Rescue from Rumination


I’ve been getting angry about how much rumination sucks the life out of people. It goes something like this; a thought or question pops into your mind: “Does my boss think I’m worthless?”, “Am I a good father?”, “Have I done anything with my life?” You start weighing the evidence, remembering comments and reviewing the cues. You aren’t sure if you remember correctly, so you go over it again….and again and again. Much of this process may be semi-conscious. Rumination easily becomes the depressing, anxiety-inducing subtext that pulls your mood into a dark and gloomy place.

Rumination can be tricky because we can get duped into thinking that we are engaging in a critically important thought process that will help us in some way. But with rumination, nothing could be farther from the truth. Rumination is not helpful evaluation. Evaluation is a process that has a beginning, middle, and end. Rumination repeats and spins without concluding anything. Evaluation leads to a conclusion, greater wisdom, or discovery of a need or deficit. Rumination never lands, so there isn’t the same constructive quality to it. Normally, rumination does absolutely nothing helpful. In fact, the only thing that rumination does is impact your mood.

Evaluation, on the other hand, may begin exactly the same, but goes in a much different direction.  The thought or question pops into your mind: “Does my boss think I’m worthless?”, “Am I a good father?”, or “Have I done anything with my life?” You review the interaction that prompted the question and realize that you have an unsettled feeling. You decide to take some time at the end of the day to think about it and resolve to pull your attention away from weighing the evidence whenever it comes up throughout the day. One the drive home, you consider your hunch and realize that you have made some mistakes and you resolve to email your boss, apologize to your kids, or pursue a spiritual director to press into the question of your life in a deeper way.

I often tell my clients that at the heart of whatever they are ruminating about, there is sometimes an important question that does merit your time and attention. But it merits your focused, creative, full attention for perhaps about an hour or for many hours, but in a structured way. What that question does not merit is 10 hours of subconscious swirling that tortures you. It takes a willingness to apply some boundaries to one’s thought processes to resist ruminative spins. But please, do whatever it takes to learn those skills. Rumination is crushing the souls of far, far too many dear people under the guise of evaluation and they are not the same! One leads to depression and spiritual hopelessness, the other to maturity, efficacy, and spiritual/emotional health.

One Comment

  1. This is so true! In my own life, I have started to take action to help myself stop the rumination. Perhaps I sometimes act a little too quickly (i.e., before I have thought out my action), but it helps so much to send that email or ask the question, because it gives me a reality check! Often the person I’m worrying about did not see the situation as important, and that helps me to realize that I sometimes make a mountain out of a mole hill. If we can all trust a few of the people in our lives to give this kind of feedback, it can be very helpful in learning when our ruminations aren’t necessarily based on a rational issue, too. Just another side of the issue.

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