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Ruminating… Looping… Spiraling... Downward.
By February 12, 2011 at 5:38 pm 44,410 163 122
Ever find yourself thinking about a situation over and over?
Maybe you had a bad day at work, a conflict with a co-worker or what felt like mistreatment from your boss. Or someone on the street, or in the next car, acted thoughtlessly or aggressively. Or a clerk in a store was absent-minded or rude. Or a family member yet again disrespected your feelings.
Later that day, you found yourself replaying the details in your mind like a movie that is stuck in continuous loop, watching every single detail, obsessing about the what’s and why’s, what you said and did, what was done to you, what you wish you had said or done…
Well you get the picture. This is called rumination – going over the same negative situation over and over – in a loop that never ends. Rumination comes natural to humans, and it’s all too easy to get caught up in. But it’s a loop that can lead to a spiral into deep depression.
When is the last time you ruminated? It’s human nature to ruminate, so probably not all that long ago.
Our mind slides into rumination for a number of reasons.
Some people ruminate to avoid their feelings. They fall into their intellect and, like a courtroom scene, go through every last detail, over and over, to try and make sense of it. And without having to feel the intense emotions that the situation brought up in them. Kind of like analysis/paralysis.
Other people ruminate to re-experience feelings. These may be very unpleasant feelings – loss, sadness, fear, anger – but they are nonetheless familiar feelings and, therefore, comfortable in their own way. In other words, these feelings have become a way of life and they are in an ongoing process of gathering evidence that will help to keep them stuck in the same emotional state.
Either way, rumination is about trying to figure something out. To get to an explanation of why something did or didn’t happen the way you wanted it to. Or to justify why we are entitled, if not sentenced, to feeling certain unpleasant emotions.
In other words, to KNOW WHY and to be CERTAIN that you know why. But think about it. How much certainty is there in the world?
Looping… spiraling… The result is being stuck in a negative pattern of thinking and feeling. Now, that’s depressing.
But here’s the good news. It is possible to break out of ruminating behavior.
Give yourself a pep talk. Tell yourself that you did the best you could in a difficult situation. You were who you were during that time and you can’t go back and change anything. Give yourself credit for learning from the situation, and tell yourself that you’ll apply what you learned in the future to avoid similar situations.
Don’t take things so personally. We can’t control how other people behave. They act out of their own self interest, or out of their own suffering, or they’re just not paying attention. Bad behavior toward you may have arisen out of ignorance, or maybe you just happened to be the convenient target. It wasn’t you, it was that other person’s view of the world.
Meditate and pray on acceptance. Life isn’t fair, and we don’t get to control what happens in life. Spend some time working on accepting this truth. You might want to contemplate the serenity prayer from 12 Step groups, which encourages to accept what we cannot change. That’s right, you don’t have to be in control of everything. Isn’t that a relief?
Talk to someone. Tell your story to an objective friend or a counselor and ask them to help you to gain a new perspective on the situation that you are ruminating about. Learn some alternative ways to look at it beyond the limitations of your own view.
Look around you. What’s positive in your life right now? People who care about you and that you care about in return? Activities that you enjoy? Plans for the future? Knowing that you are taking better care of yourself? Better weather around the corner? Get your mind engaged in what’s right in the world.
Look forward. Make the decision to consciously let the past be in the past and focus your attention on the road ahead. Take that rumination energy and use it to push your life forward. Pull yourself out of the tailspin!
Had any experiences in rumination that you want to share? What’s worked for you?