DR SHRIRANG BAKHLE tells us how to stop thinking repeatedly about a negative incident, and move on in life
When people consult me for their psychological problems, one of my first few questions is: “Do you keep thinking of the problem again and again?” Most of the times, the answer is yes. This is not the result of their problems, but rather, the cause of their problems.
Of course, the repetitive thinking of happy thoughts does not trouble us. In fact, we become happier. And we get a prolonged satisfaction out of it. But, painful thoughts, played again and again in the mind, can become a source of prolonged and intensified misery.
Thinking about a topic repeatedly is like inflating a balloon. To give an example, take a look at a balloon, which is really small – just a few centimetres – to begin with. But every time we blow into it, it becomes bigger and bigger. Finally, it seems quite huge and out of proportion to the actual size of the balloon. Our problems are like that. They may be small to begin with. For example, a young man was lightly ridiculed in the office about finishing the work late. It was almost like the routine pulling of the legs and making fun of each other among friends. But the man, who was always very sincere and very perfect in his work, felt hurt. He started brooding and endlessly thinking about ‘why the colleagues ridiculed him, do they think like this about him behind his back, isn’t it so unfair since he has always been good in his work, will it affect his promotion or worse, will it lead to him being sacked’, so on and so forth.
These thoughts were important for him because they were ‘emotional thoughts’. If a thought is emotional, it seems important to us. And because the thought is important, we keep thinking about it frequently, leading to the replay of associated emotions. This becomes a vicious cycle. But the main effect of this repetitive thinking is that, with every repetition, the emotion becomes more and more intense.
“I can’t understand my daughter. Why does she have to keep thinking about the quarrel she had with her friend more than a week ago?” People who do not brood find it difficult to understand why some persons have out of proportion intense emotions about seemingly small problems. We keep reading or hearing about people who commit suicide apparently for small problems such as not-so-good marks or break-up or some such reasons. In such situations, emotional brooding is the culprit.
But why doesn’t it happen every time when a problem is encountered? What makes some people more prone to such brooding? If you have close friends or family members with whom you can share your pains, there is less likelihood of a brooding cycle setting up. People who have moved to a new town and have not made friends yet, face this problem. People, who feel that their problem is too personal to be shared with anyone, are in the same boat.
It is not even necessary to share the problem to break the brooding cycle. If the person gets involved in some kind activity, the cycle breaks. For example, a young woman was caught in such a brooding trap after failing in an interview. I told her to go and play a vigorous game of badminton, since she was a badminton enthusiast. She did just that and the result was quite dramatic. “By the time I finished the game, my mind felt as light as a feather. The balloon burst. And I started wondering why I was feeling so emotional about not getting that job. I can always get another one.”
It was good that she could at least get involved in the game. Some people who get trapped in the cycle are simply unable to divert their minds from the ‘terribly important topic’, even if they or their dear ones try. For instance, some people feel that removing every germ from their hands is so terribly important that they keep washing their hands endlessly and are unable to divert their mind to other topics. This is the condition called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Thus, brooding makes a normal person drift into the clutches of many disorders such as depression.
So, what can be done to avoid this? Most importantly, recognise if you (or a near and dear one) is doing too much useless, unproductive brooding. If you feel you are, then talk to dear ones about the problem. Or, even if you don’t feel like talking about your problem, simply talk to people to get some fresh, new thoughts into your mind. If you can get fully involved in some different activity, there is nothing like it. Any which way, prick the balloon and cut it down to size. Come back and address the problem later with a fresh mind.