”The brain secretes thoughts like the liver secretes bile”
Where rumination is concerned this quote is doubly apposite. Not only do thoughts keep on coming but they also tend to be full of vitriol and bile against ourselves, against the way we have behaved in the past and might behave in the future, and to a lesser extent against other people.
Rumination is not about the present.
When we ruminate we get lost in a maelstrom of stressful and stressing thoughts about past and future events. Painful and embarrassing events from the past become huge problems for us to take ourselves to task over.
We find ourselves doomsday planning for our future.
This results in increasing negativity, worsening feelings of hopelessness and a catastrophic failure in our problem solving circuits leading to helplessness.
Brooding too much about the past is a recipe for depression and worrying about future events is only going to increase our anxiety. The non stop commentary and accompanying judgements that we make, seriously impair our ability to be right here right now in the present moment.
We find ourselves doomsday planning for our future.
When we ruminate we give away a lot of our personal power to others, those who wronged us in the past and those whom we fear will do so in the future. This can make us want to give up trying before we have even started. The end result of all this is that we make it harder for ourselves to act in the moment.
Only a man can be the master of himself:
who else from outside could be his master?
When the master and servant are one,
then there is true help and self-possession.
How then do we break into this rumination habit and become masters of ourselves again?
First it helps if we can differentiate between what we are feeling and what we are thinking. The difference between the contents of our mind and the mental state we are in. There is a clear relationship between the two, yet they are not the same. We are not our thoughts. Our thoughts do not define who we are.This is also true of how we choose to behave.
There is a clear difference between feeling angry, having angry thoughts and showing angry behaviour.
Feeling lonely and unloved may well be related to thinking that we have no friends and that we are unlovable. These thoughts may arise because we believe ourselves to be bad or evil, but the thoughts are not the feelings. Either can make the other more likely to occur, as can isolating ourselves from others and withdrawing from our lives in response to the thoughts.
Rumination is like many of the other destructive behaviours that humans adopt, it seems to have benefits in the short term yet is in itself inherently destructive. Along with similar habits such as drinking (which may occur in an attempt to prevent rumination) or smoking it can be a difficult pleasure to break.
However, the cycle can be broken into. This occurs through a process of increased awareness. Awareness of our thoughts. Awareness of our feelings. Awareness of our behaviours. Each of which can alter the way our mind is currently functioning, both for the better and for the worse.
It is through paying attention that we can reduce the automatic behaviours over which we seem to have so little control.
Simply try to become aware of our thoughts as they arise. Attempt to separate the content of our thoughts from their emotional accompaniment. As we notice ourselves thinking we can try to label what we are doing ”Thinking. Thinking.” This can help to create space around our thoughts. Once there is a small gap we can then slow down our thinking and gain some control over our thoughts.
- “Brooding. Brooding.”
- ”Change the record.”
- Or find some other phrase that makes sense.
Monitor our mood. If we are low we are likely to have negative thoughts. If we are feeling hard done by we are likely to have angry thoughts.
- “How am I feeling right now?”
- Angry? Irritable? Lonely? etc.
- “Where does this feeling come from?”
Do something different. Once we notice ourselves starting to ruminate it helps to do something different. This can start with labelling thoughts but then we can physically do something else. Something that requires our attention and energy, as well as being an activity that gives us pleasure. This can help us to break into the cycle of rumination even more.
- Listen to music.
- Talk to a friend.
- Make a drink.
- Feed the cat.
- Take a couple of deep breaths.
- Focus on what is right in front of us.
- Listen to the world going on around us.
- Something else.
Bringing our mind back to awareness of the present moment, over and over again, is the practice of mindfulness.
As our mind wanders, we become aware of this, we notice it happening and bring our mind back onto the present moment. Time and time again. We try not to judge ourselves when we find our mind wandering. We stop brooding on the past or fretting about the future. Instead we focus on precisely what we are doing and where we are in the present moment.
Right here right now.
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