Narcissistic Abuse Recovery: Breaking Rumination Cycles

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

Why did I mess up? If I had done things differently my life would be so much better… The day finally comes to an end, you sit down to relax, breathe, and collect your thoughts when suddenly: An embarrassing memory from the past pops into your head. You dismiss the thought, but once it leaves, a surge of anxiety and shame washes over you. You a worried that something like that can happen again. You are not alone. This happens to and will happen to millions of people across the world, but the process is unique to every individual. There are a variety of reasons why people ruminate but this article will focus specifically on rumination caused by the emotional or physical trauma of narcissistic abuse. The rumination caused by this abuse is far more vicious and unstable.

Abuse Rumination: What it is and how Narcissistic Abuse can Enhance It.

Rumination is a process called a negative feedback loop. Your mind becomes consumed with feelings about negative experiences more than necessary or normal. It always starts with the mistake. It pops up in your head and creates feelings of anger, guilt, and shame. You try to resolve the feelings but you can’t so it makes you feel like you can’t escape the past. This feeling of being stuck then lowers your current self esteem. You start to feel anger, guilt, and shame that you can’t move on. You want to escape the present moment, and the past is filled with pain, so you think about the future. As you escape into the future, you worry about making the same mistake you did when you were a child. Then comes the anxiety, because if you can’t move on, you feel like you’re being left behind. Why are you being left behind? All because of that mistake you made in the past. It’s a vicious cycle that is hard to break.

Narcissists love to criticize everyone else. It makes growing up in an narcissistic household a living hell. Your parents constantly shame you for every mistake you ever made. To your face, in front of company, to anyone they feel like sharing to in fact. Even when you apologized, even when you tried your best to forget about it. It was brought up every time in front of guests, leaving you in a constant feeling of humiliation. Letting go of past mistakes and guilt is impossible in a household. Of course whenever you brought up their mistakes you were punished and chastised. Especially when it’s in front of company, “How could you embarrass me like that.” Thus there was never anyway to stop the humiliation, you just had to wait till you aged out enough to get your own home.

This is the root cause of why rumination is so common with narcissistic abuse victims. They go over the abuse over and over without end. They were supposed to love me so why did they cause me so much pain? Why did he/she always try to hurt me? That always seems to be the start of the question, why? Simply put, they either didn’t consider how you would feel, or they didn’t care about how you would feel in the moment. People adopt narcissism for a lot of different reasons, so the specific causes may vary.

Unfortunately, this is not a problem that can be solved with time. The abuse was committed by someone who was supposed to nurture and protect you, but instead conditioned you into what you are now. Instead of helping you resolve those mistakes in a healthy manner, they reinforced the negative feedback loops into your mind. These looping thoughts will continue unless you address them even if they occurred nearly decades ago. What if I did something different. Do they even care about how I felt, do they feel bad about hurting me? The only way you can know for sure is to address the problem instead of ignoring them. No narcissist cares about hurting people in the moment, but some do care afterwards, other’s don’t.

Observe Your Rumination Cycle: Figure out When it Happens

Most people assume the past comes back to haunt us, but it’s actually asking us for help. You have to understand that rumination is a natural process that has been hijacked by unhealthy behaviors. If you walked out your house today and got attacked by a dog, you would feel a lot of negative emotions. It would take time for your mind to feel safe again because the dog is a threat that needs to be dealt with. Eventually, once you were sure the threat was gone, you would recover and heal from the situation. That is the process by which you are able to understand and detect threats. Rumination hijacks that cycle.

Rumination can happen at any time, but it is most common when we are feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed. It can also be triggered by specific events, such as a breakup, job loss, or death in the family. Rumination also tends to occur alongside many mental health conditions including O.C.D., anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. People with depression who ruminate also tend to experience worse depression, and for longer.

Identify The Triggers: Where do You Ruminate Most Often?

Your outside environment is a reflection of your inside environment. Knowing That, it would make sense that you will ruminate more often if there are triggers in your outside environment that set you off. Once you know what those triggers are, you can avoid them or develop strategies to cope with them. The next time a ruminating thought comes and goes, ask yourself, where are you right now? What is triggering you into this recollection of a bad memory. It could be anything from the light in the room, to a certain smell.

