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3 Cognitive Errors That Can Lead to Rumination

Calm your ruminating mind by understanding these common triggers.

Key points

  • Rumination involves replaying thoughts or events over and over in your mind.
  • Failing to recognize temporary factors that are affecting you may lead to rumination. These factors may be disrupting your ability to cope.
  • Assuming people are rejecting you when they ignore or you or that what's important to you is important to others can also lead to rumination.
Valentin Salja/Unsplash
Source: Valentin Salja/Unsplash

Rumination is when you mentally replay events. It's often mixed with worry. Sometimes it can feel more anxiety-related and sometimes more depressive. You might feel worked up, defeated, lonely, or misunderstood.

Here are some specific thinking patterns that can trigger rumination.

1. Failing to recognize temporary factors affecting you.

Things happen in life that disrupt our ability to cope. For example, if work and exercise are two of your main coping mechanisms, but you're prevented from these due to a medical issue, then you might find yourself feeling anxious when you're usually not, or not coping well.

When something is temporarily affecting you, it can be easy to spiral into thinking you're changing, when actually you'll bounce back to normal when the temporary issue isn't present.

I'm currently 37 weeks pregnant and sometimes wonder why I'm acting so needy, emotional, and unreliable. I have to keep reminding myself it's not a personality shift, it's because I'm going through a big life event.

The lesson here is to not mislabel temporary stressors as a change in your skills or personality. Always ask yourself which of your coping mechanisms and supports are disrupted, or what change you're experiencing, to see if that's the real cause.

2. Thinking being ignored is a sign of being rejected.

When someone ignores you, it often has more to do with them than you. For example, some people will avoid anything that makes them feel overloaded or unsure, even when it was a reasonable request. Sometimes people get overloaded socially, by their own current worries, or by their to-do list and will ignore messages or emails rather than communicate more clearly.

The lesson here is to consider multiple possibilities for why you might not have heard from someone, not jump to the conclusion you upset them or were inappropriate.

3. Thinking what's important to you is as important to others.

In general, people tend to assume other people think the same way they do. For example, if you overthink, then you might assume other people do. If a conversation was a big deal to you, you might think the other person saw it the same way, but they don't remember the conversation or forgot some parts of it.

If you tend to ruminate, you may have already mentally replayed an interaction many times, meaning you remember it well (or you at least remember your memory of it, which may or may not be accurate). The other party may have forgotten about it entirely. Or, you each may have processed the events in such a way that your sense of how the interaction concluded is wildly different.

Sometimes people make offhand comments in conversations that aren't especially important to them.

If the conversation was very important to you, that offhand comment could be a source of rumination for days, weeks, months, or even years. Often the person who made the comment may not have intended it in the way you perceived it. What cut you deeply or made you feel very judged might not have been a sign of that.

The lesson here is to take other people's perspectives. People differ a lot in what they prioritize, what's upsetting or traumatic to them, what they consider annoying, etc. Often there isn't a right and wrong, just individual differences and preferences. Try to not overestimate the importance of sharing priorities and perspectives. It's not essential. You can value someone and they value you, without experiencing events in the same way.

By understanding some common triggers for rumination you can feel less drawn in by it, so rumination can lessen its grip on you.