Vicious Cycles as a Source of Confusion
Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird or a plane?
It sure ain't Superman!
It's a vicious cycle! And it's about to land, right here!
Continuing the discussion of ways in which people defend against confusion, based on my book, Lethal American Confusion. In the book I dealt with confusion in governments and large organizations. Here in the blog, I'll apply those ideas to ordinary life.
Some key points:
1. Many confusion-defenses fail to reduce confusion, or actually make it worse.
2. This sets up a vicious cycle: Confusion sources lead to Defenses, which lead to Failure to resolve sources which leads to More defenses, etc., on and on
3. One of the most common --and malignant-- defenses is
Find-An-Enemy-and-Lose-Your-Confusion. When you find-an-enemy, you bury your own confusion about a given issue, and project it onto the other side: not we, but they are confused. Of course the other side thinks the same about you.
End of Introduction
Confusion in Your Life and Mine Part 4
Vicious Cycles as a Source of Confusion
Today we take a fierce look at how vicious cycles elbow positive cycles out of a relationship.
(I'll discuss positive cycles of love and reward in a future post.)
In the free e-book I put up on this blog on December 12th you'll find a chapter on positive and vicious cycles. (Chapter 6: Reduce Stress-- Recycle Your Family!)
I'm going to borrow some of those ideas in this section on cycles as a source of confusion.
Why do cycles confuse us?
Because we don't grow up seeing cycles in behavior.
We grow up learning to see individuals--either someone else, or ourselves--as the cause of patterns that bug us.
Vicious cycles are recurring patterns where one person says or does something, the other responds, the first responds to that, on and on. Some cycles happen almost every day, others may occur only every few weeks. Once they get established, they can be hard to overcome.
One person nags about chores, the other procrastinates or "forgets." After a while, either one may "start" it. Nag, procrastinate, nag… Or Procrastinate, nag, procrastinate
2. Blame/defend or Blame/blame
One blames, the other defends or blames back. "If you'd only…" or "You never…" "You always…" are the beginning of statements typical of blaming. A person usually makes the same complaint or accusation where I have written the three dots (…)
3. Whine/Give in
A favorite of kids, of course. Beg, plead, whine long enough and that well-meaning big person called a parent (the one with all the money) will give in and let you get that candy the supermarket has cleverly place at just your height as you and the one with all the money stand trapped by the checkout counter. Giving in rewards whining, makes it worthwhile. And whining causes giving in. Around and around month after month.
4. Child abuse/anger and rebellion
Physically abused kids often rebel against the abuser, which triggers more abuse, which leads to more anger and rebellion.
5. There are some other examples in Chapter 6., including triangulation, which I'll discuss in a future post.
A general comment about our tendency to see only one person's role in a cycle:
As a brilliant family therapist, Braulio Montalvo, once said (to paraphrase): When you think someone "started it," you then know whom to blame. (He was disagreeing with this idea, as a therapist working to help families get free of cycles and patterns.) The habit of thinking one individual always starts, or always causes a problem--that deeply ingrained habit prevents us from seeing cycles.
The habit of looking for one individual to blame is related to the general defense against confusion: Find-an-enemy-and-lose-your-confusion. That's discussed in Part 1 of this series, and also in Lethal American Confusion.
1. Cycles are no one's fault! Usually whoever starts it is the one that gets blamed as causing the cycle. But we just saw that either one can start any cycle, and it runs by itself. Draw a circle with your part on the left and the other person's part on the right. Draw an arrow from your side to theirs and from their side to yours.
2. You've just drawn a cycle, on which the starting point can be anywhere.
That's why I say, you need to learn to blame the cycle not the other person, not yourself.
3. How do cycles cause confusion in family life and other spheres. (Such as at work)
A. The confusion comes up if you begin to wonder why you stay stuck in such a frustrating pattern.
B. When you try to answer this question, you will probably blame yourself or the other person.
C. But why would you stay stuck in a pattern that can be so painful you may wind up divorcing?
D. Confusing, unless you see the ways people get stuck in cycles (to repeat: because they don't know how to blame the cycle, not each other.)
What to do about cycles? How do you get unconfused about these patterns?
