Obsessive ruminations in mourning: what they are and how they appear

A grieving process is a complex process, both psychologically and emotionally, that we face when we lose a loved one (e.g. death, separation …).

Everyone experiences it in their own way, although it is true that we often need professional help to take this vital step.

On another side, obsessive ruminating in mourning occurs in many people. But what do they consist of? What features do they have? How do they appear? Do they have a psychological function? What examples do we know of? In this article, we will answer all of these questions.

    Obsessive rumor in duel: characteristics

    Before delving into the subject of obsessive ruminations in the duel, let’s remember what obsessive ruminations are. These consist of a type of repetitive thinking, which generates anxiety and discomfort, And that does not allow us to draw valid conclusions (in short, it is a question of bypassing persistent ideas).

    In grieving processes (when a relative or friend dies, during a separation or divorce, etc.), this type of rumination is common.

    As for its functionalities, we know that they lead to a lack of action in the person who suffers from them (i.e. passivity), As well as a lack of expression of affection and a loss of overview (because with them, we focus on only one part of reality).

    How do they appear?

    How do obsessive ruminations appear in mourning? We know that these manifest themselves, frequently, by uncontrolled and intrusive thoughts: They emerge into consciousness without our intention, and without warning.

    The forms they take are of the type: “What if …”, “If I could go back …”, “It’s all my fault”, “If I had acted differently …”, “I can’t live without him / her”, “I can’t live without him / her”, etc.

    These thoughts appear in the person’s mind repeatedly (repeatedly), and they tell us about aspects, situations or elements that our mind cannot yet accept; all of this relates to three main things: the circumstances of that person’s death, the relationship we lost, and the consequences of that loss.

    How do they work?

    Obsessive grief rumors manifest as a tendency to seek; that is to say, through them, we have explored some elements or circumstances that (hopefully) explain or justify the cause of death of that person we have lost.

    We have given some examples of these ruminations; we also know that these often take the form of a question. In this way, through them, we ask ourselves: why? How was? What happened?

    Obsessive ruminations in mourning are also manifested through a strong fixation on the details that accompany that person’s death; most of the time, these are trivial details or those that don’t really matter.

    Thus, the “little voice” (a foreign, imaginary voice) becomes a constant which asks us: what if …? (“What if I hadn’t acted like that, and if I had said goodbye, and if I had told her that I loved her, what if …”).

    Through these ruminations, we become obsessed with answering questions that surely don’t have an answer, Believing that this response will bring us a sense of relief (when in fact, it doesn’t have to be).


    On the other hand, through these intrusive thoughts we focus on the negative symptoms that have arisen as a result of the death we are grieving for, As well as in the possible causes and consequences of the same.

    We also focus – and this is very common – through these thoughts, trying to understand the why of this death (we searched for a meaning, a meaning). The result of all these processes is that we tend to go around things or ideas without arriving at a clear (or healing) answer, Using our mood and our energy.

    The obsession with ruminations

    In contrast, the obsessive ruminations of mourning, as the name suggests, are based on obsession. In obsessions, the experience of reality is mental; What does it mean? That we don’t live, but think we live. Thus, everything is focused on our mind, to turn the tide, look for answers, stroll … without putting anything into practice.

    In this mental experience, we focus on a specific aspect of our reality (or some of them); in this case, aspects related to the death of the deceased or our grieving process. As a result of all this, what happens is that we lose sight of the situation; we lose a large part of reality, by this fixation by carefully analyzing only a part of it (often a tiny part of it).

    In this way, we lose a lot of relevant information (information which, all things considered, does not make sense or matter to us at the moment). this this results in a loss of perspective and objectivity, And in a fragmented and reductionist view of what is really going on around us.

    Thus, we can characterize (or define) the obsession with obsessive ruminations in grieving as a rigid and inflexible cognitive fixation, which does not allow us to move forward in our grieving process and also hinders a healthy and adaptive process.

    Consequences of rumination

    Fixation on only part of reality which has the direct consequence of inaction on our part; in this way, we don’t act, we only think (rather than thinking, we “obscure” ourselves in certain types of thinking).

    To this inaction (or passivity), is added a great feeling of loneliness, characteristic of this vital stage that we are living and which is mourning.

    This way, people who experience frequent obsessive mourning tend to be isolated, What prevents them from connecting with their environment (this includes the things around them, the people, the landscape …) and with themselves.

    Impact on behavior

    Obsessive rumors in mourning also have an impact on the behavior of the person going through this process, and this results in: looking at the ground, talking to oneself (or the circumstances), losing touch with the environment and with itself, etc.

    When it comes to the latter, it often happens that the person has difficulty connecting with their subjective experience and with what they say to others.

    psychological functions

    However, while obsessive rumination in mourning is a somewhat pathological mechanism, it is also true that they perform a number of psychological functions. This is because the mind, although it sometimes plays its “traps” on us, will often have the function of protecting itself (or preventing us from suffering).

    These functions, proposed by Payás (2008), are classified into three major groups: linked to fatal trauma, linked to and linked to pain denial. Let’s see which functions correspond to each group and what each of them is composed of:

    1. In relation to the trauma of death

    In this case, the psychological functions of obsessive rumination are twofold: improve predictability (of what will happen) and search for meaning in death.

    2. Regarding the link

    There are also two functions here: on the one hand, to repair the feeling of guilt, and on the other hand, to continue the link (relationship) with this person who is no longer there.

    3. Regarding the denial of pain

    Finally, in the third group we find the following functions of ruminations: they provide a feeling of control and stability and they stabilize the fragile and dependent ego that we left behind after the tragic event.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Freeston, MH and Ladouceur, R. (1997). Analysis and treatment of obsessions. In VE Cavall (Dir.), Handbook for the Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Psychological Disorders (Vol. 1, pp. 137-169). Madrid: 21st century.
    • Payás, A. (2008). Psychological functions and treatment of obsessive rumination in mourning. Tower. Assoc. Esp. Neuropsiq., 28 (102): 307-323.

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