Depressive Rumination: The Root Of Depression
Many mental health professionals say depressive rumination is the hallmark of depression. This is the tendency to brood over a few characteristic negative thought patterns and lose control over the thinking process, so that depressive ideas keep intruding and crowding out others.
Why does it happen? Evolutionary psychologists propose that so many of us tend to engage in depressive rumination because evolution has selected it as a useful trait. They argue that depression makes sense as a problem-solving mode that spurs us to withdraw and deeply contemplate some thorny issue or situation. Ideally, it is self-limited. Either it leads to discovery of a solution, or, if there is no solution, the brooding should abate when at some deep level we sense that the situation can’t be helped and decide to move on.
Unfortunately, the process often goes awry and plunges people into lasting misery. When you are stuck in depressive rumination, you can’t stop chewing on your problems – which may be as vague and insoluble as “I am a loser.” There is no end point. No one seems to know why this happens; probably, the usual mix of genetic, lifestyle, and social factors is responsible. The practical challenge is how to get unstuck.
Managing thoughts might be one of the most difficult challenges for human beings. Our minds produce thoughts in continuous streams, as if from an engine whose controls are not accessible to us. Of course, some of these productions are very useful. They help us navigate the world and can make us feel more comfortable with ourselves and more content with our lives. I am certain, however, that a great deal of the fear, anxiety, and despair that people suffer arises from negative thoughts.
Until recently, Western psychology tried to alleviate this kind of emotional pain by making people aware of how they came to develop such thoughts – for instance by remembering incidents of abuse or failure in early life that might have started them. Many styles of therapy focus on bringing to light the why of negative thinking without giving people practical tools to change it.
Now, radically new forms of psychotherapy have become popular in the Western world. Practitioners of positive psychology and cognitive psychology teach people how to modify the process of thinking and replace negative thoughts with positive ones.