1. Recognize the cycles trapping you. They also trap whoever else has a part in those cycles.
2. When you're not stuck in the middle of a cycle, try these suggestions from Chapter 6 in Stressed Family, Strong Family. (I'm going to copy them from the e-book version, without going through and removing references to other parts of that book. Also, there will be some repetition of points I made above.)
What's ahead in this post:
There are three sections below: (you can jump to any one of them by copying that section title into the "find" key on your browser)
HOW TO STOP BLAMING, NAGGING, ARGUING, OR OTHER CYCLES
STOPPING THE CYCLE WHENEVER YOU SLIDE BACK INTO IT (Again!)
WHAT KEEPS PEOPLE STUCK IN A CYCLE?
HOW TO STOP BLAMING, NAGGING, ARGUING, OR OTHER CYCLES
You first need to realize you’ve gotten caught in a cycle. This can be hard to see when you are in the middle of an argument or are busy nagging.
Remember that neither of the people in a true cycle causes it. THE CYCLE CAUSES ITSELF.
Pick a time when you’re not blaming, arguing or fighting with the other person. If you never have any peace between the two of you, get help from a counselor. You need to be able to talk calmly to each other once in a while for my ideas to work. If you are seeing a counselor, he or she may use some of these same ideas.
1. Practice what you’re going to say to the other person about the cycle you see the two of you stuck in. Try saying it out loud, when you are alone, or say it to a friend. This will help you feel less tense when you bring it up with the person you argue with. In your own words explain that you have read about cycles and nagging or blaming. For ideas about what to say, see Step 5.
2. What if you two never talk? If you and this person don’t usually talk together, tell them that you want to try. See if you can get the other to agree to practice talking together. Tell them something like: “This book shows some ways for people to talk to each other. I’d like to try the ideas.”
You could start by talking about something easy--things you each like. Or you can talk about a TV program, maybe while you watch. What you are doing is practicing for the time when you can begin to talk about more serious matters.
Don’t be too upset if this feels strange. When people haven’t been talking, it can take many tries to get used to it. Keep trying. You can even say something like: “Talking like this feels weird.”
But be careful not to blame the other person for never talking! You can say something like, “I guess we’ve gotten out of the habit of talking.” (If you once had a habit of talking.)
3. After you get the habit of talking, go on to step 5. Try talking about one of the blame topics--the things you can’t talk about without blaming each other. And remember, most couples have some things they just can’t discuss. Pick one of the things you can talk about, not one of those impossible topics.
4. If you just can’t talk about anything, even pleasant things, see a counselor, member of the clergy, or other trained person who can help.
5. If you are able to talk together say something like this (use your own words): “You know those times when we get into arguments about ____________? (You fill in with whatever you usually argue about.) Well, this book calls it a blame (or nag)
cycle. You know how we go back and forth, back and forth, same old arguments? Until I blow up (or cry, or whatever you do.) “
You go on in this talk to say something like this:
“This book says that these cycles get going and after a while it’s nobody‘s fault. We just get stuck in it and keep going around and around. One wrong word or look, and we’re off. Either of us might start it or keep it going.
“You know: when I say you’re ___________ (whatever you say), and you get mad and tell me _____________ (whatever the other person tells you.) I’d like to try to stop doing that. Do you want to try to stop?”
6. If you just can’t talk about the cycle without getting into blaming, ask a counselor or someone you both trust to help you talk about it.
7. If the other person is willing to try changing, agree that either one of you can say, “I think we’re getting into a blame cycle again. Let’s back off and try to relax.” There are more suggestions about changing the cycle in the next section.
8. Even if the other person doesn’t think you’re starting into the cycle, can they agree to stop and relax when you ask?
9. If you can each back off, find something else to do. You’re not shutting the person out. You can each do something separately, or maybe there’s something you both feel like doing together. Anything as long as you don’t get into blaming.
10. Then you can talk later about whatever it was that you started blaming or nagging about. Suggest something you can do to handle the problem. You can use the ideas in the next section.
11. Remember: both of you will be changing the way you see yourself and the other person. This is a hard job, and will take those qualities mentioned before:
Time: You will need time to try the changes.
Patience: You need patience when you slip back
Courage: Courage to keep on trying
Hope: Hope will give you that courage
Compassion: Compassion helps forgive yourself or the other person when you slip back into the old patterns.
