What Are Ruminating Thoughts?

Published on September 26, 2022

Everyone ruminates. Whether it’s thinking about something we said to someone, something we did wrong, or some recent event that is stuck in our mind. Ruminating thoughts can be defined as repetitive and recurrent, negative, thinking about past experiences and emotions (Michael, et al., 2007). However, while everyone experiences ruminating thoughts at some point in their life, for some, rumination can be distressing, difficult to stop, and can lead to dysfunction in their day-to-day lives.

Why do we ruminate?

When we think about ruminating, it’s important to acknowledge that it often comes from an effort to cope with distress. For instance, analyzing an experience can better prepare us to encounter a similar experience in the future. Or it can help us mend some relationships that were negatively impacted by an event in the past. But, when these thoughts aren’t leading to any productive change we can see individuals obsess over these thoughts, become anxious and depressed, isolate, or begin using / increasing their use of mind-altering substances.

Types of ruminating thoughts?

Ruminating thoughts can be very diverse. For some, they may ruminate about their hands being dirty and that they may get sick. Others may ruminate about suicidal thoughts, including existential themes about the meaning of life. Some may continually think about a traumatic experience, like an assault or some form of abuse. As well, some of these ruminating thoughts may be untrue distortions of events. For example, repeatedly thinking about being sexually assaulted may come with false thoughts that the victim somehow provoked their assailant or deserved to be assaulted.

Are my ruminating thoughts true?

Our experiences mold our self-esteem, or the way we perceive our behaviors, abilities and traits. A traumatic experience can leave individuals with warped perceptions of themselves that can have a detrimental effect on their day-to-day lives. Especially the formation of a negative self-esteem, or negative self-concept, is associated with feeling disempowered, hopeless, and helpless. Ruminating on these experiences, or even these self-beliefs, has been shown to exacerbate and prolong negative moods, and hinder social interaction and problem-solving skills (Wang, et. al, 2018).

Are ruminating thoughts part of a diagnosis?

Ruminating thoughts can be associated with a number of mental health diagnoses, including:
● Depression 

● General and social anxiety 

● Substance abuse disorder 

● Bulimia 

● Binge eating disorder 

● Obsessive-compulsive disorder

● Post-traumatic stress disorder 

● Personality disorders, like borderline personality disorder 

There is hope!

Ruminating thoughts are treatable and manageable. Treatment often aims to interrupt the thought processes and improve coping skills to replace rumination. Some individuals find relief from medication management, cognitive-behavioral therapies, and mindfulness techniques. 

If you experience ruminating thoughts and are looking for a way to move forward, please call our office and schedule an appointment. Our licensed clinicians and therapists on staff would be more than happy to work with you.

-Nicholas Costa, SFT Social Work Intern

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