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“I can’t stop thinking about how he could have hurt me like this.”
“My boss is all about himself and takes all the credit for all the great work I do.”
“I don’t understand what I did wrong. Maybe it was me. I was too clingy.”
“Who does something like that to someone they care about?”
“How can I get the relationship to be good again because everything was so amazing at the beginning?”
“I keep thinking about the fight we had 10 years ago. “
“What if they change for the next person.”
“We have been over for three years, but I can’t stop thinking about why she betrayed me so badly.”
“What could I have done differently?”
“Sometimes I think he wants me and other times he seems to hate me.”
Rumination is an obsessive thought pattern that people find incredibly difficult to break out of.
It can only be described as “a hamster on a wheel, going nowhere really fast,” until you are completely drawn into your own head. Your mental playlist is on a loop. It can impact your ability to work, practice self-care, or engage in any responsibilities that are important. We can engage in rumination for any issue we are attempting to make sense of, but rumination is especially evident when relating to a narcissist. In neuropsychotherapy, it is referred to as an anxiety-based neural looping network.
There is a lot of controversy with regard to understanding narcissistic abuse. Therapists and health professionals may be inadequately trained in understanding personality disorders, let alone how to assist their clients in healing and recovering. This lack of skills and knowledge in the area can do considerable damage, and can further invalidate and isolate those genuinely impacted by the layers of abuse. In the professional movement of steering away from the medical model of deficit and diagnosis or labelling, we are creating a victim-blaming discourse, which further alienates those impacted from the support they need against the realities of narcissistic abuse.
In both my professional and personal settings, the anguish of rumination is experienced by those who are currently in a relationship, experiencing conflict post the love-bombing phase, contemplating leaving the relationship, or have already ended a dysfunctional relationship with a narcissist. It is especially challenging if survivors have had a previous history of childhood trauma, or their own diagnoses of mood disorders or personality disorders.
Rumination is often the by-product and a key feature of narcissistic abuse. This is because the abuse is so excruciatingly confusing. The narcissist often intensely and really quickly attempts to bond with you and then flips to being distant, devaluing, and discarding. The red flags are often the speed at which this occurs with bonding being within a few weeks and months. The idealize, devalue, and discard cycle can mess with your head. You can move from feeling loved and valued to being absolutely despised in a matter of seconds. So, it is understandable that we search for clarity and understanding through these confusing relationship dynamics.
I don’t know about you but when something makes sense to me, I find it easier to take the steps I need to change the things I’m doing in order to make things flow better. It is called problem-solving. The only difference is in this situation there is no real problem-solving because the narcissist will not change or address the issues raised. It’s out of our control so to speak. The mastermind is simply not us.
So many struggle to understand what is happening in their relationships, which have changed in a matter of months or even years. I can think of times I experienced the constant replays for months after arguments and episodes of conflict. Confusion and chaos are the blueprints of narcissistic relationships, so it is easy to get trapped in rumination. We always ruminate about problems where the solutions seem impossible and often because they are.
Ruminations will happen often in narcissistic relationships. It can take the form of daydreaming, or fantasizing about how you are going to talk to your partner or spouse. How you are going to make them see your point of view. You can replay an event and what you wish you could have said in that argument with a colleague.
There can also be a tendency to ruminate about the good times, to the exclusion of the absolute awful times of the relationship. This is referred to as a psychological term of euphoric recall, present in both the love-bombing and hoovering stages. This serves to intensify the rumination about how you will somehow change the narcissist.
Rumination can happen anywhere, while you are at the gym, while you are working, when you are at home, as you are driving, even when you are talking to someone, and especially when you are parenting. We can live in our ruminations. Rumination literally removes us from living our lives in the here and now. We are transported to reside permanently in our heads. We are no longer available to our lives because we are constantly distracted.
In romantic relationships, people can spend years ruminating about what they can do to get their relationships to return to the early stages when love was good and when they can get the narcissist to return to how they used to be. Sometimes during the relationship, the rejection spurs on the rumination as one agonizes about how much you want to be loved by them. When a relationship has ended many can spend years post the ending trying to understand what they did wrong or what they lack that made them so easily discarded and replaced.
Do you want to know the worse part about rumination?
You may intellectually know everything there is to know about narcissistic abuse, you know that the narcissist will not change, you also know that this isn’t healthy but you are still sucked into the vortex and your mind betrays you time and time again. Your heart does not support your mind in letting go. Some part of us feels hooked into believing that if we keep ruminating, we will figure it out. But we never do. We remain stuck in the mud of distress and anguish, writhing in despair and hopelessness.
In narcissistic families, we ruminate about childhood sufferings, acts of abuse, and utter abandonment by parents or siblings and extended family. The mind is battered repeatedly by the past and the present and so many hold their heads in pain due to the never-ending looping.
At work, you could ruminate about the unfairness of narcissistic bosses who love those who pander to them, who have a beautiful (subtext for malleable) disposition, and favor those staff whilst showing disregard for those that do not play along, feeding the narcissist’s need for admiration and control. We can find ourselves ruminating and even repeatedly talking about the toxic workplace and how soul-destroying it can be. But we will not do anything beyond the ruminating.
Rumination is not a magical solution. It has zero effectiveness in fixing the narcissist. The more we ruminate the further away we move from building a “life worth living” and making purposeful changes to our current situations, and the further we are from effective problem-solving. We can waste precious time ruminating and become more detached from our own health and wellbeing.
The research and treatment modalities such as Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and Cognitive Restructuring address rumination as an anxiety-based neural loop and the only way we can address it is to interrupt the loop.
Here are four strategies that have been found to be useful tools in interrupting our playlist:
1. Use our “wise mind” (thoughtful and healthy parts of ourselves) to practice distraction. You can go for a walk, practice healthy self-soothing, get involved in contributing to others in your community. You can use distraction wisely to interrupt the cycle of rumination.
2. Practice mindfulness despite this being a difficult practice for some, but it can ground you and connect you to reality and to the present moment. Even if you increase your focus and attention to the information from all your senses. Focusing and breathing deeply can release your ruminating thoughts.
3. Make meaningful connections with others and attempt to have a “no option” to discuss your narcissist with them. This excludes professional support. Use the connections to do things that you normally do not do because the narcissist finds them displeasing. Eat that hot curry with your fingers, watch those deep soulful arty movies, and talk about your political views if they differ from the narcissist. These actions can highlight the restrictions placed and can allow for even brief moments of freedom, therefore interrupting the cycle.
4. Make a list of all the difficult and problematic behaviors that the narcissist has done to you. This will help reduce the tendency for euphoric recall, which is remembering the idealized or romanticized aspects of the relationship. It might feel counterintuitive, but we can so easily only see what we want to see and create a fantasy that does not integrate reality.
Rumination will take us away from reality and keep us stuck. When we are stuck, we cannot grow and we cannot move. When we are not moving, we cannot build a life worth living and we can remain trapped and miserable. Whenever we ruminate, we can pause, practice interrupting the loop, and engage in effective problem-solving. We might leave the relationship, resign from that job, and make space in our hearts and our minds for an authentic life. Only then can we be available to our own lives and those around us that truly matter.
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