Does that sound like a tough list to live up to? It is. But those five things, time, patience, courage, hope, and compassion will help you along the hard road of change.
Most people find that they slide back into a cycle, maybe several times, when they are learning a new way to look at cycles. The next steps help to keep up your hope and courage by stopping the cycle when you get caught up in it.
And keep in mind that some kids will take advantage of the splits and arguments between parents. Kids will go to the softer one to get what they want. Then they tell the other one that they got permission.
Don’t ride those negative cycles into a brick wall. Find some positive ones, with help from a counselor if your need it. Tell us what you learned, and how to improve this section on cycles.
STOPPING THE CYCLE WHENEVER YOU SLIDE BACK INTO IT (Again!)
1. I've described some ideas about changing the nag-shirk and blame cycles in the previous section. But those ideas may not prevent the cycle from breaking out between the two of you. Habits are hard to break. The you risk getting into a new round of the cycle
Accusing one another with words like "You always," or "You never," can be a clue that a blame cycle might be lurking.
What to do: When one of you realizes you’re starting on a blame or nag cycle again, remind the other of your plan above. Don’t do this in a way that accuses them. Keep your tone calm. Say something like, “seems like we’re starting in on that cycle again.” Or you could even say, “Here comes that blame cycle again.” (Or nag cycle, or whatever you’re about to get caught up in.)
Remember, by saying “we” you are reminding both of you that it’s no one’s fault.
2. Don’t make the other person feel stupid or bad because the two of you have slipped into a cycle again.
3. Don’t accuse the other of causing it. You agree to cool off, stop arguing, or whatever your part of the cycle is.
4. Ask if they feel like you’re blaming or nagging them, etc. If they feel that way, apologize and tell them again that you’d really like to stay out of the cycle. If you’re feeling nagged or blamed, say so in a neutral tone. “Maybe I’m wrong, but I felt like you were nagging me just then. Did I take what you said the wrong way?”
5. Use this escape route.
First, each one listen while the other says what they would like to do to make things better. (See “What you can do instead of the cycle” below.)
Listen to the other person's plan.
Don’t interrupt them.
Don’t disagree, or tell them the plan won't work.
Then say what you would like to do to make things better. The other adult or kid listens, does not interrupt, does not say your plan won't work.
6. You don’t need to agree on one plan. If each of you can try your idea, go ahead. Ask each other how you’re doing in a day or whenever you have had a chance to try the plan.
7. What you can do instead of the cycle
First, tell the other person you are not going to blame them, remind them, nag, or whatever. (Unless they ask you to remind them. If they want you to remind them, go ahead. At least they have realized they need reminding.)
Second, tell the person you are going to take a break, stop this conversation, and do something else for a while. Tell them you are not running away from the problem.
8. If you are a kid, change your part in the cycle. Quit blaming your parent or teacher for your problems. Start doing your chores, your homework, whatever you are supposed to do.
Don’t blame others, fix your own part of the cycle.
Most important: do those chores or homework without being reminded. Even if you still get reminded once in a while, keep on doing the chores or homework before you get reminded. Don’t start blaming your parent for reminding you. When you get reminded, you can say, “Mom, I already did it. See?” Say that in a calm voice. Don’t yell.
Do the best job you can. If you need help with homework after trying your best, ask for help. If your parent can’t help, ask someone else who can. That might be another kid, or a teacher, a tutor, or a family friend.
And if you really did forget to do it, say this so a calm way. “Sorry, I forgot to do it. I’ll do it right now.”
If you want to be reminded for the first few times, ask your parent to remind you. You’re taking at least some responsibility by admitting you forget and asking for help. Later on you can take the whole responsibility by doing it without reminding. Then tell your parent, “I think I can do it without reminding. Let me try.”
9. Kids may need a reward after doing the chores. They can watch a TV program, play a video game, go out and play, whatever works. This is not a bribe; this is a way to teach them to do their work before they play.
10. If you need help finding strengths in an arguing child, you can look on arguing as a type of assertiveness. In the next chapter, see Number 5, ASSERTIVENESS, DRIVE, SELF-DEFENSE, SELF CONFIDENCE. Those abilities can often harness the same energy as arguing, but in a more constructive way.
