Ruminating vs. Processing. Do You Know the Difference?

I often find that people are confused about the difference between ruminating on the past and processing the past. They think they are doing one when, in reality, they are often doing more of the other. I can see where the confusion exists – both ruminating and processing involve thinking about (and perhaps talking about) the past.

And that’s about where the similarities end.

So then what does separate ruminating from processing?


Rumination starts in the past and it stays in the past. It starts with thought and it stays with thought. It is time spent pondering the “what ifs” and playing choose-your-own-adventure with experiences now past. Rumination gets you nowhere. It has no goal and no purpose apart from endlessly exploring those well-tread mental paths. It can be a trap as its labyrinthine cords bind you to your past. Rumination thrives on recursive thought, one idea leading you to the next and to the next with no external input.

It’s easy to ruminate. Trigger a sad memory and this can easily be the default setting initiated. It’s the automatic pilot of the traumatized mind. It takes no energy to sustain and, in fact, requires energy to break out of its insidious cycle. Excessive rumination may be a sign of depression. If you find that you are having difficulty breaking out of the cycle, seek help. It’s out there.


Processing may initiate from the past, but it is then future-focused. It begins with thought and then continues in action. Unlike the unfocused meandering of rumination, processing is directed. There is an end goal in mind and steps are taken to reach that intention.

When you’re processing, you’re not just going over it.

You’re making sense of it.

It’s difficult to process. First, you have to summon the courage to face things you would rather bury and leave for dead. Then, you have to be willing to take responsibility not only for your part in whatever happened, but also for your well-being going forward. The past must be examined for patterns and connections. New input needs to be considered and assumptions dropped; the well-worn mental paths may indeed be missteps and it might be time to carve some new ones. Those memories can be combed through until sense is made and the endless loops are broken.

And then comes the hardest part. Processing requires action.

It’s not just your thoughts that need to change in order to release the past.

You do.

Thank you for sharing!

15 thoughts on “Ruminating vs. Processing. Do You Know the Difference?

