The Ruins of Rumination
For many years, I wanted to be a psychologist because the human mind fascinates me. Please keep in mind that I am NOT a professional and the article here is only from what I have read and become interested in. There is no way I would ever diagnose or advise anyone on any malady, condition or symptoms they may have for any kind of issue. With that said, I have come across a word that isn’t used much in day-to-day conversation and was therefore, something I needed to look up and chose to learn about. It’s “rumination” and in the dictionary, it is described as a cow chewing its cud “over and over and over” again.
In psychology terms, it is mostly correlated to pessimism and/or depression. Its definition from Wikipedia, in that regard is: Rumination is a way of responding to distress that involves repetitively (and passively) focusing on the symptoms of distress, and on its possible causes and consequences. Rumination is more common in people who are pessimistic, neurotic, and who have negative attributional styles. I want to clarify these two terms: Neuroticism is a fundamental personality trait. It’s a continual tendency to endure negative emotional states, such as anxiety, anger, guilt and a depressed mood. People with this trait are more likely to feel stress and to take it (situations or events in their life) as far worse than they really are most of the time. These people are most often shy and have low self-esteem. Attributional styles are: concepts which have much relevance to the study of depression. One of the styles is called the Explanatory style and that is psychological attribute that indicates how people explain to themselves why they experience a particular event, either positive or negative. Psychologists have identified three components in the explanatory style: Personal, Permanent and Pervasive.
*Personal – when people internalize events and blame themselves for the event being a negative experience. For example: they say, “I always forget my keys” (internalizing it) rather than saying, “Keys are small enough to misplace often” which is externalizing it.
*Permanent – this is when people believe the event will never change. They say, “I always lose my keys” or “I never forget birthdays” which explains the extent of the cause . I have taught myself to make sure “always” and “never” are words that I take out of my personal vocabulary. They are extremes and most of the time, most situations, events, feelings or thoughts are not an “always” or “never” case.
*Pervasive – when people believe that “I can’t ever do anything right”, they see the situation as affecting all aspects of their life, which explains the extent of the effect.
When people turn their thoughts into a spinning wheel in their mind, it generates symptoms of depression which also fuel thoughts of anxiety. They go hand-in-hand.
The old-school thought about depression is based on the fact that when depression is evident, there is a chemical imbalance in the brain. It’s a lack of the chemical called serotonin, which causes mood swings. More research has been done and continues to be done, finding that depression is also a societal symptom.
Those who are prone to ruminating, depression, anxiety and any other mind-stress, are those who most of the time, choose to be isolated from others. They choose to be alone because they are embarrassed, ashamed or feel that they don’t fit in with everyone else. They also believe sometimes that most people would never understand what they are feeling, that what they feel is in some way, more conscious, more knowledgeable or more certain than society in general because of the ruminator’s intense internalization of events since they were very young. Research on rumination shows that people mistakenly think that if they analyze and contemplate what they believe is going to happen, they are engaging in problem-solving. They are really only delaying taking any constructive action. They may think they are smarter or more insightful because they see problems that others don’t. They may think they are more creative or artistic in their pain because of their rumination or depression. Or, they may think that they have suffered more profoundly than anyone else. They feel more justified in their depression, as if nobody else has any idea about what’s really going on and that, to them, defines their depression as “sensible.” Because rumination is so internally ingrained, it’s what many call “analysis paralysis.”
It’s also interesting to note that those who ruminate believe that their fear, the thought they roll over and over in their mind, is a truth. As I have said in my past article, “All about Anger”, F-E-A-R stands for “False Expectations Appearing Real” and therefore, their fears only become true if they take no decisive action and if they continue to believe the fear is real.
One way of unlearning rumination is to let thoughts come into the mind, but watch them with no judgment, no reaction, no emotion, just look at them as leaves falling into a brook and allow them to float away from you. Another effective way to heal from rumination is to do what is called “mindful meditation.” That is a process that allows one to sit quietly with their eyes closed and to picture a peaceful, quiet place that you have either been to or would like to go to if you could. When you visualize that place and take those slow, deep breaths, your mind will slow down from its “million-miles-a-minute” race and it will pull you back into the present “now” moment. It takes a lot of discipline and determination but it truly works and has benefitted thousands.
In order to reduce rumination that leads to depression, one would have to learn what would be needed to use effective skills in decision making. They would need to define the problem, develop potential solutions, weigh the positives and negatives of various alternatives, implement a solution and adjust an approach as needed. Ruminators need to learn to make their decisions according to the result they want, not just the way they feel.
There are a couple books I have come across that are beneficial in learning to overcome rumination. One of them is called, “Depression is Contagious” by Dr. Michael Yapko and some of the information listed above has been gleaned from this book. Another is called, “Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Over-Thinking and Reclaim Your Life” by Susan Nolan-Hoeksema. It has been found that more women ruminate than men because women are more prone to depression than men.
There is a website with all kinds of information and support group links to help those who suffer from rumination/depression. I am hoping that those of you who feel the way I have described in this article will use this link to find your strength, serenity and empowerment: