Rumination is a weird thing. There is an art to rumination, balancing it in a way that’s constructive rather than just damaging for oneself. Trust me, I’m a pro.
According to Collins online dictionary to ruminate on something is to ‘think about it very carefully’.
I’m sure everyone has done it at some point or another. I would imagine that for some people, ruminating only occurs around specific events or conversations of high significance. Maybe a job interview, or a conversation with an estate agent about buying a house, something like that. There are definitely situations where rumination, and careful thinking, would be really beneficial.
Then for others, people who are more highly sensitive, people with anxiety or mental health struggles, rumination can be a much more frequent and unhelpful thing.
I fall into the latter category, being highly sensitive in some ways, and having an anxiety disorder I am oh so well versed in rumination. Although I manage both of these things really well, and no one would necessarily know that either are a thing for me externally, there will always be things I do internally because of them.
It used to be something I did, but wasn’t necessarily conscious of. I remember when I was about 14 I suddenly caught myself doing something odd, and I became aware that it was something I did a lot.
I would walk to meet friends, and as I walked I would have entire conversations with myself in my head (and sometimes quietly aloud, oops). I didn’t really know why I did it, but now looking back I realise that it was my way of trying to prepare myself for handling conversations before they happened, because I spent so much time ruminating on things that I’d said afterwards. I was trying to make sure I had a non-stupid sounding answer for anything I could be asked. It didn’t work. Of course it didn’t work, how could I prepare for every single conversation that would happen? But I guess in some ways it must have helped me.
Growing up, rumination was a bad thing for me. I would ‘think carefully’ (Read: fixate and deconstruct) so many things I said. But I would be fixating on how wrong they were. How I ‘should have’ said something else and how stupid I was for saying it. I felt crippled by the anxiety of saying the ‘wrong thing’.
When I was in therapy in my early 20’s I learnt a lot about rumination. I realised how much I subconsciously did it, and how negatively it had impacted my own self-esteem and confidence. I started practising a lot of mindfulness and meditation, which really helped. I started working on really living in the now. By doing that I was able to reduce how much and how badly I ruminated on things.
Nowadays I have a pretty good handle on it, along with my anxiety, but it’s still an automatic thought process that slips out aplenty. Last week I ruminated about how I said goodbye to a friend. She said lots of lovely things to me about looking after myself, wished me luck with the hospital appointment I have coming up etc. I found myself walking away thinking ‘I didn’t say enough, I said so much less than she did. Did I look like I didn’t care about things going on for her? I didn’t even say take care, do I look rude?’.
The week before that I ruminated for a few days over the fact that I referred to a friends husband as ‘partner’ even though it’s the same damn thing.
Honestly, I even ruminate about rumination. The things one can ruminate on knows no bounds!
Rumination, in my experience, can be one of the most frustrating and debilitating things. Luckily for me, I’ve worked on a lot of the issues behind it and so most of the time these days it isn’t too bad, I’m able to shrug or laugh it off usually. The odd thing does stick around though, long enough to make me feel ‘stupid’ or like I looked ‘silly’. It’s still an ongoing battle not to let it affect conversations with people, sometimes I get shy or stumble on my words because I’m still worried about saying the wrong things.
In some ways, isn’t it pretty self absorbed of me to be thinking that other people have so much free time in their own lives to fixate on tiny little things I’ve said? Of course, it’s not that straightforward, it’s not something I have total control over. I’m not choosing to ruminate.
I bet if we actually look at the things we ruminate about, most of us would realise that there is no way we would ever judge another person for those things. And personally, if I did notice, the most that would happen is I would recognise it as something I also do, and feel a kinship and sympathy for them.
Let’s be honest, if somebody did actually judge me for saying one word that was mildly out of place, or saying something seemingly silly, or stumbling over a word, then they’re a bit of an asshole aren’t they?
It’s funny how easy it is to pick at something we said, or to judge ourselves, in ways that we would never do to another person. In reality I’d bet that 9 times out of 10 the other person didn’t even notice the thing we’re fixating on, and if they did they probably didn’t even care.
Human brains are such weird things. I bet many, many people ruminate, it’s just one of those strange taboo things that nobody ever talks about (like so many thoughts and feelings). How great would it be if we could swallow our pride, as humans, and actually open up about feelings and thoughts. Instead of spending a week wondering if someone thought we were stupid for saying something, we could just say ‘Hey, did you think I was stupid for saying this thing?’. It could save a whole bunch of time. Maybe one day our ‘advanced’ species will get the hang of this communication thing.
To all my fellow ruminators, pause, take a breathe and ask yourself if the thing you’re stuck on is really that important. Is what you’re stuck on going to be truly significant in a week, or a month? I find it helps me to ask that question if I get really stuck.
Life is so complicated when you’ve mastered a skill like rumination. If only I could’ve mastered a different skill, like, one that is actually helpful.