When a victim of narcissistic abuse transforms into a survivor, it’s truly a memorable moment. The courage it takes to acknowledge that what is happening to them is abuse, is immeasurable. However, just because the narcissist has been cut out of the survivor’s life, doesn’t mean the abuse cycle is over. Aside from the hardships they will face throughout the healing process, there is one more manipulative trick that the narcissist has up their sleeve that will most likely leave the survivor wondering, “Why do I keep thinking about my narcissistic ex?” With that being said, whether or not this trick works is completely up to the survivor.
Narcissistic relationships are incredibly chaotic which makes it very difficult for the victims of the abuse to make sense of what happened as they learn more and more about narcissism. Throughout narcissistic relationships narcissists are constantly projecting their own emotional instability onto their victim. The manipulative tactics that narcissists use are so powerful that it’s very common to see victims and survivors rationalize the abuse by blaming themselves. This misplaced blame can cause rumination when the victim transforms into a survivor.
While there are many narcissistic relationships that are abusive, the most malicious form of abuse that narcissists utilize is psychological. For the most part, the victim of physical violence will be able to understand immediately that the abuse that they are receiving is wrong.
With psychological abuse, it can be extremely difficult for the victim to understand what is happening, especially within a narcissistic relationship. Narcissists are incredibly strategic with their manipulative tactics. When you take a step back and look at the cause and effects of different manipulative tactics like gaslighting, scapegoating, or flying monkeys, it becomes crystal clear that the narcissist’s motivation behind their abuse is hiding their own emotional instability.
Why Do Narcissists Hide Their Emotional Instability?
Narcissists are incapable of looking within themselves because of the fear of seeing how broken they are. So, they spend their entire lives living and feeding off the happiness of others. In an intimate relationship, this is done by an intricate combination of tactics to create isolation, confusion, and chaos, within the victims life. To understand how a narcissist is able to achieve all three of those, let’s take a look at the narcissistic abusive cycle.
Love bombing is a very popular term within the narcissistic realm, but not all narcissistic relationships begin with a bombing phase. In some narcissistic relationships the initial phase that creates the foundation for which the abuse stands on is idealization. Idealization is when the victim of narcissistic abuse romanticizes the relationship.
Another key component for abuse cycles that don’t include a love bombing phase is a low self esteem. Oftentimes the victim already has a low self-esteem going into the relationship, which makes them extremely vulnerable to narcissism.
Narcissists need their victims to have a low self-esteem to get away with their abusive behavior. Love bombing is a very strategic manipulative tactic because it mimics the victims idea of a perfect relationship. So for those who have a level of self-esteem that enables them to call out the narcissist on their behavior immediately, love bombing is used to lower their guard so the narcissist can begin the abusive cycle.
Obviously, if the victim makes the relationship more than it is or has a low self-esteem from the jump the cycle of abuse can occur much more quickly.
Now that the dynamics of a narcissistic relationship is clear, let’s get into the reason that “why do I keep thinking about my narcissistic ex” is such a common question among survivors.
Rumination: The Secret Weapon of Narcissism
Rumination is when someone becomes obsessed with a specific topic and cannot stop thinking about it. In narcissistic relationships, rumination is used by victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse, to rationalize what happened to them. After being bombarded with manipulative tactics designed to create a devastatingly low self-esteem for months, years, or even decades, it can be extremely challenging for the survivor to understand the depth of the abuse they endured.
The combination of extended periods of abuse and misplaced blame enables the narcissist to manipulate the victim into believing that they are to blame for the abusive relationship, even after the relationship has ended. The moment the victim accepts the narcissist’s narrative, is precisely when the victim will begin to ruminate.
“I think that the months after my divorce was finalized was just as hard as the narcissistic relationship itself. I hadn’t been able to fully understand what had happened to me yet so when I saw him move on so quickly, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had made a mistake. These types of thoughts were very hard on my mental health because I thought about them constantly.” Reese
We did a study among the 67 participants we work with who have survived narcissistic relationships to find out the most commonly seen obsessive thoughts they had during their rumination phase. Here’s what we found:
What could I have done differently?
