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Trapped in Reflection (Overthinking)(Psychology Today)

Trapped in Reflection (Overthinking)(Psychology Today)

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Published by KAW
I was diagnosed with severe Attention Deficit Disorder when I was in my mid-40s. It explained a lot. This article is relevant to what tends to go on in my head.
I was diagnosed with severe Attention Deficit Disorder when I was in my mid-40s. It explained a lot. This article is relevant to what tends to go on in my head.

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Published by: KAW on Jul 10, 2007
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05/08/2014

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Trapped in Reflection
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Summary: Women can get caught in a downward spiral of negative emotions.
When it comes to differences between men and women, some are, as the French havealways known, highly worthy of celebration. Others, however, are more often a source of confusion and downright misunderstanding between the sexes.Among the latter, one of the most distinctive is invisible to the eye. Men and women differdramatically in their approach to negative emotions such as sadness. Specifically, men avoidthem, and women don't.And therein lies a problem, says psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Ph.D. Unfortunately,women can get stuck in negative emotions, caught in a downward spiral of hopelessnessand immobility. And that, she finds, is a major reason women are twice as likely to developdepression as men are.Over the past decade, Nolen-Hoeksema, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has found that women are far more inclined to ruminate about the stressors anddisappointments they encounter--and get stuck there. They focus on symptoms of distressand the possible causes and consequences of them, repetitively and passively.They go over and over their negative thoughts and feelings, examining them, questioningthem, kneading them like dough. And like dough, their problems swell in size.At the very least, such rumination makes life harder. And it damages relationships along theway."When there is any pause in our daily activities, many of us are flooded with worries,thoughts and emotions that swirl out of control, sucking our emotions and energy down,down, down. We are suffering from an epidemic of overthinking--caught in torrents of negative thoughts and emotions that overwhelm us and interfere with our functioning andwell-being."We are, in short, experiencing an epidemic of morbid meditation, the Michigan psychologistcontends in a new book Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinkingand Reclaim Your Life (Henry Holt).What is it that women ruminate about? The short answer is, almost everything: theirappearance, their families, their career, their health. But most of all they ruminate abouttheir relationships and about their body.They might begin thinking about a recent conflict with a friend: How could she have saidthat to me? What does she really mean by that? How should I react?But such questions just lead to more questions, what Nolen-Hoeksema calls "the yeasteffect." Negative thoughts might start out about a specific event or situation but theyexpand and grow, spreading to more situations and leading to big questions about one's life.And--here's the kicker--they get more negative with time.
 
Of course, some rumination is natural, even necessary. But people who ruminate a lotamplify negative events. They dredge up more negative memories from the past, are morepessimistic about the present and more fatalistic about the future. That tilts them moretowards despair, and renders them less likely to take positive action to either dispel thenegativity or resolve underlying problems.Their ruminations often center on relationships, because relationships are very important towomen. Yet the social support that ruminators seek from their intimates often eludes them.For one thing, they wind up torturing those closest to them with their oversize need forreassurance. Plus, the very hopelessness of ruminators makes them unpleasant to bearound. So while they seek out others more, they actually get less of what they want fromthem.Let's make it clear: overthinkers are not your standard worriers. Bread-and-butter worriersare concerned about what may happen to them in the future. Overthinkers go over and overwhat happened in the past. And they become dead certain something bad has alreadyoccurred.Being in touch with one's negative emotions is not in itself a bad thing. Some of it isnecessary. And a good deal of evidence shows that those who suppress unpleasant feelingsare at risk for a host of physical ills.But "negative emotions don't necessarily give us a direct line to our truest, deepestconcerns," says Nolen-Hoeksema. They impose a lens "that shows a distorted, narrow viewof our world." And instead of seeing the unvarnished reality of our past and our present,"we see only what our negative mood wants us to see."Nor is the solution to just stop thinking. Many of the problems being ruminated about arereal problems and they have to be dealt with. But the research Nolen-Hoeksema has doneshows that rumination makes people terrible problem solvers.It makes problems seem larger than they are and leads people to make catastrophicdecisions, as when someone confronts a boss and quits a job, rather that ironing out thereal and manageable issues. And even if ruminators can come up with a solution to theirproblems, because rumination makes their problems seem so large it saps their motivationto take even the littlest steps towards solutions.In one study, Nolen-Hoeksema and her colleagues presented to depressed andnondepressed subjects a series of problems commonly faced by depressed people. Forexample, one of the problems was, "Your friends don't seem to want to be with youanymore." Then they asked the subjects how they would go about solving the problems.The depressed ones who had been overthinking generated terrible solutions.When asked what they would do if a friend avoided them, they said things like "I guess I'd just avoid them too." But depressed people who had been distracted from overthinkinggenerated solutions that were likely to improve their lives. They said things such as "I'd askthe person I was closest to in that group what I was doing that made people avoid me."If overthinking is so bad for us, why then do we do it? "The organization of our brain sets usup for overthinking," Nolen-Hoeksema contends. The thoughts and memories stored in our

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