11. As an adult, try to take a break from the cycle by doing something else instead of nagging or arguing. Explain that you’re not mad, not walking out on the problem. You just need a break and you want to stay out of the cycle. Take your mind off the problem. Do a chore of your own. Take a walk if you have time and your neighborhood is safe.
12. Offer to tackle the chore together with a youth. Team up instead of arguing about it. Dividing up the chore will require teamwork. You may have different ideas about how to do it. See if you can try the other person’s way. Or see if they can try yours. (Suppose the problem is homework, and the kid has tried and needs help. You can go over it with him or her, if you know how to do it. If not, write a note to the teacher saying that your child tried and needs help with this homework.
Looking for strengths in the area of Cooperation?
In the next chapter, scan Group 2, Acceptance of Skillful Suggestions, Advice, Guidance, or Group 3, Responsibility, Cooperation. You may find some abilities you have lost sight of. A couple of strength groups are more general and could help with almost any cycle. You’ll find those in Group 8 (Ability, Talent, Skills, Independent Learning, and Creativity) and Group 10 (Leadership, Athletic Interests and Abilities.)
Focusing on any of a youth’s skills can comfort you when you’re frustrated by a cycle. You may need to scan several groups in the next chapter. Remember: when I suggest a group of strengths to take a look at, a child or teen may only be showing only one, or a few, of those items. See which ones you can support.
There are many other abilities in other clusters you may recognize as skills you have lost sight of in a youth with problems.
13. If this doesn’t fix the problem right away, that’s OK. You will need to try many more times. Changing cycles takes time and practice. The cycle may have gone on for months or years. Those habits take time to overcome.
14. You are each helping the other. You are giving each other hope when you start to change a cycle. You build teamwork and the courage to try something new.
15. One more thought about arguing
Realize that the two of you get stuck in an arguing cycle. If the other person hasn’t read the description of positive and negative cycles above, ask them if they are willing to do so. After they understand what we mean by cycles, say that you feel like the two of you get stuck in an arguing cycle. That is, arguing just leads to more arguing. If the argument is with the other parent, don’t drag the kids into it. Don’t complain to the kids about the other parent. Don’t tell them how wrong the other parent is.
What to do:
Tell the other person you can each have a different opinion. A different “take” on something. Neither has to prove they are right. Neither has to prove the other one is wrong.
Suggest this: When you start arguing, either one can say, “Wait, we’re going to get stuck in an argument. Let’s just say we disagree. You see it one way, I see it another. Let’s step back, stop trying to prove we’re right. Relax and do something else. Get untangled.” (You’ll find your own words for these ideas.)
Agree that either person can say something like: “Here we go again.” They say this when they see an argument starting. Agree to take ten minutes to cool down. Think over the situation. Make a new start.
WHAT KEEPS PEOPLE STUCK IN A CYCLE?
How you get out of an arguing habit depends on what keeps it going. You or the other person many be caught in one or more of the following traps. If you can get out of the trap, you can settle arguments more easily. Here are some of the reasons people get trapped in arguing.
Note: Some of the “What to do” suggestions here can help with other vicious cycles.
A. Not being able to admit when you’re wrong
Let me ask you: are you one of those people who have a very hard time admitting they are wrong?
Yes? Then read on.
What to do:
Take a look at your reasons.
1. Do you fear losing respect if you admit that you are wrong in an argument with a child? Do you fear that the child will quit obeying entirely? This will not usually happen.
2. Try admitting your mistakes and see if this relaxes you and the youth.
3. Do you feel stupid if you admit you’re wrong? No need to feel that way. Give yourself credit for facing up to a mistake. That’s not stupid at all.
4. Did people call you stupid or make fun of you growing up? They may have made you feel as though you should hide mistakes.
Put those feelings aside and focus on the present. Those scenes from the past don’t belong in your present-day mind.
5. Do you hate for the other person to “win?” Is that because they make fun of you? Do they act superior? Show them in a polite way how they look and act when you feel they are acting superior.
Can you two each admit when you’re wrong? Ask them if they are willing to try.
B. Not being able to learn from another person
Do you feel like you have to know all the answers? Hate to admit you don’t know something? This feeling can drive arguments about who’s right.
What to do:
1. Ease up and allow someone to teach you. Admit you could be wrong. Tell the other person you’re willing to learn to do something different. You want kids to have a good attitude about learning. Show them you can learn.
