Do you obsess about not being in a relationship? If you’ve ever felt like you’re playing the emotional equivalent of that whack-a-mole arcade game where thoughts erupt and hijack your peace of mind, you’re not alone. This mental habit is called rumination—obsessively dwelling on certain thoughts and symptoms, and it is the worst. Unlike other behaviors, rumination can be so subtle that we often don’t notice we’re doing it, and it’s completely portable. So we can practically ruminate constantly, even in yoga classes.
Frankly, it’s hard enough to cope with romantic disappointments without replaying them in your head, as my client, Emma, tended to do. A passionate and petite 39-year-old who works in politics, Emma was an experienced ruminator and one of the smartest women I’ve met. When I asked her about her therapy goals, she said, "I want to stop being crazy in relationships, and move on more easily after a breakup." She went on to describe her experience with Nina, her most recent ex. They’d dated for eight months and had split up about a month earlier. But Nina was still almost constantly on Emma’s mind, a spiral I could see in my office: "If Nina meets someone, I’ll definitely feel jealous. But I find her pathetic in so many ways. Maybe that means I’m codependent?" As she spoke, going through countless possibilities and catastrophes, it was clear that Emma was obsessed with thinking about love. She couldn’t tolerate the uncertainty of not knowing when she’d find her next partner, which she thought was the only way to exit her stressful existence.