Rumination – when you can’t let go of your past

“You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one”

Anonymous quote from the Internet

 

We all may know someone who seems to live in the past. Someone who is always talking about past experiences. Someone who claims they learned a lesson from past experiences, but somehow they cannot stop talking about it – or maybe it is even you, and you recognize some of the patterns in your own behavior. It is called rumination, and today’s blog talks about people who cannot let go of the past, the reasons for it and – if you are affected by it – what you can do against it.

What is rumination?

Imagine you are sitting at home and your thoughts keep circling around some negative experiences. It can be a conflict with someone, bad experiences in your childhood, or the end of a relationship or divorce that happened months or even years ago. For some reason, you keep reviewing what has happened to you, over and over. You talk to your friends about it, maybe you even write about it to get it out of your head. Congratulations, you did the first step to take on negative thoughts! But what happens if you think (or talk) about the same old stuff over and over again? Then you might suffer from something called “rumination“.

Did you ever see a cow in real life? They appear to be constantly chewing on something. That’s because they’re ruminating. Technically speaking, the cow regurgitates previously consumed food and masticates it a second time. It’s literally chewing on the same thing over and over again. Luckily for the cow, the food is digested at some point. Humans however, do not need to ruminate food, but some people have a similar process going on with thoughts in their head. Some people dwell on negative thoughts because their mind is literally STUCK. If you are a ruminator, you keep repeating and re-living the same negative experiences in your head over and over, but you can’t do anything to change it.

The problem with ruminating people is that they truly believe they are “doing something”; however, they are not pursuing any goals, there is no progress happening in their life, they are literally stuck in the same train of thoughts – it like writing your own autobiography over and over again but nothing is changing for years.

Examples of rumination

Imagine if you broke up with someone or had a divorce one or two (or even more!) years ago. Usually, the healing process is done, and people move on. Ruminators have a problem with moving on. If you are a ruminator, you can’t stop talking about these things, even if it was years ago. You talk about how it affected you, how bad it was or maybe even how unfair it was. Instead of focusing on your future, you focus on your past, and that would keep you from finding real happiness with a new partner – that would be sad!

Examples of rumination include replaying conversations that you had in your head, dwelling on a divorce or the end of a relationship that happened a long time ago, talking to your friends about the same things over and over, about all the “injustices” or “injuries” that happened to you, and how you were able to rise from it and move on. But did you really? Is it really moving on when you still think and talk about the same old stuff that happened a long time ago?

In my home country Austria, we have a saying: you either HAVE something or you TALK about it. If you’re self-confident you don’t need to talk about it all the time. If you’re really happy, you don’t need to post it on social media over and over. And if you really moved on from something, you don’t need to remind yourself all the time. If you need to talk about it all the time, then you are stuck. You are a ruminator.

What is rumination doing with you and why are people doing it?

There seems to be a correlation between ruminating and patterns of depressions (according to some recent studies). This makes sense, because how can someone feel good or happy if he or she is always thinking about negative past experiences? That’s like scratching on a wound over and over again (instead of letting it go and heal).

Psychological studies state that rumination seems to be correlated to “cognitive incompetence” and “cognitive consciousness“. It means that ruminating individuals are very well aware and conscious of their negative thoughts. They think about past experiences over and over again – up to a point where the thoughts create their own reality, sometimes exaggerating or even differing from what really happened. Ruminators often believe that their rumination will lead to solving a problem, but it really creates a loop where they are stuck in their own thoughts. Cognitive incompetence means that they cannot find they way out of the loop.

What can you do against rumination?

There is a quick and easy way to find out if you are a ruminator. If friends and family are telling you that you always complain about the same things, or if they even withdraw from you because you seem to be telling the same stories over and over again, you might be ruminating.

The first step would be to think about your “needs”. Very often, people cannot let go of their past because they need something to be “solved”. If you need “clarity”, “certainty”, “resolution” or “fairness” for something that happened a long time ago in your life, then these needs are holding you back. The key is accepting the past and truly move on (and not talk about it excessively anymore).

Sometimes we live in a world that isn’t fair. There will always be someone who is prettier or more handsome than you. There will always be someone who makes more money than you do. You cannot change it. Bad things happen. Breakups happen. Divorces happen. It is painful and sometimes it is unfair. For example, it might seem unfair when you suffered a painful divorce six months ago, and your ex-wife or ex-husband is already married again and so much happier than you. It might seem unfair, but who said that life is fair? You are only hurting yourself if you cannot let go of the past; the truth is that we are all responsible for our own good.

The sooner we accept that life can be unfair, the sooner we can accept to take our own fate in our own hands and embrace the present moment. The past already happened, we cannot change it. What we are able to change is the future – and that is truly yours.

So stop ruminating and blaming other people for your misery, and start living your own life – you deserve it.

Summary

We all may know someone who seems to live in the past; someone who is always talking about past experiences or someone who claims they learned a lesson from past experiences, but somehow they cannot stop talking about it – this is called rumination. The problem with ruminating people is that they truly believe they are “doing something”; however, they are not pursuing any goals, there is no progress happening in their life, they are literally stuck in the same train of thoughts – it like writing your own autobiography over and over again but nothing is changing for years. The first step would be to think about your “needs”. Very often, people cannot let go of their past because they need something to be “solved”. However, the sooner we accept that life can sometimes be unfair, the sooner we are able to let go because we simply cannot change it. The past already happened, we cannot change it. What we are able to change is the future – and that is truly yours.