Do you have certain negative thoughts that keep coming back? Is it hard to make them go away? Are they the kind of thoughts that seem to have no solution? Or if you think you have a solution, do you fail to try it because of the "Yeah,but..."? "Yeah, but's" are a really effective roadblock to solving problems. They're a symptom of a negative mindset--a way of rejecting possibilities because of other negative things that might happen.
I know several people who are convinced that their parents loved a sibling more. That belief colored their outlooks for years, in some cases leading them to wonder what was wrong with them that they were so unlovable. In other cases, they became all-or-nothing thinkers. That's a mindset that believes "Only first place counts--second place is failure." Not surprisingly, they often also believe that one failure defines who they are, so one incident of being less than perfect can haunt them for years.
Another result of such a belief can result in jealousy of the "favored" person, leading to a complete loss of relationship. In more than one case I've seen the estrangement continue for years, while the "favored" person had little understanding why there even was an estrangement.
These negative thoughts are called ruminations because--like ruminating animals who regurgitate their cuds so they can keep on chewing them--some people keep regurgitating their negative thoughts to keep replaying them, and with each replay, they give those thoughts additional power.
Not surprisingly, rumination is connected with depression, and the two form one of those vicious cycles. A person who tends to depression also tends to interpret social interactions in the most negative light. Thus, "I didn't get the promotion" becomes "The boss doesn't like me." The possibility that the person who did get the promotion might be a better fit is not even considered.
There are two parts of your brain that come into play here. One area is called the Default Mode Network (DMN). It becomes active when your mind wanders, when you're daydreaming or reminiscing or thinking about yourself. In a healthy non-depressed person, these activities are pleasant experiences.
The second part of your brain that's connected with rumination is the subgeunal prefrontal cortex. When it becomes more active than usual, it interferes with the DMN and concentrates on sad and negative thoughts. Because your brain groups similar events, one negative thought leads to another, and then another. By this time, "My boss doesn't like me" becomes "My boss hates me" and "I'm probably going to get fired." Thus, what for most people is a routine disappointment in life becomes a crisis for the depressed person, and untold hours are lost in thinking and worrying about something that is unlikely to happen.
If you're prone to ruminating, what can you do? Here's where you have to engage your logical brain. You need to understand that the voice in your head that comments on everything is affected by your feelings, and if you tend to depression, its interpretations are going to be colored by negativity. Remember: just because you think it doesn't make it so!
That last statement is a hard one for ruminators to process because they are used to believing everything they think. What you need to do is deliberately look at situations from different angles. For example, suppose Jade is walking downtown when she sees her friend Elise on the other side of the street. She waves, but Elise doesn't wave back. Because she's depressed, Jade immediately thinks, "She's ignoring me." Jade feels bad and tried to figure out what she's done to make Elise snub her. It doesn't even occur to Jade that her friend might have been so preoccupied that she didn't notice Jade waving, and there was no intention of hurting anyone's feelings.
There's an important lesson here. Depressed people tend to be concerned about how a situation affects them and not about what might be going on with someone else. There might be a half dozen reasons why Elise didn't notice her waving, and none of them had anything to do with Jade.
Every time you think a thought, it becomes easier to think that thought again, and the more you think it, the more you become convinced that thought is true. When you stop thinking emotionally and learn to consider that your first interpretation may be wrong because you know that you tend to see everything in a negative light, you've made a big step toward breaking that vicious cycle.
Now use your logical brain:
1. Truthfully, is rumination making you feel better? If not, why are you doing it? If you feel you can't stop, make the effort to consciously distract yourself. Do something that requires focus, like balancing your checkbook or doing a crossword puzzle or talking to someone (but not about whatever you're ruminating on).
2. Realize that ruminating has become a habit, and habits take time and work to break, but more you persist, the sooner you'll escape its clutches.
3.Know that low self-esteem is probably affecting your thinking. To combat this, make a list of all the things you do on a regular basis, especially those you don't get paid for and things you do for other people. In this money-centered world, acts of kindness and caring are easily overlooked and undervalued, but they are the very things that make our loves worth living, the things that make families, friends and homes worth coming back to. Make an effort to add to your list, and don't undervalue yourself!
4. Cultivate an awareness of things, thoughts and circumstances that trigger your negative thoughts and take active steps to avoid them.
You can do this!
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.