Trapped in Reflection
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.