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Identity Confusion Drives People to Get Back With Their Exes

·368 words·2 mins
Psyched for the Weekend

As I discussed in an earlier post, losing someone close to you can make you feel like you’re losing your mind. That’s because of something called transactive memory. In fact, there’s an entire field of research in social psychology that studies distributed cognition, a phenomenon by which a person can not only access their individual knowledge but can effectively glean extra benefits from those who are in their social environment. 

Turns out that there’s another way that breaking up with someone can really throw us for a loop: It can result in identity confusion. And according to today’s study, the resultant identity confusion following a breakup is not be unpleasant — it can actually drive people to get back with their exes.

Yes, really.

However, it seems like this phenomenon doesn’t hit everyone equally as hard. Instead, researchers found that folks who had more attachment anxiety were more likely to express desire to reunite with an ex after a breakup. Further, they found that this was particularly marked in folks with anxious attachment patterns who also didn’t have a clear self-concept.

And you know… when I really think about it, there’s some definite truth here. I discussed this study with a dear friend of mine, and we both admitted that while these days we have a strong sense of self and secure relationship attachment (mine at least was hard-fought and a result of a lot of self-work), there were definitely times in the past when this wasn’t the case. And looking back honestly on those times, we could remember how we were nearly driven mad after breakups, because we felt so lost and confused about who we were afterwards. Yes, even when we initiated those breakups.

So if this is something you’re currently experiencing, you’re certainly not alone.

There are definitely limitations to this current study. But it’s a very interesting area of research — and I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next with this.


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.


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