Usually people who ruminate compulsively know that they are doing it, and are just having trouble stopping. Sometimes, though, people will say that they’ve stopped ruminating but are still thinking about their obsessions all the time. When someone says they’re not ruminating but they’re still constantly thinking about their obsessions, it’s very possible that they are actually still ruminating. Three possible reasons that someone might not realize they’re ruminating are:
- Lacking awareness
- Relabeling rumination (calling it something else)
- Inconsistently refraining from rumination
Let’s take these one at a time:
- Lacking Awareness
Many people simply don’t notice that they’re ruminating. This problem is straightforward and easily solved.
A simple way to address it is to keep a written log of any thinking in any way related to the OCD. It’s not important to write out the entire thought process, just to notice that it’s happening and to jot down the overall topic. This is an easy way to build awareness, which is necessary to the process of eliminating compulsive rumination.
2) Relabeling Rumination
Sometimes people don’t realize that the thinking they’re doing about their OCD or anxiety is compulsive rumination because they call it something else. Some of the most common disguises for rumination are:
- Planning, anticipating, preparing
- Self-reflecting, introspecting, trying to understand the OCD/anxiety
- Finding a good way to frame/think about the issue
- Thinking about the topic of the OCD/anxiety, or a related topic, for enjoyment or intellectual stimulation
And the sneakiest of them all:
- Doing a mental exposure (Figuring something out is a compulsion, not an exposure, even if it involves thinking about something that triggers anxiety.)
Basically, rumination may include any form of analytical thinking that relates to the obsession.
3) Inconsistently Refraining from Rumination
This problem is self-explanatory. There are many possible reasons for inconsistency, among them: lacking awareness, justifying, mislabeling, lacking distress-tolerance.
This problem can be especially disheartening if the person doesn’t realize they’re being inconsistent, and thinks that they’re putting in the work and that the OCD/anxiety just isn’t getting better. Treating OCD/anxiety requires consistent response prevention (elimination of compulsions).
It can be helpful to think of OCD as a serious allergy, as opposed to a diet. When you’re on a diet, you can cheat sometimes. If you have a serious allergy it’s never justifiable to eat the food you’re allergic to “just this once,” because it makes you sick. Compulsions make you sick.
The three issues above may come up multiple times and in multiple ways, but don’t despair: identifying and addressing them becomes progressively easier with practice.
Strategies for consistently refraining from rumination are discussed in How Do You Stop?