Are we like hamsters?

Many of us are working to improve their emotional well-being by addressing past experiences and traumas, either by themselves or guided by a therapist. Let me be clear that I think paying attention to past experiences is important and traumas should not be ignored.

At the same time I think examining our negative experiences can be problematic, because doing so requires us to bring back the negative thoughts again and again, reliving the experiences and the pain they caused. The danger I think is that we become so focussed on them, that we get trapped in a vicious circle of rumination.

I was thinking about this recently after reading a book by psychologist Guy Winch, about which I have posted here before. I think Winch offers some valuable insights on rumination. He writes:

“When we encounter painful experiences we typically reflect on them, hoping to reach the kinds of insights and epiphanies that reduce our distress and allow us to move on. Yet many of us (…) get caught in a vicious cycle of rumination. (…) We become like hamsters trapped in a wheel of emotional pain, running endlessly but going nowhere.

“The danger of rumination is that is deepens whatever emotional distress we already feel about the events. Rumination increases our likelihood of becomming depressed, it fosters negative thinking, and it increases our psychological and physiological stress responses.”

“Ruminating about problems tends to make us even more upset about them, and the more upset we are the stronger the urge to ruminate becomes. (…) Hyperfocussing on painful emotions and experiences can damage our mood, distort our perspectives so we view our lives more negatively, and make us feel helpless and hopeless as a result.”

“Rumination causes us to stew in our negative feelings until we become so consumed with them that we begin to see our entire lives, histories, and futures more bleakly. Our negative outlook then causes us to view our problems as less manageable, to come up with fewer solutions to them, and to avoid implementing the solutions we do find.”

I call upon you to take some time to think about this. Do you think you are ruminating? Hyperfocussing on your negative thoughts? Is it helping you or might it be that it is making you feels worse?

I think we might be doing something wrong by paying so much (too much) attention to negative thoughts and experiences. I think Winch is right; many of us are like hamsters trapped in a wheel of emotional pain, running endlessly but going nowhere…