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What is Rumination and Why Do I Ruminate?

By Eric Dean JD MBA MA MA LPC CADC

Negative rumination is when we chew over and obsess about negative thoughts. When we ruminate, we tend to focus on what we perceive to be the causes, consequences, and symptoms of our distress, rather than solutions to alleviate it. Those who ruminate are more prone to anxiety, stress, and depression. In this post, I am going to review some reasons for why we ruminate. In future posts, I will review how we can recognize and address these thought patterns.  

Here are a few common reasons for why we ruminate:

  1. Decision Avoidance

We are faced with difficult decisions all the time and experience fear of making a “bad” decision. If we continue to ruminate about all our options and possible outcomes, then we avoid making the decision and thereby protect ourselves from making a bad one. We convince ourselves that we have not thought about it enough and need more time, but really, we are using rumination to stall and avoid the inevitability that a decision will have to be made at some point. While rumination is usually unproductive, it may still feel productive in that we believe it will eventually help us identify the optimal choice. Rumination does not get us closer to deciding and oftentimes leads to indecision. This process is described by the concept of paralysis analysis, in which we become so “paralyzed” by incessant rumination that we do not make a decision at all.

  1. Misperception of Applicability

Many professions and industries demand and well-remunerate folks who can think analytically, critically, and dispassionately to define and solve problems. Many believe that because these skills are necessary in their profession, they will be equally effective in other facets of their life, such as family relationships. However, not every situation presents a problem to be solved. When analytical thinking is applied to family matters, it often leads to overthinking and rumination because we search for and try to solve a problem that may not exist.

  1. Perfectionism

Perfectionism is commonly defined as the need to be, appear, or feel perfect. While perfectionists may be aware that achieving perfection is unrealistic and unattainable, they continuously strive for it. Why is that? The main reason is to avoid the feelings of being less than perfect, such as inadequacy, insecurity, and anger. When we ruminate on tasks that we need to do to achieve perfection, we temporarily avoid the feelings associated with being less than perfect. As such, perfectionism may be considered a consequence of emotional avoidance coupled with a low tolerance for challenging emotions.  

  1. Conflict Avoidance

Most people do not look forward to conflict and believe that it should be avoided whenever possible. While conflict has a negative connotation, it does not always have to be this way, and can even be constructive. When we have a strong propensity to avoid conflict, we may ruminate on how to avoid even small conflicts and rationalize why it is always a good idea to steer clear of any situations which have potential to cause conflict. While there are certain conflicts that we would be better off avoiding, absolute avoidance reinforces the fear of conflict, which causes even further rumination.

The good news is that there are many evidenced-based practices that can help address rumination. Please call Symmetry Counseling today at 312-578-9990 to setup an appointment with a therapist who can provide Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT).

Reference

Wignall, Nick. “7 Psychological Reasons You Overthink Everything.” Medium, Personal Growth, 17 Feb. 2021.

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