What Is the Difference Between Self-Reflection & Rumination?

What Is the Difference Between Self-Reflection & Rumination?

A man looking into the distance

Reflecting on our words, thoughts, and actions is a healthy and important part of life and personal development.  

However, sometimes we cross a line and find ourselves ensnared in thought cycles without end. These thoughts can be obsessive, distressing, and counterproductive.  

When this happens, self-reflection ceases and rumination begins.  

The key difference between the two is that self-reflection is constructive when thoughts focus on past mistakes, triumphs, and areas of improvement. Rumination is destructive, because the focus becomes obsessing over mistakes and beating ourselves up over missteps.   

This post will focus on the difference between self-reflection and rumination and how you can identify when you are ruminating and some strategies for stopping. 


Our Thoughts Can be Constructive or Destructive 


Many of us want to improve and become better versions of ourselves. One key aspect of self-improvement is self-reflection, or considering our past thoughts, words, and actions and forming strategies to do better in the future.  

When self-reflection crosses into rumination, however, it can be unhealthy.  


What Causes Rumination? 


According to the American Psychological Association, common reasons for rumination include: 

  • The idea that rumination will help you gain insight into a deeper problem 

  • A history of emotional or physical trauma 

  • Facing ongoing stressors that cannot be controlled 

Rumination is common among those who possess characteristics such as perfectionism, neuroticism, and excessive focus on one’s relationships with others.   

Rumination is also common in people with certain mental health conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.  


What to Do If You are Ruminating? 


Awareness and willingness are two key components to escaping the cycle of rumination.  

Learn to recognize the difference between having a thought (whether that thought is wanted or unwanted), and actively thinking. Having a thought takes place in one finite moment, while actively thinking is taking one thought and analyzing it repeatedly to the point of counterproductivity.  

So, how do you stop ruminating? Here are a few quick steps.  


  • Identify the themes of ruminative thoughts.  

  • Accept that not everything will have an answer. Or that solving a question will not quell your anxiety. 
  • Identify the difference between rumination and problem-solving. Problem-solving will have a resolution while rumination involves reanalyzing the same problems repeatedly without end.  

  • Distract your thought process and focus your mind elsewhere. It is often a conscious choice to end the cycle of rumination, a distraction is often just the thing to break the cycle.  

  • Expect rumination to occur again. Do not let yourself be trapped in the cycle of rumination and use strategies that have worked before to break the cycle.  

  • When we forbid ourselves from ruminating, it can often have the opposite effect. Sometimes setting aside a short period to allow yourself to ruminate can be helpful to help you review your worries but not let them take over. Set a timer for fifteen minutes, allow yourself to ruminate, then move on.  


Child Focus is Here for All Your Mental Health Needs 


If rumination is a serious problem for you and you cannot break the cycle on your own, sometimes the help of a qualified professional is necessary.  

Learn to recognize the difference between self-reflection and rumination. Also, learn to recognize when you cannot break the cycle of rumination and find strategies that work for you.  

If you are struggling to break the cycle of rumination, then it is time to reach out to Child Focus. Our trained counselors and therapists have helped hundreds of people just like you address and overcome their mental health struggles.  

We proudly service adults, adolescents, and children in Clermont County, Brown County, Hamilton County, Butler County, Adams County, Highland County, and Warren County.  

If you are looking for professional counseling and therapy, reach out to Child Focus today! 

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