By Chris Seiter

Published on September 28th, 2023

Today I’d like to explore the psychology of what a guy feels when they see their ex looking good. Truthfully, I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to approach this one.

It seems simple right, write out a list of things that men feel when they see you walking around looking great but no matter where I turned I just felt like I was stumbling across other websites lists full of very generic information.

If I’m going to write something then I want to at least add something unique to the conversation and that’s when it clicked for me. Instead of me just listing out basic reasons like: they feel jealous or they will feel regret. I’m much more interested in the underlying psychology that’s at play.

And so my list is going to be psychology based.

  1. Ego Threat
  2. Social Comparison
  3. Cognitive Dissonance May Trigger
  4. Dismissive Attachment Reactivation
  5. Projection
  6. Loss Aversion
  7. Mood Congruency
  8. Defense Mechanism May Trigger
  9. Evolutionary Perspective
  10. Inferiority Complex

Let’s dive in.

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1. The Ego Threat Explained

Often, when an ex-boyfriend sees you looking radiant and thriving, it might shake their sense of self-worth, especially if they’re currently navigating a particularly challenging period in their life.

This brings us to the popular notion of “winning the breakup.”

Some men simplify a breakup’s aftermath into two clear outcomes: you’re either the victor or the vanquished. The one who ‘wins’ the breakup appears to flourish post-split, while the ‘loser’ seems to falter.

What often transpires is this: if an ex perceives himself as having come out on top post-breakup, and then encounters you looking spectacularly well—or even chances upon your impressive social media updates—it shakes their winning pedestal. This perceived shift feels like a direct blow to their ego.

At its core, the psychological tug-of-war here stems from validation.

Particularly for those who initiated the breakup—the dumpers. If you’re reading this, odds are you’re the one who got dumped, the “dumpee.” But here’s the thing: most dumpers want to reassure themselves they made the right call in ending the relationship.

Witnessing potential evidence to the contrary is not just unsettling—it’s an ego bruise. They grapple with the discomforting thought: “Did I make a mistake?”

And that, indeed, is a perplexing conundrum for them.

2. Social Comparison

I actually talked about this in an article I wrote yesterday, believe it or not.

Sometimes, when you look incredibly good and your ex sees you, they engage in social comparisons.

There are two types of social comparisons:

  1. Upward comparisons
  2. Downward comparisons

Upward comparisons

This occurs when individuals compare themselves to someone they perceive as superior or better off in some way. When seeing an ex look good, a man might feel she appears happier, more successful, or more attractive since their split. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy or envy. Notice how much of what I described here directly threatens the ego, just as we discussed with factor number one.

Downward Comparisons

This happens when individuals compare themselves to those they see as less fortunate or worse off.

If a man feels he’s in a better place emotionally, physically, or even financially post-breakup, he might engage in a downward comparison, which can boost his self-esteem.

Here we’ve distilled the essence of social comparisons into the winner and loser dynamics of a breakup.

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You’ll notice this may be a recurring theme I touch upon: often, especially if they were the ones to end the relationship, people categorize themselves as the winner. However, during their social comparisons, discovering they might not be in that winner bracket can be deeply unsettling.”

3. Cognitive Dissonance May Trigger

I’ve frequently discussed cognitive dissonance in relation to psychology, and, surprisingly, much of the breakup industry hasn’t quite grasped its significance.

I firmly believe it’s crucial, especially in contexts like these.

So, what exactly is cognitive dissonance?

If an ex convinces himself that breaking up was the absolute right choice, witnessing you flourish without him might stir up conflicting emotions, leading to unease.

I have a firsthand experience with cognitive dissonance.

Back in college, there was this girl who was quite infatuated with me. I was aware of her feelings, but I didn’t reciprocate. She was keen on dating, constantly suggesting we go out.

Regrettably, I would often agree and then cancel at the eleventh hour.

Over time, she got the message.

A lot of my behavior was driven by my dismissive-avoidant tendencies, causing me to shy away from confrontation. Fast forward about eighteen months, I unexpectedly bumped into her en route to a lecture. She had transformed, looking undeniably stunning.

I was with my best friend, and as we exchanged brief pleasantries and went our separate ways, he nudged me and inquired, “Who was that?” This encounter challenged my preconceived notions about her, making me wonder if I’d made a monumental blunder.

The tables turned when I subsequently reached out for a date and was left waiting. I deservedly got a dose of my own medicine. That’s the essence of cognitive dissonance: being certain about a decision, then witnessing an outcome that shakes that certainty, resulting in profound discomfort.

