Just Can’t Let It Go... Ruminating on Conflict

Word Cloud "Rethink"

Many of us find it hard to let go of conflict situations. We go over and over in our minds how we felt, what we said, what the other person said, what we didn’t say and wish we had, what the other person didn’t do... and on and on and on. Rumination is tied to a sense of loss. This can be a loss of relationship, a sense of regret over the actions we took and cannot take back, or someone else letting us down. When we think over the events, we are often trying to find meaning in the experience.

Taking the time to reassess a conflict situation and how to do a better job in the future can be very healthy. Being stuck in the cycle of rumination is not.

Turns out there are a lot of good reasons to “let it go.”

Rumination has been tied to depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, binge eating and drinking (in an attempt to drown out the bad feelings). It can also be a reinforcing activity for someone who is depressed, because rehashing can provide “evidence” for helpless feelings and lead to further withdrawal from life.

So, what can you do to stop this cycle?

First, if you are feeling depressed, reach out for help. Therapies, both talk and drug, can help lift you out of depression making you better equipped to access your ability to problem solve and reengage in life. We are so fortunate to live in a time where help is readily available, so take advantage of it! Here are some resources to get you started: WebMD Psychology Today, NBCC.

If you don’t feel that rumination is getting in the way of your daily activities, you could try the following approaches which have proved successful for many:

  • Distraction helps as a short-term strategy to break the cycle. Engage in a fun or social activity, particularly one that is engrossing (i.e. a physically demanding activity, work you love, or time with friends). This not only shifts you out of the cycle, it reinforces positive feelings.
  • Once your mood is lifted, reappraise those aspects of the story/situation that are creating the negative feelings. Challenge the story you’ve been telling. Is this the only way to view it? Are there any positive outcomes or aspects? What would someone who didn’t know anyone involved say about the situation? How about someone who gives you the benefit of the doubt (i.e. your Mom, priest, best friend, dog)?
  • Counter-intuitive as it seems, simply allowing yourself to fully feel the feelings you experience while ruminating may lessen the grip. As your mind starts racing around simply observe how you are feeling physically without judgement. Notice the energy and power of those feelings. Resisting our feelings can increase the intensity and often blocks our ability to let go.
  • Writing about the situation, how you feel about it, and any meaning you can derive from the whole situation can often help to put it in perspective while literally getting it “out.” Just be careful not to use the writing exercise to continue ruminating and focusing on the negative.
  • Remember that feelings aren’t facts and one event does not tell the story of an entire life. Think about times that you did handle challenging situations well or that others did respond in the ways you desire. The more instances you can accumulate of the positive, the less power the negative story has.
  • If the issue you are ruminating about is one other’s share, join a support group. Studies have shown that those who have positive emotional support decrease their rumination about events!

Bobbie L. Dillon, M.S., empowers people to create Peace-Full Relationships™--fulfilling authentic relationships--as a Peace-Full Relationships™ Coach, Trainer, & Relationship Mediator™. Check out more resources and on-line and in-person classes at BobbieDillon.com. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, & LinkedIn

Sources used for this blog: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/01/20/why-ruminating-is-unhealthy-and-how-to-stop/; http://sonjalyubomirsky.com/wp-content/themes/sonjalyubomirsky/papers/NWL2008.pdf