While all relationships have their ups and downs, a relationship with a narcissist can be particularly tumultuous. To cope with the extreme emotional trauma of this kind of emotional abuse, your body activates its natural “fight or flight” tendencies, releasing stress hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, and epinephrine.
This is a primitive response meant to protect us from danger but, in the case of an abusive relationship, it’s possible to become addicted to these feelings and their associated biochemicals. When an abusive relationship ends, how well you cope with them – or not – can lead to more complex problems.
After a break up, it’s likely you’ll start engaging in activities that create stress to stimulate the release of the hormones you’ve become addicted to. These activities can be conscious decisions, or you might not even realize what you’re doing or why.
One way to recreate the stress response is compulsive research of narcissism. Reading about narcissistic abuse and the emotional injuries of others can cause you to experience secondary trauma. This releases stress hormones and eases the withdrawal symptoms. This kind of behavior isn’t unusual when you’re processing something as emotional as a break-up. In fact, education is a natural and necessary phase of the healing process.
But it can become serious if it begins invading other aspects of your life and you fail to progress to higher stages of recovery. For instance, if you’ve been out of a relationship for years and are still researching narcissism and hanging out on abuse forums, it’s a serious indicator that you’re stalled in your recovery.
If you’re struggling with the breakup of a relationship and find yourself performing obsessive research, take pause. Here are five things that show you may be dealing with a serious problem.
Obsessions are persistent thoughts, ideas, or mental images that won’t go away no matter how hard you try. They’re not normal thoughts and can be debilitating.
Some obsessions you might develop after your break up could include wondering how you could have reacted differently to change your ex’s mind. Another example is repeatedly recalling things that your ex said to you and wondering if you could have done anything more to save the relationship.
While mild versions of these thoughts are somewhat typical after a break-up, it starts to become abnormal when you can’t focus on anything else. If you’re thinking about your former partner so much that you can’t focus at work, miss deadlines, or ignore your responsibilities, you could have a more serious problem. How you cope with these thoughts could be a sign that you are experiencing obsessions.
A compulsion is a repetitive behavior performed to reduce stress and anxiety. Compulsions often go hand in hand with obsessions because they become your way of coping.
If you’re having obsessive thoughts about your Ex and trying to explain away behavior, you’ll start researching in an attempt to understand why they acted the way they did. What you’re searching for is an explanation that will help you understand so you can make the obsessive thoughts stop.
Other examples of compulsive behaviors include checking out the Ex’s social media or their new partner’s social media, joining an inordinate number of narcissistic abuse forums, or jumping from one program to the next, never finishing any from start to finish.
Ironically, compulsions don’t eliminate obsessive thoughts, they’re only temporary relief. Further, continuing compulsive habits deepens the neural pathways associated with those impulses, causing you to engage in the negative behaviors without thinking of what you’re doing.
If you’re stuck in this cycle and are neglecting your everyday responsibilities because of it, you should consider seeking help in coping with your situation. For example, if you’re a parent and spend all your time researching narcissism and chatting on forums instead of spending quality time with your children, it’s time to make changes.
If your interactions with your ex involved criticism, humiliation, or betrayal, it’s probable that you’re dealing with mental contamination. This is an internal feeling of uncleanliness brought on by negative social interactions.
It’s not hard to see how a relationship with a narcissist could lead to mental contamination. Passing judgement and handing out criticism is typical narcissistic behavior that you dealt with throughout your relationship. As a victim and someone working through a break up, you will probably suffer from mental contamination.
If this feeling persists, you will likely go back to relying on any compulsive behaviors you’ve developed as coping mechanisms. You’ll return to your obsessive research trying to find an explanation.
If you find yourself replaying arguments between you and your ex over and over again, you might be suffering from ruminations. Ruminations are more than just wondering what you could have done differently in a situation but rather allowing this thinking to go on way too long and taking it way too far.
If you’re indulging in compulsive research of narcissism, your ruminations will lead you right back to trying desperately to find an answer. You could be reading articles about the psychology of narcissism or joining online forums of people in similar situations. Your goal is to learn all you can about why your Ex behaved the way they did and what you could have done differently.
Ruminations can be misunderstood. You might convince yourself that you’re only trying to solve a problem; however, the problem you’re trying to work out is one that has no real solution. Thus, the behavior continues until it begins to have an impact on your day to day life and feeds into your compulsive research of narcissism. For example, if you research narcissism at work instead of fulfilling your duties, you put yourself at risk of losing your job, which would have a devastating impact on your livelihood.
While everyone suffers from intrusive thoughts from time to time, they can be especially upsetting if you’re suffering from the emotional and mental anguish of a breakup with a narcissist. Intrusive thoughts are unwelcome, often gruesome and distressing ideas that keep popping into your head. They are disturbing and you can’t stop them from happening. Examples of intrusive thoughts are imagining your Ex with their new partner and being convinced they’ve changed; imagining that you possess a repulsive characteristic which caused your Ex to leave you; feeling certain that you’re too old to ever find alove again; feeling an overwhelming responsibility to inform your Ex’s new partner about who the narcissist really is.
There is a fine distinction between intrusive thoughts and obsessions. Obsessive thoughts are things that you can’t stop thinking about while intrusive thoughts are involuntary and may involve harming someone else or yourself. If not properly dealt with, intrusive thoughts can turn into obsessions which will lead you to the same cycle of returning to your compulsive research.
To begin healing and take back your life, you should first identify these habits, and then take steps to stop them. Because of the added emotional aspects of a relationship with a narcissist and the subsequent breakup, this is not always easy to do. You have to work hard to establish new habits and break the cycle of returning to obsessive research to make sense of things.
It’s certainly possible to overcome these behaviors – you just need to seek out the help you need to form new habits and change the way your brain reacts.
Kim Saeed is a narcissistic abuse recovery expert on a mission to help abuse survivors to heal, find purpose, and live joyfully after No Contact. She also hosts a podcast called Heal, Grow, Evolve, where she aims to help people create meaningful lives and relationships after emotional abuse. Listen and subscribe at www.healgrowevolvewithkim.com