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If you have low self-esteem and droves of limiting beliefs and insecurities, your breakup’s aftermath will likely compel you to respond in one of two ways.
You’ll either start idealizing your ex, thinking they’re the love of your life — “the one that got away” — or you’ll convince yourself that your soulmate — “your perfect partner” — is just around the corner.
The former response is coined The Phantom Ex Syndrome, the latter The Soulmate Syndrome. As you’d guess, both harm us emotionally, undermine our mental health, and shortchange and sabotage our love life.
Understanding The Phantom Ex Syndrome
The Phantom Ex Syndrome usually chaperones people harboring an avoidant attachment style. For those uninitiated, a person with an avoidant attachment is uncomfortable with intimacy and vulnerability and is overprotective of their independence to a point where they withdraw or eject from their relationship if it’s ever threatened.
The Phantom Ex Syndrome propels people to lift up their ex on a pedestal, minimize their flaws, and amplify their positive traits. It also makes them romanticize the relationship they had with them — they remember only the positive moments and proactively brush aside the negative.
Phantom ex victims either force, cajole, or manipulate their ex to return due to the insatiable desperation that flushes their minds after they get enough space away from them. Or they find someone else but forever deem them inferior to their ex, making this new date or partner feel insignificant by comparison.
As you’d expect, both of these things lead to a whole new array of relationship issues.
Understanding The Soulmate Syndrome
The Soulmate Syndrome, contrarily to the Phantom Ex one, can be personified by everyone, regardless of their attachment style. Avoidants, anxious, disorganized, secure — any one of these attachments can develop it.
The Soulmate Syndrome propels people to believe their perfect partner is just around the corner. It also makes them develop unattainable standards for those they date or get into a relationship with, making them perpetually disappointed with them.
Soulmate victims, therefore, perpetually hop from one failed (usually also toxic) relationship to another — from one heartbreak to the next — all because they foster this crooked belief that the grass is always greener on the other side.
Even though that’s rarely the case.
Why Phantom Ex And Soulmate Syndrome Occur And Stick
The Phantom Ex Syndrome initiates and operates not because a relationship was successful, happy, and healthy but because one person got sufficient space and time away from their ex. That’s why people, especially avoidants, become so enamored by their ex, not immediately after their split but rather weeks later.
Conversely, the Soulmate Syndrome initiates and operates due to a crooked belief — or a set of beliefs — a person fosters. These are usually developed because of continual exposure to toxic romanticist culture. The hallmark of it being popular romantic movies, songs, and novels (mainly anything that has to do with Disney).
The biggest problem with these two responses is that they prevent people from forming healthy relationships.
The Phantom ex victims waste weeks or months chasing after an ex (which only turns them off) or trying to find someone who measures up to them — which in their case is virtually impossible. Whereas the Soulmate victims waste weeks or months hunting down the perfect relationship — a relationship that doesn’t exist.
Overcoming The Phantom Ex Syndrome
To overcome the Phantom Ex Syndrome, stop and acknowledge that a breakup is always a sign of incompatibility. And realize your ex was probably never a viable option.
Sure, some people can work things out with their ex, but that’s a silent minority. And you’re likely not in it. More often than not, you’ll be much better off just starting from scratch and finding a new relationship.
And since most people suffering from the Phantom Ex Syndrome are avoidants, they can also work on shifting their attachment style to a more secure variant.
I’ve outlined the entire process of doing this in my article on attachment, but here’s the gist: date someone who is more secure/less avoidant than you, practice being vulnerable, and consider getting into therapy.
Overcoming The Soulmate Syndrome
To overcome the Soulmate Syndrome, stop and acknowledge that there are no soulmates. There are only random people who stumble upon each other on random occasions on the timelines of their random life.
Sometimes these people are compatible and have chemistry, and thus, make things work. Other times that’s not the case, and they stop dating or break up.
And to play devil’s advocate, even if you do, by some miracle, find your “ideal partner” and cultivate a relationship with them, know that that relationship will likely change over time.
Sometimes it will change for the better. Other times it will change for the worst. Someone who is an ideal fit for you now may not be an ideal fit for you five or ten years later. Never forget this.
Finding Love Realistically
Once you successfully fend off the Phantom Ex or the Soulmate Syndrome, there is only one thing left to do if your goal is to find love. And that’s being realistic. So here’s some practical advice.
You’re never going to find someone perfect because no one is perfect. Not your ex, not your 36th date. Everyone has emotional baggage and insecurities. Everyone has values, beliefs, and goals somewhat different from yours. Everyone has faults and incompatibles.
Your job isn’t to find someone who is 100% what you want. Your job is to find someone who is 70-80% of what you want and forget about the other 20-30%.
My best suggestion? Pick 3-5 traits you want in a partner that are un-negotiable. Then strive to meet someone with them. And consider every other trait you like about them as a bonus and every frustrating one as a challenge in compromise and acceptance — a challenge that makes you a better partner. And ultimately, a better person.
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