As we touched on in the last post, beginning early in our lives many of us developed very unhealthy core beliefs about ourselves, such as that we weren’t good enough or that we were unlovable or flawed in some significant way. These beliefs about ourselves cause immense suffering if we are in a state of fusion with them and they can be so thoroughly entrenched in the psyche that trying to alter them is an exercise in futility. This is why the antidote is not to waste our energy trying to dispute them, but rather, through mindfulness practice, to learn how to view them as insubstantial mental constructs.
Another kind of cognitive fusion is rumination: repeatedly and perhaps even compulsively turning over an idea in the mind. The Latin root is “chewing,” and you might think about a cow with its cud or a dog worrying a bone—we are capable of “chewing over” our mental constructs seemingly without end. A related idea is resentment, a word that holds the literal meaning “to feel again and again.”
We all find ourselves ruminating about various challenges in life from time to time—and you may have noticed for yourself that this often leads nowhere. Far from leading to effective solutions, our ruminations build upon themselves as they circle around in a closed loop. In fact, ruminations can catalyze progressively more intense emotions. As psychologist Rebecca Crane points out, once our internal style of thinking and experiencing has developed into a particular pattern, the pattern becomes entrenched and reinforced in direct proportion to the number of times we repeat that line of thinking. This serves to perpetuate our rigid patterns.
According to psychologist Zindel Segal, rumination has been found to be the primary mechanism responsible for relapse in major depressive disorder as well as in dysthymia (chronic, low-grade depression).
When we are not practicing mindfulness, we are not able to observe our moment-to-moment inner experiences and we rely instead upon intellect and language to interpret and attempt to influence the world around us—hence our endless inner chatter. This places our perceptions squarely amid our static thoughts and beliefs, and in that situation, we base our behavior on judgments stemming from what we are taught is right. This is a recipe for perpetuating cognitive fusion.