The Rumination Mind Trap
Psst… I am about to reveal my age. Back in the day we use to have these things called record players and they played these round disks called records. (By the way, I hear that vinyl records are making a huge comeback!) Before the compact discs (CD’s) came out, we would listen to our music on records.
I would spend hours listening to my records. I had an eclectic taste in music, so I had records from many different groups. The thing about records was you had to handle them with care because if you scratched them…well, the song would get stuck then you would have to lift the needle and place it in a groove past the scratch, which was really an inconvenience if you wanted to sing along with the song.
As a kid, I had a record player that kind of looked like a suitcase. I could close it up and carry it with me. It wasn’t like the “boom boxes” we carried on our shoulder and listened to as we walked down the street, you know, because we were so cool and all. Oy! Oh, the good ol’ days!
No, I’m not writing about records and record players, but there is something we do that is very similar to a record player, only the music is not as good. It’s called rumination.
Anyone who has experienced emotional or physical trauma knows all about ruminating, even if they don’t know there is an actual word for what their mind is doing.
What is Ruminating?
Ruminating is when your mind goes over something again and again and again. It’s like a record with a scratch, you get stuck, stuck, stuck, stuck, stuck… and stuck again. You get the picture. Over and over you think about someone or something, you replay it over in your mind as if you were still there in that moment, trapped, and you imagine every scenario that you could have done to change it. You dissect everything, to try to understand why it happened.
Ruminating can be dangerous to your mental health. It prolongs the pain you experienced from trauma, and it delays the healing and freedom from the bondage of the injury and the person who inflicted it. It’s kind of like hell on repeat. You see, here’s the thing, no matter how much you replay something in your mind, it will never change what happened.
Reflection is a good thing. It is helpful to reflect if the intent is to learn from it so you can move on and hopefully never repeat the same mistakes. But ruminating is not reflecting, it is a pit, and you are in the center of it and digging the hole bigger and bigger. I know because I was stuck in that pit before. Grief! I was so far in that pit I couldn’t see the light of day. My morning thoughts and my night thoughts and my every thought in between was stuck, stuck, stuck, stuck!
Sometimes things happen in our life that is beyond our control. You’re cruising along and all of a sudden you hit a speed bump, then another, and another. Maybe you swerve to avoid the bump only to crash into a wall. Ruminating is like backing up and crashing into the wall again, to back up and crash into it again, to back up and crash into the wall again… you get the picture?
You are more prone to ruminating if you have a history of emotional or physical trauma. The negative and painful thoughts become repetitive until you can think on little else. You become consumed by your thoughts, trapped in a memory, trying to re-write a past instead of moving forward in your future. Most everything in the present is overshadowed by the memory and you are stuck, stuck, stuck!
I have been there. Let me tell ya, I know the pain of a mind twisted in a knot of yesterdays sorrow. You can think about yesterday until a thousand todays have passed you by and it will not change yesterday. But you can change your tomorrows, by changing the way you think today before your yesterday’s change you.
We all have a story, and I don’t assume to know yours. I am not a one size fits all kind of person. What works for one, may not work for another, but there is a starting point you can launch from to help you move past the place that has you stuck.
How to Stop the Ruminating
My story started as child with an abusive father. This set the stage for me to be susceptible to unhealthy relationships and bad decision making. With each bad decision I would suffer the fall out and get stuck in my mind. I would beat myself up thinking there was something wrong with me and I would replay everything over and over again in my mind. I was a functioning emotionally unhealthy person until I could not function anymore. Maybe you are there now? There is hope, dear Reader, and here are some steps you can take to start your journey to wholeness.
1.Seek Help. If after an extended period of time you can not break the pattern of being locked in your mind, then seek help with a counselor/therapist that can help you weed through the dark thoughts that are preventing you from moving forward. Extended periods of trauma and stress can wreak havoc and cause chemical imbalances; sometimes medication can help you to get back on track, but don’t rely on medication alone, do the work required through counseling to get yourself healthy again. It is not a sign of weakness to seek help. Actually, it’s quite brave to reach out for help. A drowning person would be foolish to not grab a life preserver.
As a Christian, I can testify that counsel combined with faith and action will yield positive results, which brings me to the next step…
2.Take Control of Your Thoughts. Ruminating causes us to be glued to the pain, negativity, and trauma. Are you willing to let go of the past and move forward? There will be a time to look back and learn from the experience, but this might not be the time, just yet. First you must get grounded so you will not be swallowed up in your own mind. It is hard to see things for what they are when you are looking through a lens mired with pain.
The Bible tells us that the peace of God, that peace that reassures the heart and transcends all understanding will stand guard over your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus. Whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things, center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart.
I know it is hard to think on the positives, especially when you are in the throes of pain, but it is possible with God and your determination to take action. Retraining your mind how to think does not invalidate the pain (or the source of it), but it does help you to take your control back. You are stronger than you think. You can do this! When I could not think on the positives, because I was stuck in darkness and trying to fight my way out with both arms tied, I turned to the Psalms. David wrote a lot of Psalms that were raw, and he did not try to hide his feelings from God. We can learn a lot from the Psalms, it is encouraging, and it helps to know we are not alone.
Recognize when your thoughts are starting to go south and take them captive. You are not a passenger on the crazy train, you are the driver, and you are on your way to better days.
3.Take Action. You can’t just sit around and wait for things to get better. You can’t hope your mind will stay blank, numbing and ignoring a problem NEVER made it better. Surround yourself with trusted friends who will help speak life into you. Avoid people who want to rehash and agree with the negativity. Misery loves company, so stay away from miserable people! Yes, your close circle must be exclusive.
Choose a friend or two to help you refocus. When you feel the dark thoughts coming call them up, meet them for lunch, and be honest with them. Allow them to hold you accountable when you start going south. For me, it was helpful to have Christian friends who have a personal relationship with Christ and know His word and what He says about me to speak life to me and help me to see my thoughts were not in line with His thoughts. A word of caution though, you must take responsibility for your thought life and healing, do not wear your friends out. Your friends are there as a bumper to nudge you back on the right path, they are not your healer. Only God heals, let Him be the first friend you turn to.
4.Dig In. Now that you have laid some groundwork and started making progress, it is time to get to the root. It is human to want to change other people and to even wonder what was wrong with us that they could hurt us so. But dear Reader, this is not about them, it is about and for you.
Speaking of Psalms, one of my favorites is Psalm 139 and I have prayed it often. “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” When you are ready to roll up your sleeves and do the work and allow God to fully heal your heart and your mind, then the prayer of Psalms is a good place to start.
You see, we all have patterns, coping mechanisms, and we learn them young in life. Sometimes what helped us survive when we were younger becomes our downfall later. As children, if we were in a dysfunctional and abusive environment, we learned how to protect ourselves. At the time it was a gift and necessary. When we become adults, these mechanisms are not healthy.
Maybe what others would view as dysfunctional became your norm and anything else felt uncomfortable to you, so you avoided it, hence the cycle of poor decisions and toxic relationships. You believed the lie that you did not deserve to be loved and accepted for who you are. You believed the lie that you are not worthy.
When I say dig in, I do NOT mean to focus on what caused you pain, though it does need to be addressed, but you can’t stay there. You must learn what God says about you. You must learn what your true identity is. You must learn AND believe that God created you with a HOPE and a FUTURE.
Friend, I pray this is the day you choose to take the first step to your healing. If the record is scratched, it’s OK to change the song, you don’t have to be stuck there. You were created for so much more. When you can’t, God can.
Be Free & Stay Free