Gaslighting: The Most Common Cause of Rumination

Gaslighting is the narcissist’s favorite manipulation strategy. “I never said that.”, “You are being dramatic.”, “When have I ever done that?”. These are just a few basic examples they use to make the victim intentionally doubt or deny their own reality. If it happens often enough, the victim will begin to question their own sanity because of the repeated mental attacks. It’s hard to defend against as an adult, and nearly impossible to defend against as a child who simply does not know any better.

That’s because gaslighting breaks down your ability to trust your own judgements. That way you will have no choice but to trust the abuser. Their thought pattern is based around control. I don’t want him/her to know that, I’ll say something to confuse him. There are subtypes of gaslighting you may recognize…

Countering: The most common tactic used by the narcissist. They will question your memory or version of events. They will claim that things didn’t happen the way you claimed even if you are correct. They will add details that never happened to confuse you.

  • “That’s not what happened, don’t lie.”
  • “I never did anything like that!”
  • “No, you’re just making shit up.”
  • “Don’t start with that nonsense, you know good and well what happened.”

Withholding: When presented with irrefutable evidence, narcissists will shut down the conversation. They will just outright refuse to listen to what you have to say. Either that or they will pretend that they don’t understand your perspective to avoid further conversation.

  • “I don’t want to talk about this anymore, you’re making me mad.”
  • “I don’t know what you mean, something is just off about you.”
  • “You confusing me, I can’t think about this right now.”
  • “Just leave me alone, I don’t want to hear it.”

Trivializing: This is when the other person attempts to make the situation seem smaller than it actually is, or completely dismisses information altogether. They want the victim’s thoughts, feelings, and contributions to seem unimportant and/or insignificant. It conditions you to associate whatever they say with importance. This gives them the power and control in the relationship. Sometimes it’s unintentional, other times it’s malicious. However, it is never alright to do this.

  • “I barely touched you, stop crying.”
  • “It wasn’t even that serious, I was just joking.”
  • “You always make a big deal out of nothing, just relax.”
  • “This generation is too soft, they need to toughen up.”

Redirection: When the narcissist attempts to redirect the situation to make everything about them. Whenever you bring up a valid problem about yourself, the narcissist will drown it out with talk about their own problems.

  • “You’re upset, what about how you embarrassed me?
  • “I love how you decide to bring this up when I’ve had a stressful day working. Shows how much you love me.”
  • “You talk so much about how you feel, but won’t give a fuck about how I do.”
  • “I understand you’re angry, but you made me angry. Now we both angry because you angry.”

The Relationship Between Narcissistic Abuse and Rumination: Why Rumination is the Top Priority Towards Recovery

Rumination is a paralyzing situation to be in. It can distract you from your current work, which if not completed, can quickly lead to you being left further behind. It is common with victims of narcissistic abuse. Your mind is searching for the answers. Why? Why couldn’t my parents just leave it and me alone? How could they keep hurting me like this? The truth is your parents didn’t care about how you felt at the time. They did it out of anger or amusement.

Rumination can also lead to dangerous health outcomes. It can disrupt your ability to get a good night of sleep. Without proper rest, all other activities such as exercise and work become hard. Which leads to being tired more and needing more sleep. One negative feedback loop leads to another.

Embrace Self-Compassion: Breaking Free from the Cycle of Rumination

“Life is a series of moments and moments are always changing, just like thoughts, negative and positive. And although it may be human nature to dwell, like many natural things it’s senseless, senseless to allow a single thought to inhabit a mind because thoughts are like guests or fair-weather friends.”

Cecelia Ahern, How to Fall in Love

If you are ruminating while having major life events that need your attention, focus on fixing them to the best of your ability first. You need to make sure that you are in a stable place where you can focus on your thoughts and feelings. Once you do have your life in order, you can use the following techniques to help you break your rumination cycles. The secret to breaking these rumination cycles is intense self-reflection. That is what the exercises below focus on, reflecting on your inner thoughts so that you can learn control.

Journaling: Write Down Your Thoughts and Feelings

Journaling is dangerous around a narcissistic parent. They don’t consider you an individual with your own autonomy and right to privacy. A narcissist has convinced themselves that no information about you is private to them. If you journal, you must be able to do so in an environment where they will not have any access to it whatsoever. You do not want to give them fuel to make you doubt your reality even more. Still, Journaling is a great exercise to counter rumination. Why? Because you can go back and observe your negative mental states once you are in a better mental state.

