It happens to everyone on this planet at one point in time, so we’re not alone in that feeling. But if you have a loved one that you see entering the same detrimental cycle over and over in their life, it’s excruciating to watch.
While I’m not a psychiatrist nor therapist, I’ve had my share of experiencing dark days on my journey thus far. But I have coaches and have a therapist that I call because I know how important it is to have positive influences in my life. My husband can’t be my “everything” as that’s just too much pressure for one person to bear. These people help me hold myself accountable. A lot of us have had our fair share of hard times, and talking openly about them isn’t easy for everyone. Also, some people have chemical imbalances that can cause depression to reoccur more often, or even develop personality and mental disorders like Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Regardless of the situation, anyone that has experienced darker moments knows that those times take a massive toll on the mind, body, and soul. It can be challenging to recognize the same habitual patterns that keep us in a bad trauma loop in our life. And it’s challenging when you’re the one trying to help a person you care for to stop detrimental looping cycles from happening time and time again in their life. It’s like a bad movie that you keep watching and can’t turn off.
Steve* (*for this article I am keeping my client’s real name confidential) was a client that I worked with for about a year. Several professionals were trying to help Steve, including myself. Steve’s life was riddled with depression, addiction, and pathological narcissism. My part in all of this was to specifically help guide Steve through professional and personal blockages to help him show up differently in his life and career and to keep moving forward. The work included helping him to learn how to stop burning bridges professionally and to understand the pain he was causing others in the process. None of this would stop unless he took responsibility and held himself accountable for everything. At the same time, this person was also seeing the proper therapists and doctors to work on past pains and getting a myriad of prescription drugs.
The issue is that no matter how many good things happened in sessions with the therapist or the clarity and self-awareness that was produced from all the guidance and work with me, Steve ultimately just looped right back into the same cycle. Time and time again, he would start something new, take on responsibilities, and make promises to people, then he would ultimately decide not to follow through and let people down. Steve would take an entitled approach to move on and require the people that cared for him to support him no matter the cost they suffered. This narcissistic attitude is why bridges kept being burned over and over again.
Psychologist Craig Malkin states in Psychology Today, “A personality disorder is a pervasive disturbance in a person’s ability to manage his or her emotions, hold onto a stable sense of self and identity, and maintain healthy relationships in work, friendship, and love.” Malkin is a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and the author of Rethinking Narcissism.
While I was getting my certifications for life, business, and professional coaching, I was taught by my mentors that sometimes there are people that aren’t coachable. If a coach can’t coach a player, and that player causes chaos on the team, that player is off the team. My naturally empathetic approach is that with enough time and proper action, a person will eventually come around, but unfortunately, this isn’t true.
I’ve since learned that when a person decides they don’t want to be responsible for creating and holding the change in their lives that they sincerely desire, then there’s absolutely nothing anyone else can do. It ultimately becomes a choice to lift ourselves out of situations, especially if there are proper treatments aligned with any necessary doctors and other professionals.
A lot of us have moments where we’re unclear but the important part to look at is if we snap out of it. When I look back to my early 20’s I realize that it was a difficult and weird time. I was beginning to feel free and fly on my own, but I also felt lost and alone and was combating an eating disorder. I also got myself into a bad marriage way too early. While I knew I put myself there and no one else was responsible for that, I didn’t have the clarity necessary to understand I could snap out of that, and there was no one in my life to help me see that. Eventually, within a few years, that clarity came to me, and I snapped out of it, but it was at a high cost. Since we as humans are conscious, sentient beings, we each must realize we can break that chain that is tying us down or looping us into bad cycles in our lives.
Dina Molina, a Certified Psychotherapist, MSW, LMSW, SIFI, believes, “The most important part of deciding to experience life coaching or therapy is that ‘you must see yourself on the other side.’ Meaning you must see yourself having joy, inner peace, and authentic relationships within your life. You then create the belief that one day, you’ll get there. Then and only then will you do the hard work to get there.”
When you care for a person that is stuck in a bad cycle in life, we want to stop their suffering for them. When you finally realize that you can’t stop it for them, it breaks your heart. Especially if the cycle is a narcissistic and depressive loop because a sequence of rejection gets reinforced from those that surround those people. It’s imperative to understand that the person stuck in painful cycles usually doesn’t know they’re doing it yet. If they do realize it but lack the empathy and capacity to stop causing the pain, then it’s more about their lack of self-love in great and profound ways.
Steve was stuck in this type of detrimental cycle, and his negative thought pattern was that he automatically assumed people will reject him and will soon enough hate him, so he behaved as though people already did. People on the outside caring for Steve didn’t always get that so they would see Steve’s behavior as unacceptable and would respond negatively per his attitude and lack of empathy.
If you’re dealing with this situation, here are three tips to help you play a different part in the person’s life that is stuck in detrimental cycles, regardless of what is causing them, be it depression, mental disorders, etc.:
1. Be open and authentic with the person but also be prepared. If you’re an employer, a leader, or a colleague in a professional setting with a person, or you’re just a friend or family member, you can take the time to sit down with them to talk and ask for that time. In this discussion, let them know in a very caring way what you see happening and how you want to help them create a more positive work or life environment. Sometimes this can cause the jolt necessary to get them to seek more help, or at the very least, to recognize the pattern and start a healthy dialogue. But it’s also important to realize that you can get the opposite reaction, and the person reacts negatively in anger. They could respond and tell you that you’re acting like their “parent,” treating them as a child, or get extremely angry and walk out and decide they don’t care enough to care about you either. It’s hard to know what will transpire, but you must be ready for either reaction. If you get the adverse response, give them space, and realize you’re not a bad person for trying to talk through the situation.
2. Love them as best you can through messages and thoughts, but not in a physical space. Even in professional settings, deep care for others as humans is an essential part of building healthy cultures. We must understand that all humans ultimately are seeking the same things, and love sits at the top of that desire list. Even if the person you are trying to help rejects you, you can choose to love them regardless and not reinforce their loop. You can send text messages, emails, or physical cards to let them know you’re there and you care even if they don’t respond. Remember, the issue ultimately lies with them, so loving them despite this can ultimately mean the world, but you cannot expect anything in return.
3. Caring from a distance honestly does mean something. Thoughts shape our realities, and in this context, it means that you can send loving, caring thoughts to this person just by thinking about them and keeping them in your mind’s eye. Meditating on this person and sending positive thoughts is just another way to put out good vibes. Love doesn’t always have to be in the physical realm to exist. Remember, the pain this person causes is real, and if you decide you can’t deal with it, that’s OK as well. It’s a complicated situation to deal with, and you can let go and forgive without that taking place in a physical space.
I’ve been able to see what happens from the viewpoint as a coach, a friend, and now as an employer. The truth is that you can’t be 100% sure what will happen when you try to help someone caught in bad looping cycles in their life. Truth is a sword, and the truth will set the soul free, but there’s always the possibility that it backfires big time. Or, maybe in the future this person will wake up and get that you were one of the few people in their life who wouldn’t reinforce their traumatizing cycles. That alone could mean the world to this person, and in the end, could help them love themselves more, which is the ultimate purpose — helping them to have self-compassion for themselves and compassion for others.