4. Dismissive Attachment Re-Activation

Sometimes, when an ex sees you looking strikingly good, dormant feelings of closeness or intimacy may resurface.

This is especially true if the breakup was recent or if there wasn’t sufficient closure.

One observation that stands out from our studies at Ex Boyfriend Recovery is that many of the exes we’ve analyzed display dismissive avoidant tendencies, much like my own.

Dismissive avoidants typically steer clear of conflict and highly prize their independence. When they sense their independence is at risk in a relationship, their avoidant tendencies amplify, often culminating in a breakup.

However, given enough time and space, dismissive avoidants can begin to appreciate you from a distance.

I’ve addressed this in a comprehensive YouTube video, which garnered over 200,000 views.

The crux of the matter is this: the most effective way to make a dismissive avoidant pine for you is to convincingly move on from them, ensuring they observe this from a distance.

Whether they happen upon you looking fabulous on the street or catch wind of your successes, such encounters can evoke a nostalgic yearning, amplifying their feelings of longing.

When I discuss dismissive attachment reactivation, I’m essentially highlighting how it can spark nostalgia, potentially making your ex more prone to miss you.

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5. Projection

Projection is a psychological defense mechanism where individuals attribute their own undesired feelings, thoughts, or motives onto someone else.

Essentially, it’s seeing in others what you refuse or struggle to see in yourself.

When a man encounters his ex-partner looking especially well, this mechanism might be activated, especially if he’s grappling with unresolved feelings or personal insecurities.

If he’s battling issues of self-worth or facing post-breakup regret, he might unconsciously project these feelings onto her actions. Instead of recognizing his own discomfort or jealousy, he might interpret her appearance or behavior as a deliberate attempt to provoke or flaunt in front of him.

In doing so, he deflects introspection and self-blame, placing the responsibility of his feelings onto her presumed intentions. This protective mechanism, while offering temporary relief, can hinder genuine emotional processing and self-understanding.

6. Loss Aversion

Psychologically speaking, humans often assign greater weight to losses than to equivalent gains.

If an ex perceives your enhancements as a loss – something he no longer can access – it might trigger a potent emotional response.

In simpler terms, this psychological principle suggests that men tend to desire what they believe is out of reach. If they sense they’ve lost something valuable, their instinct is often to retrieve it. This is somewhat analogous to the prevailing theory behind the no contact rule in the breakup industry.

If you’re acquainted with my take on the no contact rule, you’d know that I emphasize its utility for personal growth rather than merely a tactic to regain an ex. However, an indisputable aspect of the no contact rule is its alignment with the theory of reactance.

Reactance theory posits that when an individual’s behavioral freedom is curtailed, they’ll strive to reclaim that suppressed behavior. Simply put, we abhor the sensation of loss. This ties back to the theme of ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ post-breakup. If an ex perceives you’re ‘winning’ the breakup, it might elicit a powerful emotional reaction, prompting them to possibly reconnect.

7. Mood Congruency

Mood congruency is a psychological phenomenon where an individual’s current emotional state affects their interpretation of external events.

Essentially, our moods act as filters, coloring our perceptions in ways that align with our present feelings. When a man sees his ex-partner looking good, his immediate emotional reaction may be swayed significantly by his prevailing mood.

If he’s navigating through a period of melancholy or self-doubt, he might be predisposed to view her flourishing appearance as a reflection of his own shortcomings or as a missed opportunity, thus intensifying his negative emotions.

On the flip side, if he’s riding a wave of positivity and self-assurance, he’s more likely to interpret the same situation in a favorable light. He might admire her progress without feeling threatened or even be genuinely elated about her well-being.

In such scenarios, mood congruency underscores the profound impact of our internal emotional landscape on the lens through which we view the world around us.

8. Defense Mechanism May Trigger

Defense mechanisms are subconscious strategies employed by the psyche to guard an individual’s ego from psychological harm.

They serve as protective shields, helping to manage and cope with uncomfortable feelings, especially those related to anxiety, shame, or cognitive dissonance.

