• Michelle Barsky

What Is Rumination and How Is It Related To Trauma?


You wish you could think about anything else – but no matter how hard you try, your mind drifts back to an event that left you traumatized. For hours on end, you dwell on these negative thoughts. This involuntary habit is known as rumination.


Rumination involves repetitive focusing on a negative event. You might try to over-analyze the meaning of a particular event, or struggle to figure out the roots of your resulting symptoms. It’s a cognitive avoidance strategy. Rumination makes you feel like you’re solving a problem, but what it actually does is temporarily put off the messy work of healing.


Here’s why rumination and trauma are linked, and why it can so difficult to stop ruminating after experiencing trauma.


Rumination Occurs Randomly

You don’t have much control over rumination. It can occur randomly. Like many symptoms of trauma, it can become disruptive. You may be sitting at your desk at work focusing on a project, or out to dinner with friends, when these thoughts crop up. Suddenly, your mind is elsewhere.


Rumination can even feel like a train of thought that is always running in the back of your mind. This is because rumination is a sign that you haven’t processed your trauma yet, and your brain is naturally going to continue mulling over it, trying to work out the problem.


Intrusive Thoughts

Rumination doesn’t just feel disruptive. It can feel downright intrusive. You may feel you have no choice but to analyze the situation over and over again when you’re faced with a reminder. Part of you may even feel violated.


No matter what, you continue cycling through these intrusive thoughts, over and over again. While working with a therapist can provide you with the healing tools you need to manage this behavior, it is generally not easy for someone who has undergone trauma to prevent these thoughts.


Influences Physical Symptoms

You may experience physical symptoms of trauma simply because our bodies tend to hold on to the memories of traumatic events. Unfortunately, rumination can exacerbate your physical symptoms. Your body and brain are inextricably connected, and you cannot fully separate your mental and physical health.


When you’re dwelling on these thoughts, your body reacts, too. You might have headaches, stomach pains, muscle aches, or trouble falling asleep.


All-Encompassing

Sometimes, rumination can feel like more than getting trapped in an endless loop of negative thoughts and traumatic memories. You might feel you are experiencing the traumatic situation all over again. In the present moment, you might clearly recall every little detail, from the temperature that day to the smells you remembered.


When this happens, rumination can feel all-encompassing. You’re trapped in the same scenario again, and mentally, you don’t know when you’ll be able to feel free.


Searching for a “Way Out”

When you’re ruminating, you might run through different courses of action in your brain. Your brain is rethinking every aspect of the event. You may try to figure out how you could have avoided a particular outcome. What if you had done something differently? Or what if you had prevented yourself from entering the situation in the first place?


Even if it was not possible, or if you were not responsible for anything that occurred, your brain is trying to problem-solve retroactively. If you haven’t fully healed from your trauma, you might ruminate in an attempt to “fix” the past.



Are you struggling with rumination after a traumatic event? Talking to a trauma therapist can help you heal. Reach out today for a free phone consultation.


To learn more about PTSD and trauma treatment, click the link!