Intrusive thoughts were taking over my life. They consumed my every waking hour and then found their way into my sleep creating nightmares that often woke me up with anxiety or panic attacks. My thoughts were like a broken record repeating, repeating, repeating some of the most heartbreaking thoughts and I couldn’t get him out of my mind even when I desperately wanted to.
I remember thinking if I didn’t find a way to stop this, I would end up having a heart attack or some other health problem because my body couldn’t take it anymore. It was intense.
It was like being in the middle of the ocean, struggling to keep my head above water and just when I thought I couldn’t last another second, someone pulled me out. But, before I knew it, they threw me right back in and I repeated the cycle over and over again. Complete exhaustion.
That’s what rumination feels like except it’s all in your head and invisible to most people.
I would reach out to family and they would have the look of “Are you finished yet, can we watch a movie now, I gotta get back to work.”
What Is Rumination?
Rumination is defined as obsessive thinking about an idea, situation, or choice especially when it interferes with normal mental functioning.
We can even be conditioned to ruminate because of the narcissist’s gaslighting, manipulation, and questioning of our own thoughts.
Rumination can happen during the relationship and/or for years after it. And it doesn’t just happen in romantic relationships, we can ruminate overwork, family, or friends.
It’s a pattern we see in survivors of narcissistic abuse. Some people stay stuck here which becomes dangerous to your mental health and can prevent you from reaching your next level of healing.
It’s a battle you mentally endure that nobody can see and unfortunately most therapists don’t even know how to recognize rumination or help you work through it.
It can feel as if your mind is running intrusive thoughts on autopilot as they trigger fear, heartbreak, and self-criticism and re-traumatize you all over again.
I felt like a prisoner in my own mind. He was the first thing I thought of when I woke up and the last thing before I went to sleep. These thoughts often invaded my dreams and I would start the entire cycle all over again the next day.
My heart and my mind were in opposition.
You see, when something makes sense to us, it’s easy to let go. But narcissistic relationships are confusing, mostly because of the manipulation and not understanding the disorder, so many survivors of these relationships will ruminate while they are in the relationship and long after.
Some common rumination thoughts may be:
- Replaying conflicting events or words and trying to understand what was real
- Asking yourself what you could have done differently or changed
- Thinking of different ways to explain things so they would understand
- Asking what someone else has that you don’t
- Thinking of how you could be good enough so they return to person they were at the beginning of the relationship
- Putting puzzle pieces together
- Heartbreaking events or words
Some people will literally ruminate over the first few months for years. You know, when the love bombing felt amazing and this person seemed like the one. This can cause them to spend the rest of the relationship holding onto the first few months hoping the relationship returns to that state.
You may ruminate over the sex, or gifts, or how they touched you and everything that made you feel amazing and in love.
Most people don’t realize that love bombing is just a seduction tactic used to create an emotional dependency between the narcissist and you. Ruminating over this can create an image of this person that is not a true reality and will have you hanging on much longer.
When we ruminate over the narcissist, we are also handing over our power. It allows the narcissist to continue to control our minds and heart even if they are nowhere in sight.
Not only can this feel like a punishment that re-traumatizes you over and over again, but it can also turn into an addiction.
Dr. Joe Dispenza explains that the stronger emotion you feel in your life (over an experience or event), the more altered you feel inside and you focus your attention on the cause that is outside of yourself. The problem is that if you don’t know how to mediate or control your emotional reactions to an event, you keep a refractory period of chemicals going on for extended periods of time that creates a chemical change in the body. If the body can not get back into a balance this then creates moods and because of this prolonged period of time creating this chemical change, your body becomes addicted to these rumination thoughts.
Thoughts lead to feelings and feelings lead to moods and actions.
When we repeat this painful pattern in our minds for an extended amount of time, we create addiction, and then we can find ourselves stuck in thoughts about the narcissistic during our entire day.
The Dangers Of Rumination
For one, you can become addicted to ruminating and re-traumatize yourself. Staying in this state can be detrimental to your health as your body is staying in survival mode for an extended period of time.
Two, it prevents you from moving forward in your healing because much of your energy is focused on the narcissist when it should be focused on yourself and healing, something most of us have neglected for a long time.
And three, I believe rumination keeps a powerful energetic bond between ourselves and the narcissist.
When we make shifts in our healing, we start to take our power back and this bond starts to weaken, shift by shift.
I’ve seen it in my own life with several relationships and in many other survivors.
By no means am I saying it’s easy, but that it’s worth it.
I also believe there is a HUGE difference in working through trauma versus rumination.
Both may require you to look into your trauma or wounds that need healing, but one usually retraumatizes you for an extended amount of time while the other moves you through your trauma so you reach deeper levels of healing.
Also, rumination can take up a large portion of your day and can feel intrusive while distracting you from your responsibilities and the good things in your life. It can really be destructive in your life.
But working through your trauma can be a more conscious choice, have a start and end time, help encourage you to take care of your responsibilities, and enjoy the good stuff in your life.
Healing isn’t pretty and there is no magic wand, but there sure can be a beautiful ending that is far from the place you may be now and possibly better than any place you have been.
photo by christopher campbell