What is rumination?
My therapist and I have identified that rumination traps me in painful emotional states. Put simply, ruminating means thinking the same anxious or upsetting thoughts on repeat. A useful distinction between rumination and worry is that the former tends to involves repetitive thoughts about the past, whereas the latter usually concern the future.
The main topic of my rumination is relationships and it often happens when I say bye to someone I love or leave a social situation. For example, I might meet up with a friend and on the bus home ruminate on what I said and how I acted.
What is rumination like for me?
For me, ruminating is like replaying a film over and over again in my head about what just happened. Instead of enjoying this film however, I’m watching for all of the things I did ‘wrong’ or why someone I care about might be unhappy with me.
Ruminating is not enjoyable in the way that thinking about happy memories or daydreaming can be. Furthermore, rumination rarely presents an accurate portrayal of what happened. Rather, it is a rewriting of events which inevitably recasts me as the villain of my own story.
I question myself repetitively: Did I say something awful? Did I come across as demanding? Will they want to see me again? My answers are anxious and do not fit the facts of the situation. I am left feeling fearing abandonment, feeling sad and fearful.
Since identifying what rumination is and when I’m doing it, I’ve been able to replace it with something else. Instead of listening to my thoughts, I listen to audiobooks and podcasts. I use the mindfulness skills I learnt in DBT group to focus on the words of the story or conversation. If I notice myself losing focus on the words of the recording I try to gently bring my awareness back. It’s not a problem if I lose focus- I can rewind if necessary.
I would estimate that since I’ve started listening to audiobooks and podcasts, I’ve had an 80% reduction in the time I spend ruminating. As a result, my BPD symptoms such as fear of abandonment, intense anxiety, sadness and impulsive behaviours as a result of this sense of impending doom have lessened significantly. I feel lighter and less like a prisoner in my own mind.
I also make my way through so many more books than I did when I only read physical books! Last month I enjoyed Michelle Obama’s Becoming, Sally Rooney’s Conversation With Friends, Normal People and Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus. (Please note that Sally Rooney's books self-harm and suicide
Do you struggle with rumination? If so, is there anything that helps? Have you tried listening to something in order to manage rumination?