How Rumination and Insecurity Become Team Players in Romantic Breakups
Rumination and insecurity go hand in hand. Insecurity is a destabilizing experience. It takes the ground from under you. There is nothing to hold onto because you feel lost, wobbly and untethered. Along comes a rope to cling to – a mental strategy called rumination that can distract you from the here and now and pull you up onboard where you can circle it by going over your failures repeatedly, but this time doing it differently – better- in your head. Instantly you feel the warmth coming back into your limbs, your breath growing deeper and stronger, and you are in control for the moment. Next time, with the next partner, you won’t let yourself get hurt!
Rumination and insecurity – fearing rejection from your romantic partner
At 27-years of age Preston felt as if he were reliving that familiar moment where he senses his 28-year-old partner Jodi go cold on him. She’s stopped cuddling him at night. She doesn’t respond when he sits by her on the couch, and she’s like a carcass when he makes love to her. Preston goes into a tail spin wondering what he’s done wrong, and how to compensate. He begins to go over every minute detail of their last few days, picking at it to find the moment where he messed up, so he can apologize and have a do over. Rumination and insecurity take over his entire mind. He can’t focus on his work as the manager of a recycling plant – messing up times when he’s supposed to be at virtual meetings. He runs on auto-pilot, immersed in a death-watch, desperate to avoid the axe. Each time the insecurity and threat of rejection grows more intense, rumination comes to bail him out, giving him a false sense of security that inevitably fades away.
Rumination and Insecurity – avoidance of intolerable negative feelings
Preston couldn’t face the devastating sense of not being good enough, ignored and cast aside. His body remembered what it was like to be left, discarded, forgotten about. His muscle tension and abdominal constriction was a reminder of feeling unmoored. His nerves jangled and his limbs trembled. His whole being was out of whack as anxiety peaked. He could hardly breathe. Preston’s nervous system went into high gear, reacting to his panic – his anticipated cutting of the cord that made team rumination and insecurity come to the rescue.
Rumination and Insecurity – the adult version of childhood existential threat
As an infant Preston came out of the womb insecure. He was told that he was always wanting to be close to mom’s body and was in great distress when mom separated. It was as if he knew in the womb that mom was stressed and wouldn’t be able to be with him and soothe him. He knew that she was preoccupied with her rocky marriage, her depression and other young children to care for. His nervous system was already ramped up to ensure his survival by making sure he had the skin-to-skin contact he needed to feel secure enough to feed, sleep and feel safe.
But insecurity was built into the on-off-on-off contact with mom, and infant Preston had to settle himself with infant rumination – trying to make mom happy by not crying when his body was in the throes of fight-flight. He would freeze and every cell in his emotional DNA made copies of his insecure feeling and linked them to his sense of not being special or cute enough. When he was sick mom did attempt to stroke him and give him some reassurance but he didn’t feel his pain and discomfort were really attended to. Infant Preston’s version of insecurity and rumination was to be suspicious of that odd caress, and shut out any comfort it may bring.
Insecurity and Rumination – the threat of neediness is detoxified by rumination
At his highest peak of anxiety that Jodi was about to toss him, Preston felt overwhelmed by a need to merge with her, so that he didn’t have to feel separate, alone and helpless. He was willing to abase himself, if she just looked at him, smiled and touched him again. The coldness was like a death that his body knew he had experienced so many times before when infant Preston just wanted to melt in mom and be safe and secure.
The strong need to melt into Jodi felt shameful to Preston. Rumination came by on a white steed, grabbed him, held him tight on the horse and galloped away. The pure white steed took him to a safe place where he had his mind, his thoughts and his convictions to swaddle him and put him back in that place where he froze as a child. That’s what rumination did for him. It froze him so he didn’t have to feel the tearing apart, the longing for reunion. In fact it restored his connection with his Jodi.
His thoughts went something like this:
‘She’ll be put off with my clinginess.’
‘I’ll be an obligation’
‘I have no self-respect so how can she respect me’
‘Why can’t I just talk normally and ask what’s going on?’
‘I don’t want to take this coldness anymore and want to be okay with walking out and finding someone else, but I can’t bear being away from her.’
“I should have said this when…..’
‘I shouldn’t have let this happen again. I could see it coming, but I didn’t do anything’
Beating up on himself with insecurity and rumination meant that Preston was preserving the attractiveness and goodness of his love object – Jodi.
Returning to the helplessness of his infancy, insecurity and rumination helped Preston in his fragile state to maintain the sense that he did have something to hold onto, and that he could keep it alive inside him, even if the evidence in the real world was threatening to take it away.
Insecurity, and Rumination – a path toward tolerating bad feelings and becoming more secure
Infant Preston’s insecurity lived in his overactive nervous system tuned to react forcibly when he didn’t have the solace of touch with his mom as an infant, and later with other girls and then with Jodi. He had never developed any words to describe how he felt. So feeling those awful feelings would of course be too much and rumination would be the way to tamp them down.
But adult Preston can:
- learn the words to match his feelings in insecurity counseling. He can begin to release the valve of those incapacitating emotions and put them outside of himself in words and dialogue.
- In his individual psychotherapy, Preston can feel the consistent, reliable, safe and calming touch of his therapist’s words, tone of voice, loving face and welcome.
- Preston can allow himself to be angry about his mother not being able to tune in and give him what he needed to feel safe and secure.
- He can address his stress about feeling needy, as well as separation and reunification in the relationship with his therapist as they navigate appointments, cancellations, and weekend breaks.
- Preston can grieve the loss of what he missed out on in his childhood and reduce shame about feeling needy and or unworthy.
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2021
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