  1. SassaFrassTheFeisty – Indianapolis, IN – I'm a mother of two-mostly amazing-kids. This is my journey towards healing from the ruin of my marriage and 10 year relationship to my kid's "dad", my stories of dealing with really good and really bad days, learning to cope and move on. I have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 1 with mania and ADHD-look! Something shiny!!-and Postpartum Depression. I love completely and passionately. Just don't piss me off, because I'll burn that bridge-and I'll stand on it and watch the flames consume everything. Sass 101 First-As my name suggests I am a Feisty Lil Thang. I tell it like it is. It is no holds barred on my blog. If you expect fluffy puppies, rainbows and sunshine, exit Stage Right because it ain't gonna be here. If you expect no cussing and positivity, and that I pray to a God or deity, exit Stage Left. That's not here either. What's here is real, honest, raw and truthful. This is my journey through the last 18 months from the separation of my husband and the JOYOUS roller coaster my family has been on. Oh yes, I did forget to mention-I am a sarcastic quick witted one. Sasscasm is trademarked by the ever Butch Blah. Don't mess with her Dragon, he eats assholes for breakfast. We have a tribe here that is very exclusive-seriously. If you're lucky enough to enter, you are worthy enough to partake in our Femme Speak. If not, just nod your head yes, and move on. I have Bipolar 1 with mania and I cycle into depression 2 times a year. This year has been an exception to the rule considering this year has just been shit. I've been to my local psych hospital twice in less than 10 months-once for depression, once for a psychotic episode resulting from over medication. YAY! Piss on that shit. If it hadn't been for Blah, I never would have gone. Thank you Blah. I lurve you! I have 2 kids-a boy I call NSLM-Not So Little Man-because Anxious Mom has her LM. Didn't want to steal her LM's thunder :) And I have a daughter referred to as Monkey-it's self explanatory. They are also referred to as my Heathens-yes I can call them that because I gave birth to them, I know them and they act like Heathens at times-just thank the Good Lord they aren't Hellians or I'd be in jail. I have an almost 5 year old purebred Red and Black German Shepherd named May-she's momma's baby, and Monkey is on her THRID guinea pig in about a year-thank her dad for that one. This one is S'mores and he's a wheeker and fat and fluffy. My kids and I live with my parents, because I'm not stable or healthy enough to work and live on my own. I have FINALLY found my magic pill cocktail-for now-and I have clarity for the first time in my life. I no longer use the word "stable" I use baseline. I've been on a lot of meds over the years, and since the last med I was on and overmedicated I have become med sensitive-SUPER YAY. I'm good at recognizing side effects and can tweak a med time better than a dr. Not cocky, just fact. I'm that in tune with my body. I'm also very emotionally charged. My emotions have always ruled my decisions, and I don't see that changing, but I am now better to stop and think things through before making a decision-some of the time. I'm mouthy, but I have a huge heart of gold, and I get hurt easily. And when I talk about people on here in my life off of WordPress they get their own special nicknames. DB-Douchebag. BBFL-Best Bitch For Life-My best friend in Alaska that I HOPE I get to see soon. EG-English Gentleman-a guy that I've bee talking to for a year that lives near Scotland and is on an 8 month trip around the world, and will be stateside in January. I can't wait to meet him in person! Cute Neighbor Guy. There were two guys that were named for the states they lived in, and I think I've deleted everything about Florida but the last post-Thank you Andrew for the title, you brilliant dictionary, you. Then there are my most supportive friends here: Anxious Mom, Andi, Zoe, Diane, Morgue, Blah, Chris, Sparkly Pants ;) Victo, Tessa, Bipolarfirst, bp7o9, Vic, Kitt, Leslie, and my newest BUDDY Andrew. I know I've forgotten some people and I SERIOUSLY apologize given the state of my brain haze, I hope you don't hate me!! I know you don't, I'm just overly dramatic. No I'm not...yeah, yes I am. ;) So, if you can't handle my sarcastic tongue and my cursing that can make sailors blush, the lobby exit is in the top right corner with a little X. That being said, I hope you new arrivals aren't just looking for blogs for numbers-this isn't that kind of blog. And I rather like interactive people on my little slice of the crazy pie-well, more like peach cobbler because it's my favorite but ANYWAY. I don't follow back just because you follow me. I may not be too picky about my food, but I'm picky about my men and the blogs I follow. With that, I shall bid you Welcome to Sasstopia, and may you stay to be among my Sassafrains. Reggie my Pegacorn is tethered out back as he doesn't do well with new people. I shall be shining my spork launcher on the table, next to my melon baller and grapefruit spoon all soaked in syphilis. If you have any questions, fucking ask. I don't do vague. LOVE YOU! <3
    sassafrass20 says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I really needed this at this particular point in my processing stage of “making sense of everything”. I love your blog and posts. 😊

  2. Reblogged this on How To Not Hate My Husband and commented:
    Some good ideas for me here.. action causes me pain, wallowing causes me pain, seems like so much getting over this nonsense causes me pain and I can see now how bcxzzzdfxzxxzzymj

  3. Wonderful post! It’s hard to get to the processing point, but once you do, it’s a wonderful feeling to get PAST the past. Learn from it and never repeat it. 🙂

  4. Becca – Fraser Valley, BC, Canada – Undergoing a massive life change, I quit my job in 2013, moved, and five weeks later my husband left me. The phoenix process is well underway now, and I am anticipating good things in my future as I become more aligned to my authentic self.
    Rebecca Clare says:

    Great article Lisa. Rumination can not only lead to depression, it can lead to, keep active, and increase anxiety.

  5. BecHanson – I am a woman who likes to discuss relationships, pop culture and life. I find the interplay between the sexes a fascinating puzzle.
    BecHanson says:

    Very well researched and helpful as usual Lisa. It was a huge step forward for me when I started to understand the difference between the two and stopped ruminating, what a relief, it’s exhausting!

  6. Janna The Warrior – This is my story. My journey out of my prison cell as a victim and the journey to freedom. This is a hopeful place for survivors, warriors & supporters who are fighting the battle against violence/abuse by an intimate partner. This includes verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse and violence.
    Janna's LifeDay says:

    Great post! It was interesting and well written

  7. souldancer44 – A little wacky but loving single mother and teacher looking to release pent up anger, sadness and heartache through writing, listening and sharing with like minded individuals who don't mind laughing at their own mess ups
    souldancer44 says:

    Excellent! You are so articulate with your thoughts!

Leave a ReplyCancel reply