2. Do you feel like the kid is too young to have a good idea? Give them a chance. Listen to their thoughts. Kids can come up with good ideas if they feel respected. That’s how they learn to think for themselves. Believe it or not, some kids can even help their parents make peace. You can ask that type of youth what they think will work best. Then both parents should give this a good try. But be careful not to put that kid in the middle. Don’t expect him or her to decide who’s right or wrong.
3. Of course, some kids are just trying to get what they want. They may want to make you feel you’re in the wrong for making them do their work. Stick to the fair rules and limits you have agreed on. Work done earns rewards or privileges. Work not done gets no reward.
4. Suppose you find that you can accept ideas from people outside the family. Listen to your spouse, son, or daughter the way you would listen to an outsider.
C. Being unable to argue with the person you’d like to (boss, teacher, spouse, in-law)
Maybe you are angry with someone else, such as a boss. You can’t get mad at work. Instead, you argue with your family,
Your son or daughter may feel angry with a teacher or a friend. They can’t get mad at this person, so they take it out on you.
What to do:
1. Realize when you’re not the real target, or when you’re taking out your anger on someone else. Don’t argue back if it’s another person taking out anger on you. Let them blow off steam for a while. Look for a chance to ask how things went today in school, or on the job. Wherever you think their anger may be coming from.
When you catch yourself taking out anger on the wrong person, or when they point out that you are, apologize. (Hard to do, I know!)
2. Don’t try to solve the problem right away. The other person may come to see that they were dumping some anger on you. Then maybe the two of you can figure out how to deal with that teacher, boss, or other kid. Talk about whoever has made them angry.
3. Don’t take out your anger on the kids. If you do, then admit you were in the wrong. Apologize.
D. Being “naturally” short tempered
Some people have a short temper by nature and jump into an argument too fast.
What to do:
1. You can learn self-control. Get a book on controlling your temper. Your library probably has several. If you can’t find one, ask a librarian. You don’t have to go through life with your temper on edge.
2. You can enroll in anger-management courses. Check with the school or a local group like the “Y’ or the “4H.”
E. All you ever knew was arguing
Maybe you grew up in a family that argued all the time. You may not have learned any other way to get along. Use the suggestions in A, B, and C above to find ways to stay out of arguments. Find a way to exit if you get into one. Anger management classes can help you, also.
An Aside About Anger Management Classes
Arguments or other conflicts between partners can lead to hitting, beating, strangling or other abuse. Sexual abuse of partners also occurs. Some courts will require an abusive spouse to go to anger management classes. These can be helpful if the person admits they have a problem. It doesn’t help as much if they go just because a judge forced them to, though sometimes that’s the only way to get them to try anger management.
“Road rage” (trying to cut off, chase, hurt, crash into a driver who has made you angry) also can lead to referral by police to anger management classes.
A member of the clergy can sometimes convince a spouse to go for anger management help, if you can’t get the message across.
In addition to anger management classes, a therapist and psychiatrist can work together if the temper problem comes from mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse, etc.
F. The arguer has a mental illness or an addiction to drugs or alcohol
Some kids or adults suffer from severe depression or other emotional problems that make it hard to control their temper. If they use drugs or alcohol, this can also make them lose control easily. We speak of “dual diagnosis” when a person struggles with both mental illness and an addiction.
What to do:
1. The mental problem, or the drug or alcohol problem, needs treatment. That treatment should help control temper outbursts.
2. The same is true for temper problems due to brain damage. Kids or adults get brain damage from a head injury, lead poisoning, infections, or other causes. The cause needs treatment. Then medication can help with temper outbursts and arguing.
3. Also, anyone who has been through a frightening or life-threatening situation may develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The youth or adult may have trouble with temper control, among other problems. They may need special help if the condition has lasted for months or years.
G. Other problems that may need treatment: A need for excitement can trigger an argument. People don’t know how to relax or enjoy a calm talk. Combat makes them feel alive.
Hiding feelings of inferiority can lead people to argue, in order to keep their self-respect. A counselor can help with this.
Getting sexually turned on by fighting can lead people into arguments. Spouses may end an argument by having sex. This means that arguments bring a powerful reward--if the sex is good for both. No wonder they fight!