Rumination is associated with anxiety, depression, anger, and substance abuse. The content of rumination falls into three broad categories:
Victimization – When we feel that we have been treated badly by someone, we ruminate about the injustice we have experienced. We review the situation again and again and think of ways we can find retribution. We don’t look at the whole situation or try to understand our part in the interaction. Unfortunately, we may take action on our thoughts that may have negative consequences.
Magnifying– When we feel upset, we start thinking of reasons to explain our feelings. We may come up with a number of causes, all equally plausible, and some may be dramatic and not grounded in reality. We then take rash actions with negative consequences, such as quitting our job, ending a friendship, or acting out our bad mood.
Chaos– Sometimes we feel overwhelmed and our thoughts dart from one focus to another without any clear theme. We end up feeling disoriented- and we may shut down or run away from our problems.
Ruminating should not be confused with other types of thinking. Rumination is not the same as worry, although ruminators do worry. Worry involves “what if’s”- wondering about things that might happen (“What if I say the wrong thing at work?” “What if this date goes wrong?”) Rumination, on the other hand, focuses more on things that have happened in the past- like things you said or things that went wrong.
Rumination is not the same as obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD involves a preoccupation with thoughts that are external, like germs, and how they might intrude on us. Ruminators can turn these thoughts off easily.
And rumination is not like the thinking that goes on in therapy. One thing that therapy might do is to focus on effective problem –solving, including looking at situations in a different way and finding ways to take action to solve problems. Ruminators focus on one-way of looking at a problem and they seldom get to the point of solving the problem.