So I have a theory on why I (and other people) do this. I believe that in telling and retelling and retelling the story again and again, I am seeking resolution—some way to explain the sorrow or injustice or fear or pain at the center of the story, so that I can move on. But it’s like a broken record—it skips at the very same place and will keep repeating over and over again until I am able to take action by lifting up the needle and setting it down in another groove. (for those of you from generation whatever, see this link for the mechanics of phonograph records and needles.)
How, oh how, do you get to the next groove? That is the question.
You (and others if they get too tired of your repetition) can scream, “Stifle yourself!” at the first sign of broken record syndrome. But this does little or nothing to fix the problem...just as yelling at a skipping record album will not reset it to a new groove.
You have to finish the story. Explain it to yourself in a positive “I can move on now,” sort of way. Cognitive therapy is about this to some degree—hear the distorted thinking in your story (the catastrophic fear, the all-encompassing assumption, the unfounded guilt) and then offer yourself an counter-argument to keep it in perspective.
Suppose one of the repeating stories is about being a mother and making a mistake. Great mothers do make mistakes, because we are talking about on-the-job training here for one of the hardest jobs in the world, and nobody is perfect. Instead of going over and over the mistake you made, think of the ten things you did well as a mother recently—and write them down. Oh yes, you will come up with them once you get started. Because in all likelihood you are a good person, a good mother. Not perfect, but doing the best you can. This is what you would tell yourself if you could step outside and look back in.
And when someone else is being a broken record, help divert that person too—help him or her remember all the good things and finish the story in a positive way. As my Dad would have said, “I’d do it for a dog.”