“Rumination is less an art than a burden, yet we practice it all the time.”
We’ve all done it…we have experienced something in our life that was so unpleasant, so frustrating, so angering, so unfair, so absolutely unbelievably torturous that we could not let it go. It filled our minds, our days, our attitude, disturbed our work, our friendships our sense of control so drastically that we literally felt impelled to “live it” over and over again in our thoughts. We even believed we needed to tell everyone and anyone we know about it….over and over and over again…..as if this would help stop it? Perhaps, but unlikely.
Why do people do this?
Often, it’s a combination of two things. First is cognition. These people have an extremely difficult time pushing things out of their mind once they get there. These are “negative” experiences by far more “food for the Ruminator” than pleasant ones. Seems silly doesn’t it? We will beat ourselves mercilessly over bad arguments with friends or loved ones, a “ruthless” boss or workplace, a bad investment but not over the smile someone gave us at the train station, the birth of our first grandchild, the time we sped past the state trooper at 100 miles an hour and didn’t get pulled over…Had that trooper pulled us over and given us a ticket, our rumination mode kicks into hyper-mode! “Court, fines, insurance is going to increase, points on my license, why am I so stupid? What was I thinking?” or… “Everyone else was going the same speed! Why ME?!”
Secondly, some people live lives that are simply inundated with tremendous amounts of stress, leaving them far too little time for healthy, positive, stress-reducing activities. In these cases, along with the latter, negative consequences are the only outcome one can expect from rumination unless steps are taken to change our thinking.
Some negative consequences that result from rumination are depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, hyper-tension, binge-drinking, binge-eating or substance abuse. The eating and substance abuse become false coping mechanisms that temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings and thoughts of rumination, but cause medical, emotional, social, legal and quite possibly vocational problems. When these issues arise, we find more to ruminate about. It is truly a vicious cycle, and also very difficult to associate with ruminators. Friends, family members and co-workers grow tired of hearing the ruminator sooner or later by the seven-hundredth and seventy-seventh time they have heard the “issue” again. It seems no matter how much “advice” is given, the ruminator doesn’t hear a word of it.
The biggest or most common ruminators appear to be women according to Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Ph.D. In her book, “Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life,” she explains the reason for this tendency is due to women being more concerned and involved with relationships. The ambiguities in relationships, she believes to be “great fuel for rumination.” After all, unless you can read people’s minds, you never really know how much you can trust them or gauge their honesty.
However, I disagree.
In my practice, I have seen an equal balance of male and female ruminators, but the reasons they ruminate differ. Whereas women do seem much more “stuck” on family, romantic or marriage issues, men find dysfunctional comfort in jobs, debts, making money and competition with their peers’ “successes” compared to theirs.
For example, I have been working with one client who was “let go” from her boyfriend of 9 years who she had planned on marrying. There was never a formal engagement, but this was her expectation. Bye-bye he went however, and for the past 4 years, her life has revolved around “what she did wrong, how can I change to get him back,” keeping in contact with his mother to “check” on him, driving past his house, etc.. She has been discussing this issue with every family member and friend she has, as well as in therapy sessions… there is no getting through to her. She yet goes to work every day, does not complain or ruminate about anything else (ie: money, friends, or anything.) Just this.
A male I have worked with for a number of years continuously complains of being “depressed, stressed, anxious and generally worried all of the time.”
He has two children, a wife and home, but loses job after job either from being laid-off or let go. One reason for this he has learned was due to his “negativity” at work. (Ya think?) He wants “what everyone else has” yet he takes no steps to get there. His “pity party” consists of how he is “always screwed, misunderstood, a victim and, short of winning the lottery, sees no hope nor offers any true motivation to improve his life.
After a while, it is very difficult to feel any type of sympathy or empathy for these ruminators. I am certain you have met some too, or may be one yourself. What is the solution for these Ruminating Types? (Besides ruminating about this too?)
Firstly, get involved in positive, pleasing activities. But you must actually do it and not just think about it! Thinking about solutions is why you’re in this mess to begin with. You have to do it. It can be a hobby, a gym, a book club, a church, meditation, learning a musical instrument, just something you can enjoy. Producing more positive thoughts in your mind, promotes and encourages positive feelings and relationships in your life. Get involved. In “Defeating Depression: The Calm and Sense Way to Find Happiness and Satisfaction,” I outline what I call an “SEP Portfolio.” An SEP Portfolio is a social, emotional and professional portfolio. In it, we “invest” in those 3 key areas that help us grow and flourish in those 3 areas! This is essential to getting out of any type of “funk” we find ourselves in.
Second, seek solutions, rather than repeating problems over and over again in your mind. Reliving past mistakes, troubles, disturbances, etc, never, ever, ever, helps solve them. Quit it now. Commit to making one small change a week, and fill yourself with positive thoughts. “I can do this. I will do this. I am sick and tired of feeling stuck in this!” Address the issue at hand with your boss, your boyfriend, your neighbor, your brother, be honest and open to resolving the thorn in your self-esteem.
Replace any fear you may have with curiosity. Be around positive people, smile more often and notice all the good that you have. The life you’re waiting for is waiting for you. Make a decision to get it, and harness the power only you have to get it!