release.
While constantly thinking about someone can be natural, especially post-relationship, if your thoughts are unwelcome or impairing your daily life, you may benefit from speaking with a mental health professional.