The content of ruminations falls into three broad categories:
• Victimization – When someone feels that he has been treated badly by another, he ruminate about the injustice he has experienced. He reviews the situation again and again and thinks of ways he can find retribution. He doesn’t look at the whole situation or try to understand his part in the interaction. Unfortunately, he may take action on his thoughts that may have negative consequences.
• Magnifying – When someone feels upset, he starts thinking of reasons to explain his feelings. he may come up with a number of causes, all equally plausible, and some may be dramatic and not grounded in reality. He then takes rash actions with negative consequences, such as quitting his job, ending a friendship, or acting out his bad mood.
• Chaos – Sometimes one feels overwhelmed and his thoughts dart from one focus to another without any clear theme. He ends up feeling disoriented – and he may shut down or run away from his problems.
Rumination should not be confused with other types of thinking.
• Rumination is not the same as worry, although ruminators do worry. Worry involves “what if’s” – wondering about things that might happen (“What if I say the wrong thing at work?” “What if this date goes wrong?”). Rumination, on the other hand, focuses more on things that have happened in the past – like things you said or things that went wrong.
• Rumination is not the same as obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD involves a preoccupation with thoughts that are external, like germs, and how they might intrude on you. Ruminators can turn these thoughts off easily.
• And rumination is not like the thinking that goes on in therapy. One thing that therapy can do is to focus on effective problem-solving, including looking at situations in a different way and finding ways to take action to solve problems. Ruminators focus on one way of looking at a problem and they seldom get to the point of solving the problem.
Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D., LMFT
San Diego Couples and Family Therapy serves the surrounding areas of Sorrento Valley Road as La Jolla, UTC San Diego, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Poway, University City and Escondido.