How to Stop Ruminating on an Argument

All my life I've had this issue that when I've gotten into an argument with someone, my brain gets stuck on a cycle of replaying the scene over and over and over again.  Usually I don't even realize it's happening until I'm in the middle of it.  It's like my brain is taking over and starts thinking these terrible things without my awareness, and when I catch it happening, it makes me feel irritated and unhappy.  I don't even realize why I'm in a bad mood until I become aware of what my brain is doing.

Say I have an argument with a friend or a family member.  I will replay our conversation over and over and over again, all throughout the day and night.  Usually it stimulates my brain so much that I can't even sleep at night.  Eventually it fades away, but this is only after many sleepless nights and irritating days (as well as me talking about the problem, over and over again, until I annoy everyone around me). 

This is called ruminating.  Ruminating is like refreshing the tab on a argument  over and over, without working anything out.  And it's caused by feeling bad about the situation that happened, so you ruminate about it, which makes you feel more bad, which causes you to ruminate more.  It's a never ending cycle of misery. 

To get out of this situation, you can do a few different things:

Keep Yourself Cheerful

After something negative has happened, try to find ways to keep yourself cheerful.  While there are times when you need to be angry at someone, because if you weren't, they could end up hurting you again, but most of the time we can just move on from it.  Not that it's easy to do.  But keeping yourself cheerful helps keep your brain from ruminating on the experience, since a negative mood leads to .  You can try:

  • Look at old photos of happy timesRemembering a time when everything was fun and great can put you in a great mood almost instantly.
  • Ask for advice.  If you ask the right people, you can get some amazing new insight into your situation.  Look for those that are wise and helpful and who can help you see how things can get better.  Do this with caution, because while sometimes the advice you get is amazing and helpful, other times it's detrimental to what you're trying to achieve, especially when asking online.  If someone answers you negatively, it's so easy to let that add to your already negative mood.  We tend to see actions like this as "just one more thing to add to my misery".  But the trick is when someone answers your question with negativity is to not take it personally and realize that person is going through something really negative in their own life and is taking it out on you, which brings us to.
  • Have compassion, if possible.  Don Miguel Ruiz writes in his book "The Voice of Knowledge" and in "The Four Agreements" that how other people treat you has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them.  How someone reacts to you is based upon what is going on in their lives at the moment.  Remember this when dealing with an argument.  If someone says horrible things about you, realize that deep down inside, they may be feeling that way about themselves. Or they may be lashing out because they are worried about something. 

    Many years ago, the bus monitor at my son's school treated me like crap every single day I dropped him off.   I used to get so angry with her and would dread seeing her outside the school each day.  One day, I showed up, looked right into her eyes, and instead of her pure hatred for me that I thought she felt, I saw pain.  So I softened my stance and said "Thank you for being here every day for our children.  Because of you, they are safe.  I am sorry if I don't use the crosswalks sometimes (she would always yell at me for that).  I am setting a bad example for the children, and I won't do it again."  She then softened her own angry face and smiled for the first time that I'd ever seen and said "Thank you.  Nobody ever thanks me, they just act like I am being a jerk.  I am just doing my job and nobody listens."  Her anger was never directed only at me, it was because everyone did what I was doing: being annoyed at her bossiness and rudeness and ignoring her and doing what we wanted instead.  I can't imagine trying to do my job and have everyone act like I was invisible.  So I could understand her over-the-top outbursts a little better.  If someone is mean to you, come up with reasons why it could be.  Every action happens because of something, so having compassion and realizing this can help you to not be angry and ruminate in feeling offended at something that may have nothing to do with you at all (or just a little to do with you, as it did with me and the bus monitor).
  • This one comes from the advice I got in my support group, who learned it from a Tony Robbins book (just to be clear: though while his advice can be very good, I do not support TR as someone anyone should invest one penny in, but I do find this particular piece of advice to be helpful).  When you want to replay the scene in which another person has yelled at you, imagine them as a cartoon character with a cartoon voice.  Put some cartoony music in there, too.  You can't help but laugh when imagining a person yelling at you in a squeaky voice who looks like a duck or something else.  Recently I went no contact with my narcissistic cousin, and when I think of the nasty stuff she said to me, I imagine her as a Goofy from Micky Mouse, voice and everything.  And instead of getting stuck ruminating, I start laughing 🤣
  • Surround yourself with hilarious movies and jokes.  Watch some comedians on TV or Netflix (I recommend Ali Wong!).  You can't be ruminating in negativity when you're laughing your ass off.  Every time you start ruminating, turn on something funny.  Replace the negative with laughter, and you'll be over the argument in no time.

Ground Yourself

Grounding is a technique used by many spiritual circles, as well as in the psychological field.  It's the act of bringing yourself back to the present moment, in the same way mindfulness is used.  So when you find yourself ruminating, break the cycle by grounding yourself.  Here is a great article on this: 

7 Simple Grounding Techniques For Calming Down Quickly

Listen to Music

Make a playlist that reminds you of awesome things, awesome times, and/or awesome people.  Music is a powerful drug for our brains and can transport us to faraway places and spaces.  Or pick a great playlist on Pandora, depending on the mood you want to evoke.  I pick a particular artist that I love, and let Pandora take it from there.  It never disappoints 😉

Participate in Some Art Medicine

Sometimes working with art or writing about your situation can help you see things you normally wouldn't see. You can try my recent post about using art to get past your angerOr try this amazing website (which also offers classes).  You can also start an art journal to work in where you can store all your art medicine projects.  Every time you start ruminating, pick up a pencil or whatever you like, and start drawing.  You can draw your pain or anger, or just draw something that makes you feel calm.  I prefer to paint, as it takes every single distraction out of my mind as I put my brush on the canvas.  But I can't always paint, so my second favorite type of art is zentangling.  This is a meditative type of drawing than calm your mind quickly and effectively, that can be done anywhere, anytime.  Check out my Pinterest on zentangling board here.  

Ruminating isn't usually a long-term issue, although sometimes it can be.  When it's not, you can use the techniques to help rid yourself of these unwanted thoughts and replace them with things that make you feel good.  If it does end being a long-term issue, I highly suggest you seek outside help with a therapist or a psychiatrist.  They can better assist you as to how to control those unwanted and unneeded thoughts.  

I hope these suggestions help you on your journey, as they have for me 🙂

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