It was my fault
If I had known… I would have done…
What if they change for the next person?
The third answer is interesting because it highlights the hidden part of rumination. Rumination can also formulate a disdain for oneself. It’s very common for Survivors to be upset with themselves for not seeing the manipulative tactics.
Rumination isn’t limited to one blaming or being disappointed with themselves for narcissistic abuse. It can also occur when the survivor of a narcissistic abuse cycle is obsessed with specific interactions that they’ve had or may have in the future with the narcissist.
They could ruminate about how they plan on telling off the narcissist and making them understand how badly they hurt them. They could even ruminate about having different responses in previous arguments they’ve had with the narcissist.
“… my friends and family would say it would look like I was practicing lines for an audition. I could be in the shower, cooking dinner, out in public, or wherever… and I would just have this 1000 mile stare while I was ruminating about what I wish I had said…” Reese
Why Is Rumination Dangerous for Victims of Narcissistic Abuse?
When a survivor of narcissistic abuse ruminates about aspects of the relationship, it becomes their reality because they are constantly thinking about it. This state of mind traps them within the narcissistic cycle of abuse even after the relationship has ended.
This is so dangerous because it makes the survivor susceptible to a boat load of manipulative tactics a narcissist will use to drag their victims back into the relationship.
Survivors Who Blame Themselves
For survivors who still blame themselves for the abusive relationship, ruminating can enable the narcissist to hoover them back into the relationship. Hoovering is essentially love bombing; the only difference is that the victim already knows how horrible the narcissist is. Hoovering occurs after the relationship has ended, the narcissist will reach out and claim that they’ve changed and tell the victim how wrong they were to treat them the way they did and so on.
For a victim who is already blaming themselves, that would be exactly what they want to hear. They are ruminating about what they could have done better in the relationship or ruminating over the fear of losing the narcissist to another person. So, hearing the narcissist “taking responsibility” for their actions and professing their love for them is exactly what their victim would want to hear.
The hoovering phase is both the end and beginning of many narcissistic abuse cycles.
Survivors Who Want to Tell the Narcissist Off
Confronting a narcissist is never wise because narcissists will never own up to what they’ve done without an insane amount of therapeutic guidance.
Narcissists also transform themselves into the victim when they are on the verge of being exposed. This is when flying monkeys come into play. Flying monkeys are mutual friends and family who the narcissist has turned against the victim. To do this, narcissists will spread lies about the victim to discredit them before they have the chance to tell others about the abuse they’ve had to endure.
Example of Confronting a Narcissist
Jamie left his narcissistic girlfriend 4 months ago but is still ruminating about all the different ways he’s going to tell his ex-off next time that he sees her. He wants his ex to acknowledge and apologize for the trauma she caused… The feeling of finally having some closure is so addictive for Jamie… One day Jamie runs into his ex at the grocery store and goes off on her. He starts listing every single thing that his abuser had done to him and triumphantly storms out of the store.
A few hours later, his phone starts lighting up with notifications from friends and family members… A video of him yelling at his ex has gone viral… His friends and family are livid with him because the narcissistic ex was able to devalue Jamie before he was able to speak up about the abuse. His family and friends feel like he embarrassed his ex and should apologize. Then they start reiterating the lies that his ex has told them about the relationship to make her look like the victim and not the perpetrator. In the end, Jamie doesn’t get what he was looking for, all he gets is a scolding from trusted family and friends and portrayed as the abuser instead of the victim.
As we’ve mentioned in our previous article, Can You Get Closure from A Narcissist?, it is mandatory that survivors of narcissistic abuse let go of the wish for things to be different, confide in people who understand narcissism, and let all of their emotions out.
Why do I keep thinking about my narcissistic ex is a very normal question to have after surviving a narcissistic relationship because how confusing and hurtful a narcissist can be.
One of our favorite pieces of advice to give is that it is crucial for the survivors to not lose themselves in the pursuit of justice or in the depths of rumination.
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Interviewing Unfilteredd’s 67 participants who have survived narcissistic relationships
“Don’t You Know Who I Am?”: How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility by Ramani Durvasula