|Maria from Stern by Joseph Wright of Derby|
Mental Rumination: repetitive thinking about a topic
Mental Ruination: repetitive thinking about a topic without resolution
Okay, so I came up with the second definition but anyone who has fallen in love with a narcissist or been raised by a narcissist, will grasp the significance of ‘mental ruination’: endlessly asking ourselves WHY someone did or said something contradicting prior perceptions of who we believed them to be.
Narcissists behave in a contradictory, illogical manner. One day they encourage us to cry on their strong shoulders and the next day they disdain our sappy emotions. Their inconsistency triggers an obsessive search for reasons WHY they behave the way they do. The less we understand about narcissism, the more likely we are to be caught in a miserable loop of obsessive rumination. If we lack information about pathological narcissism, our disbelief results in false explanations that defend our unquestioned assumptions and thus relieve anxiety. This is normal. When people cannot make sense of what appears to be nonsensical, anxiety increases; we sooth our selves with tender lies psychologists call ‘rationalizations’.
People who have been impacted by a narcissist are not the only ones who are confused by inconsistent behavior, though. It’s human nature to rationalize, minimize, and deny contradictory evidence proving someone is not the person we believed him-or-her to be. The more personal our relationship, the more likely we are to extend them the benefit of our doubt because we have pre-determined their character after interfacing with them. We are emotionally attached. We likely don’t even realize we’ve made an assumption about their character and what they are capable or incapable of doing. All we know is that they’ve done enough nice things for us to trust them to be consistently nice. So when someone we’ve established trust with defies that trust with contradictory behavior, we’ll question ‘why’, sometimes creating excuses to justify initial beliefs about them.
You might take a moment to think about a typical news program when a terrible crime had been committed in a suburban neighborhood. Televised news programs love to interview people on the street so viewers can be entertained by their shocked reactions. As the news reporter holds the microphone in front of a traumatized neighbor who had known the ‘suspected criminal’ for years, what does the neighbor say? “The police say they found fifty bodies in my neighbor’s basement, but I’ve known him for years and he’s really a good guy!!!”
The camera returns to the reporter while an imaginative viewer like myself visualizes the neighbor’s brain looping through disbelief wondering ‘why’ his neighbor collected dead bodies in his basement. They’re likely thinking:
“Maybe the skeletons were there when he bought the house.”
“Maybe some horrible person buried those bodies in his basement when he was on vacation. He never locked his windows because he’s just that trusting and naïve so why would he kill people and stack ‘em next to his tool chest?”
“Nah, he couldn’t possibly be guilty. He’s lived next door to me for years and I’m still alive so he must be a good guy. He didn’t kill me and I’m not the nicest person to live next to.”
“The police have made a mistake. Damn those suspicious cops. They only want to solve the case and don’t care whether they’ve arrested the right guy or not!”
When I watch news programs like this and hear someone stammer “He’s really a good guy”, it makes my brain feel like it’s splitting in two and I think to myself, “Hey dude, if your neighbor is a GOOD guy, I sure don’t want to meet a BAD one.” It’s easy for me to speculate on the neighbor’s rationalizations because: I’m a spectator; I don’t live in the serial killer’s neighborhood; My real estate prices won’t be impacted by the news story; I do not love, affiliate with, or have any emotional connection to the serial killer; The serial killer didn’t pick up my newspapers for me when I went on vacation.
Let’s consider the outside possibility that a neighbor next door to our home (yes, that guy who mows his grass and tips the postman at Christmas) is discovered harboring a hundred decapitated bodies in his basement. We’ve known him for years. We’ve seen him go to work, come home, have barbecues, host birthday parties, mend the fence, pick up the trash, wave ‘hello’ in the morning, and bring us fruitcake for the holidays.
Okay, nix the fruitcake. That might be a red flag for sadism.
Dr. Keith Campbell offers a great example of how people get caught in obsessive thinking when inconsistent behaviors force us to question WHY someone behaved contrarily (illogically). Remember: narcissistic relationships are especially prone to obsessive rumination because something is always 'off’; i.e.: a hurtful act, an abusive word, or a selfish deed requiring a logical explanation because the narcissist contradicted his-or-her prior behaviors that were kind, generous and unselfish. If you were in a relationship with a narcissist who reflected acceptance, love and commitment, any sign that he-or-she is not accepting, loving, and committed, will cause your brain to obsess on ‘why’, endlessly seeking an answer to behavior that is inconsistent with your assumptions and beliefs about that person. In his book When You Love a Man Who Loves Himself, W. Keith Campbell explains how our brain cope with inconsistency and why we obsess about illogical behavior.
“Here is an example of a basic memory process that I use in my class.” Dr. Campbell writes. “Start out by imagining a guy named Mike. Mike is a nice guy. Now I am going to list some of Mike’s behaviors:
Mike bought his girlfriend flowers
Mike helps old ladies cross the street
Mike donates money to charity
Mike killed his cat
Mike volunteers to help the homeless
Mike dressed up as Santa Claus at Christmas
“After reading this list, what do you remember? If you are like most people, what you remember is that Mike killed his cat. Why? This doesn’t make sense, because the cat killing doesn’t fit with your image of Mike. As soon as you read that Mike, the nice guy, killed his cat, you start asking why. This is a natural thing to do----Mike’s niceness and cat killing seem inconsistent, and this inconsistency needs to be resolved…whatever the conclusions, the inconsistency in Mike’s behavior makes it hard to forget about.”
“One of these behaviors didn’t make sense and thus will be ruminated on until it does.” ~ W. Keith Campbell
Over dinner, I asked my family to consider the scenario Campbell described and then tell me ‘why’ Mike killed his cat. Perhaps this experiment increases awareness of our implicit assumptions? It was fairly ‘telling’ to hear each person’s unique interpretation as to why Mike killed his cat. Since I had the traumatic experience of one of my boyfriends accidentally driving over our farm cat, my first thought was “Oh, poor Mike! I hope somebody was there to support him in his grief!”
My nephew said, “Maybe the cat kept peeing on the carpet!”
My sister, who grew up on a farm where cats were frequently sacrificed to the great highway gods, replied, “I hate seeing dead animals on the road.”
My daughter said, “Mike is a sociopath who kills cats when he can’t get a date.”
One reason people ruminate obsessively on the narcissist is because narcissists are inconsistent and we want to know ‘why’. Their bad behavior contradicts their good behavior, so we try to make sense of what appears to be nonsensical. Another reason we obsess on narcissist’s behavior is because our assumptions about human behavior are limited. Once we learn about pathological narcissism, obsession about the narcissist tends to cease. We know ‘why’ narcissists do the inconsistent things they do. They’re narcissists. Break the mental ruination loop: expand your psychological knowledge about human behavior---both normal and abnormal. Learn about pathological narcissism. This is how to take exquisite care of your mind and your soul.
W. Keith Campbell, When You Love a Man Who Loves Himself, pages 154-155