Circular Issues

Do you ever find that you’re circling back to the same core issue(s) time and again, even though, on the surface, they seem different and even unrelated? How the hell did I wind up back here again?, you wonder.

Sometimes we have an idea of what’s needed or even know the solution to a particular issue. However, because we don’t like what that solution looks like and represents in terms of the decision or the actions we’ll have to undertake, we opt to do something else. In fact, it’s likely we’ll do whatever creates the least discomfort . Or, we’ll certainly do a lot less than what the alternative involves.

We’ll make these tweaks, and they may provide some temporary relief. Soon enough, though, we’re complaining about that same person’s inconsiderateness. Or, we’ve substituted one worry or even drama for a fresh worry or drama. It’s as if we feel most at ease when we’re wondering what we’ve done wrong ‘now’.

A friend told me how “nothing is ever good enough” for her mother or the boss who doesn’t praise her enough. Her boyfriend’s ex is also “amazing”, apparently, (she looked her up on Facebook) and “a threat”. There’s also the very quiet coworker that keeps to himself, and yet she’s taking it personally. Oh, and the frenemy who’s behaving badly, and the worry list goes on. She then asked if I could spot the problem. Yes. There’s a theme.

Several different situations over a period of time with unconnected people. No, it’s not that she’s not “good enough” or that these are all her fault.

The theme in these stories is that she thinks that there’s something wrong with her.

She sees her worth at the centre of other people’s behaviour and ends up people pleasing to compensate and validate. It doesn’t mean that some of these issues aren’t issues. However, they would be less of an issue or certainly an issue put into perspective if she wasn’t riding what little self-esteem she has like Zorro. It would also help if she weren’t struggling with a long, drawn-out Worry and Imagination hangover.

When we…

  • Keep talking about the same issue as if it’s fresh when it’s not
  • Have the same thought and action responses to certain feelings
  • Feel a certain way in response to something that occurs and then slip into the habits of thinking and behaviour that we put off working on or assigned a different ‘solution’ to…

it means that we’re circling back to the same issue(s). Ultimately, we have a circular issue: all roads lead back to the issue we need to confront or the work we need to do.

We’re masking, not fixing. I experienced this when I took steroids to suppress sarcoidosis, an immune system disease I was diagnosed with at 27. Doctors explained that they didn’t know why I had it and that there was no cure. Sure, I suppressed the disease for a year… but then the steroids gave me a host of other problems. Then, within weeks of coming off them, the original symptoms came back even more aggressively. Doh!

Circular issues always occur when we act unconsciously, tend to see external solutions as the fix for internal issues, and incorrectly diagnose issues and/or keep prescribing unhealthy fixes.

They happen because we don’t trust ourselves to judge the situation or listen, look inwards, and then act.

When we default to inaccurate diagnoses and solutions, it’s the whole using the same map and route that keeps leading us to the wrong place. And we’re still expecting to turn up elsewhere. Or maybe it’s that the last time we took a train, the time before that, we took a bus, and this time, we took a plane, but we were still headed for the same painful destination.

When we’re in these situations, we might describe these events as if they’re entirely unrelated to unhealthy habits of thinking and behaviour that were present before the situation presented itself. We act as if we have no ‘data’ in our database that could help us problem-solve, gain perspective, and respond differently to the last time.

Of course, the particulars of a situation are unique. Still, we’ve had past experiences where we’ve, for instance, felt under threat when it wasn’t a threat. We’ve forecast doom and gloom that far outpaced reality. We’ve had to make decisions. Hell, we may even have experience doing the same thing the other person has and are in a position to empathise.

By acting as if nothing we’re going through has any relevance to our typical responses or that we have no prior experience to contribute, we’re acting unconsciously while overloading our resources.

We’re almost expecting to learn and assimilate each situation anew without referencing our self-knowledge. Fine if we have the luxury of living to be several hundred years old but not so helpful when we have a life to live. To make matters worse, it’s not as if we find “new” ways. No, we apply our typical habits of thinking and behaviour, albeit with tweaks here and there.

The vital clue to whether we’re circling back to the same issues is how we respond.

These issues depend on each other. If we won’t address a core issue, such as a poor sense of self and not wanting to treat ourselves with the very basics of love, care, trust, and respect, other issues will stem from this, hence the circular issue. By continuing to dodge the work and to look outside of ourselves for the fulfilment of our self-esteem, the same set of beliefs governing the core issue weaves their way through the fabric of the other issues.

What this means, though, is that when we start adapting habits, the other dependent habits collapse.

This was one of my early lessons in learning to like and love myself. Creating boundaries with myself and others and practising self-care habits forced me to realise that it was a waste to start taking care of my health if I was only going to feed my mind with crap or engage in toxic behaviours. Feeling bad started to be an early-warning signal to step up and/or step out.

While some of us on the planet like to operate our lives as if we can press the reset button each day, in reality, everything we’ve been thinking, saying and doing has a connection. If we’re repeating unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaviour, there’s a cumulative effect. Granted, we can get away with this stuff for a little or even a long while, but the pain of these habits will make itself known. It might start out feeling like a minor irritation that can be clouded out by the high of what we’re being and doing. Gradually, though, it will make itself painfully known.

A key lesson I’ve had to learn, particularly with family, is to ask myself: If I can’t change the situation, the person’s feelings, behaviour or personality, what can I change?

It will take more time to Jedi mind trick people than it will to learn healthy boundaries. I also have no interest in trying to influence and control people’s behaviour whether it’s by pleasing or by force. As a result, what I can change is how I respond.

It turns out that the answer isn’t to find ways to fit in and acclimatise to unpalatable behaviour. Instead, ensure that if and when stuff bothers you, it bothers you for the right reasons, not because you’re going, “Hmmm, my father let me down again, and he’s same old, same old. Here we go again; I’m worthless and good for nothing.”

This is also a good time to ask: What am I not accepting here? What am I refusing to see?

You might be stuck on feeling entitled to something that hasn’t come to pass. Don’t spend your life circling back because you’re being the bailiff trying to collect a debt.

Consciously choosing your response and being more self-aware is the emancipation of your self. Until you create healthier boundaries, especially in your mind, you will keep circling back to issues that result from making other people’s behaviour about you and merging with others.

Certain feelings, thoughts, and situations are going to recur from time to time, and each time, you have a fresh opportunity to choose to respond differently. In turn, this gradually changes the nature of the issues that you’re dealing with.

Your thoughts?

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