When a man is confronted with the image of an ex-partner looking radiant, several defense mechanisms might spring into action to cushion potential ego threats:

  1. Rationalization: This involves constructing a reason or justification to explain situations that might otherwise cause cognitive dissonance. For instance, if seeing his ex looking well makes him feel uncomfortable, he might tell himself, “She’s just trying to show off,” or “She must be overcompensating for something.” By attributing her appearance to such reasons, he can mentally preserve his sense of self-worth.
  2. Repression: One of the primary defense mechanisms, repression involves pushing distressing thoughts, feelings, or memories into the unconscious mind. If feelings of jealousy, regret, or longing emerge upon seeing his ex, he might unconsciously repress these emotions to avoid the pain or discomfort they bring.
  3. Projection: As previously discussed, this mechanism entails projecting one’s feelings or thoughts onto someone else. He might believe that her intentions are to make him jealous or regretful, even if she’s merely living her life without any hidden agendas.
  4. Denial: Denial involves refusing to accept reality or the truth of a situation. He might completely disregard or downplay any feelings of jealousy, sadness, or inadequacy, pretending as though her appearance doesn’t affect him in the slightest.
  5. Regression: Under stress or emotional turmoil, individuals might revert to an earlier stage of development. In the context of seeing an ex looking good, a man might exhibit more juvenile behaviors, like making petty remarks or seeking immediate comfort from friends or distractions.
  6. Sublimation: This involves redirecting negative feelings or impulses into a more positive or socially acceptable activity. If he’s affected by seeing his ex thrive, he might channel that energy into work, fitness, or artistic pursuits.

These defense mechanisms, while providing temporary solace, can sometimes impede genuine emotional processing. Recognizing and understanding them can pave the way for more mature coping strategies and personal growth.

9. Evolutionary Perspective

From an evolutionary vantage point, a man may perceive his ex’s enhanced appearance as a sign of her being more appealing to potential partners, inciting feelings of rivalry or envy.

This is among the more intriguing reactions I’ve observed. In my preparatory research for this article, I encountered countless generic lists. Many simply identified jealousy as a reaction to an ex looking notably improved but neglected to probe the underlying reasons.

The crux of this response lies in the evolutionary framework.

The more alluring and fit you appear, the more attention you might garner from potential partners, heightening competition. From a commitment angle, this newfound attention could elevate your perceived value, making you seem like a scarce, sought-after commodity.

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Even if they’ve technically already ‘lost’ you, this increased competition underscores your unique value as an individual, bringing in a competitive dynamic from an evolutionary lens.

10. Trigger An Inferiority Complex

An inferiority complex arises from persistent feelings of inadequacy and a consistent negative comparison of oneself to others.

Originating from the theories of psychologist Alfred Adler, it suggests that individuals sometimes overcompensate for these feelings through various behaviors, often to achieve validation or superiority in other areas of life.

When a man is confronted with the sight of his ex-partner looking remarkably well or successful, these dormant feelings of inferiority might become triggered or intensified. His internal narrative might be dominated by thoughts that she has moved on to a better phase in her life, while he remains stagnant or even regressive. The visual evidence of her progress, whether it’s in terms of physical appearance, professional success, or personal growth, can amplify his internal beliefs of being “less than” or not “measuring up” to her.

A few manifestations of this complex in this context might include:

  • Overcompensation: In response to feeling inferior, he might try to prove his worth in other areas, like immersing himself in work, flaunting his successes on social media, or undertaking activities where he feels in control or valued.
  • Withdrawal: Overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy, he might avoid social situations, mutual friends, or any events where he might encounter her again, fearing further damage to his already fragile self-esteem.
  • Hyper-awareness: He becomes acutely conscious of any praise or attention she receives from mutual acquaintances, magnifying any comparisons made between them.
  • Fixation: He might obsessively focus on what he perceives as his shortcomings, comparing his present state to where he was during their relationship, or evaluating areas where he feels he doesn’t measure up to her current situation.
  • Defensiveness: Out of a need to protect his fragile ego, he might become overly defensive or critical, pointing out her flaws or undermining her achievements.

It’s essential to note that while an inferiority complex can distort an individual’s perception, leading to feelings of perpetual inadequacy, it can also, in some cases, drive personal growth and ambition. If recognized and channeled properly, this need to prove oneself might become a catalyst for genuine self-improvement and self-discovery.

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2 thoughts on “How Do Guys Feel When They See Their Ex Looking Good?”

  1. April

    September 30, 2023 at 5:30 pm

    Good post. In addition to being a dismissive avoidant, what would you say about this for an introvert? He is a dismissive avoidant introvert and I heard jealousy is not good to try on introverts because they feel a girl is not being loyal. A bond is completely broken. Then, they will never get back together…

    1. Coach Shaunna

      October 1, 2023 at 6:15 pm

      Hi April, I think you possibly posted this in your community too and had some responses? If not, keep going as you are as you are currently in the No Contact period