Journaling will help you cope with rumination by allowing you to externalize your thoughts instead of keeping them inside your head. It feels like talking to someone who will never betray you as long as you keep them safe. Once you put those thoughts aide you can go about your day instead of letting them become an obsession. Eventually you’ll be able to go back through your thoughts and notice the progress of you having more stable and rational perspectives. As a tip, try to use the time to explore all possibilities when journaling. For example, “I can’t do anything right.” can be transformed into “I can’t do anything right because she keeps telling me.”

Make sure to record all the lies, gaslighting, broken boundaries, abuse, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and concerns as well. The more you write down, the more you will be able to understand just how much of your reality that narcissist will make you question. Journaling also teaches victims and survivors to be comfortable with validating their own reality without the help of others. If you want peace of mind, begin journaling as soon as possible in a safe environment away from the clutches of the narcissist.

Gratitude Section: Transform a Negative Mindset into A Positive Mindset

Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation for the good things in one’s life. It’s a great grounding activity that allows you to find the light during a dark period. Giving thanks has been proven to make you happier and healthier. What should I be grateful for when I’ve been abused?

ANYTHING. Any piece of joy or happiness that you’ve ever experienced. Any achievement, any skills, any personality trait. Just focus on what keeps you happy. Gratitude focuses on what you already have not what you want. Each day, write down three things you are grateful for. This is a great section to have when you simply don’t know where to start to change your mindset.

Highlight Section: Identify the Moment or Climax of your Day

The meaning of life is to live in the present moment. Identifying the highlight of your day is great practice to help you with that. It helps you define the points that matter. Remember that a highlight doesn’t have to be anything super exciting or huge, it can just be the moment when you were the happiest. The 10 seconds after waking up. The shower you had. The fact you chose wheat bread over white to make your sandwich today. By practicing finding the moment you will be able end the cycle and start a positive one.

Self-Affirmations: How to Prepare for the Rumination Onslaught

Affirmations are a powerful tool that can help to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. An affirmation is a positive statement that you say to yourself in order to encourage yourself or to change your beliefs. For example, you might say to yourself, “I am capable and confident.” Or, “I am worthy of love and happiness.” Here are some specific affirmations that you can use to get rid of ruminating thoughts:

  • “I am letting go of the past.”
  • “I am focusing on the present moment.”
  • “I am accepting my thoughts without judgment.”
  • “I am choosing to think positive thoughts.”
  • “I am worthy of happiness and peace.”

Meditation: Look Within and Focus in Depth

Meditation allows you to improve your ability to concentrate on the present moment. It’s an exercise that teaches you to still your thoughts and control them. As such, it’s a perfect exercise to stop the intrusive thoughts that cause you to ruminate. The next time you meditate, try to concentrate on an action that happens in the present moment, like breathing. Practicing how to do that will create a mental barrier between you and the past that you will always be able to create at will. It also helps you focus on your self and allows you to build a love of who you are in what’s known as self-compassion.


Talking a situation out with someone, allows you to gain more information from another perspective and understand the thoughts that you are getting mixed up with. Ruminating thoughts can make you feel like you are alone and make the problem harder to address. If you have a trusted friend, try talking to them about it, preferably if they also have experience with rumination troubles. If you can afford it, maybe professional therapy could be the route you take. As a life coach, I’d also love to help you if you drop by the life coach service page.

Moving Forward: Stop Blaming Yourself for Ruminating

Society tells you to move on, but your body, mind, and spirit are telling you to reflect. Listen to your self. We are biologically designed to reflect on stressful situations so that we can prepare for them in the future. That is how animals build instincts, and how we build experience. You can’t just let it go because it will bury itself deep into you, and weigh you down until it is resolved. Intense trauma can break us and shatter our cores. Society has brainwashed you into thinking that repressing your emotions is healthy.

Ruminating thoughts can be a sign of underlying anxiety, depression, or trauma. Blaming yourself for these thoughts doesn’t address the root cause of the problem. Be patient with yourself: It takes time to change your thinking patterns. These cycles have been reinforced over and over, so don’t expect them to be gone overnight. If you need more structured guidance you can try out our Rumination Cycle Mental Health Workout Routine.

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