Living with the after-effects of childhood trauma is a daunting task. Healing can take decades and the scars remain for a lifetime. However, there are two human activities that make matters worse for those who wish to move on from an abusive childhood; ruminating.
This article will examine ruminating thoughts to see what it entails and how they negatively impact the lives of survivors.
The Facts About Ruminating Thoughts
While there is a ruminating disorder, the ruminating thoughts in this article are regarding thoughts that are intrusive and excessive dwelling on negative experiences and emotions. Ruminating thoughts in our context speak of thoughts that follow a history of trauma where the person is unable to stop thinking about the trauma or how it has affected their lives.
Some disorders are well-known for their ruminating thoughts including depression and dissociative identity disorder plus many more.
People have ruminating thoughts for many reasons. The American Psychological Association gives common reasons for rumination as the following.
- The belief that ruminating on a problem will give the thinker insight into their life or a problem. While this may be true, it is also true that ruminating without action equals a mental health crisis in the making.
- The thinker has a history of trauma in childhood or adulthood. They may concentrate entirely too much on what happened in the past and not acknowledge the accomplishments of the present.
- The thinker is overwhelmed by emotional stress that is coming from situations beyond their control. If the situation is beyond the person’s control, then ruminating will only weaken the thinker’s ability to handle the stressful situation.
To be clear, everyone has ruminating thoughts from time to time, however, these thought processes are a problem if they persist over extended lengths of time and cause problems in the mental health of the thinker.
Five Steps To End Ruminating for Good
Ruminating on the past or our problems does not solve them, in fact, it can make things worse. Things getting worse is the biggest reason to consider the following steps to ending rumination once and for all.
Step One: Put troubling thoughts into perspective. Can you change what has happened in the past? Can thinking about the past over and over again make it better or the pain to go away? What can you do to make today better? What did or you or have you learned from the past experience you have been ruminating on?
Asking questions to test the legitimacy of the problem or thoughts rolling around in your head can give you a new perspective and allow you to move to the next stage.
Stage Two: Look at Your Triggers. When you acknowledge you have been ruminating on something ask yourself what triggered you to go back in time and think so hard on those moments. Was it something someone said or did? Was it the time of year? What made you begin to ruminate on that particular topic?
Chances are you’ll be capable of recognizing what triggered your rumination and by doing so you take the power away from it. Knowing a time of year or a certain situation might trigger rumination will help you to find ways to dismantle the trigger’s power over you.
Stage Three: Reach Out to Someone Else. This stage may be the hardest because the last thing a person wants to do when they are caught up in ruminating about the past is to become social. We all tend to isolate and avoid others to preserve our ruminating.
However, when you reach out to a friend, meditate, or attend therapy it becomes easier and easier to not isolate and to get out of our heads and into today’s life.
Make sure to choose your friend wisely because someone who will ruminate with you will not help defeat the mental torture. Instead, you may end up in a situation where you are both depressed and holding yourselves down.
Both meditation and therapy will give you a different type of mental exercise to perform and a whole new perspective on the problem you’ve been stuck on for so long.
Stage Four: Readjust Your Goals in Life and Make Lifestyle Changes. Having life goals is wonderful, but if you have set goals that are too lofty or hard for yourself, you face ruminating over them as failures. Instead, readjust the goals you have made for yourself making them realistic based on who you are today and where you want to go. Keep in mind that life is an adventure, not a destination and that life can change abruptly for the better or the worse at the drop of a hat.
Celebrate any accomplishments you have already made and be ready to celebrate the ones in the future as well. If you do fail at a life goal, step back and examine it through the eyes of self-compassion, not criticism which is the basis of much ruminating. Ask yourself what you have learned then readjust your goals and move on.
Make the lifestyle changes that will make you happy and enjoy the process. Don’t get so caught up in making the absolute right choices for fear of failure. Embrace the chance you may fail but also expect yourself to succeed.
You only fail if you do not try.
Create a support system of family, mental health professionals, and friends to help you should you find yourself slipping back into rumination. Alert these people of your plight and allow them to help you see things from an alternative perspective and to redirect your thoughts. Allow them also to help you boost your self-esteem by reminding you of what you have already accomplished in life.
Stage Five: Plan and Act. Instead of allowing yourself to fall into ruminating again plan to prevent it and act when the need arises. Mentally rehearse the steps you need to take to address what is bothering you and write it down. Be specific and realistic about your experience.
By writing down what is bothering you, one downloads the dread and rumination onto something outside the mind to help belay the negative thinking.
After writing down the problem, plan of action to address the rumination and plan out steps to overcome the problem. Then, after all the mental work is done, take immediate action to end the problem and thus the rumination for good.
There Are No Magic Tricks Here
Defeating ruminating thoughts takes effort and there are no magic formulas or underhanded deceptions. The only way to defeat ruminating thoughts is to decide on a course of action and take it.
I wish I could say that it will be easy to follow the five steps outlined above, but I would be lying. It takes hard work and determination to overcome a lifelong habit and ruminating on the past is one.
Just keep in mind that the future is only as bright as you allow it to be. If one wishes to live wrapped up in past abuses or failures there is nothing anyone else can do to change that. It is up to each of us to decide to move on from the hurts of the past, but believe me, you will be glad that you did.
“If you want to be happy, do not dwell in the past, do not worry about the future, focus on living fully in the present.” ~ Roy T. Bennett
“The sooner we let go of holding on, the sooner we can hold on to the beauty of what’s unfolding before us. Nothing was ever meant to stay the same forever.” ~ Julieanne O’Connor