Have you ever noticed how moods and behaviours seem to hop from one person to another, part of a larger cycle?
Bullies are often the victims of other, meaner, bullies. Abusers have often been abused themselves. Shouting, exhausted parents have screaming toddlers.
Obviously there are other factors at play in these scenarios, but often, if we stop and reflect, we find we are mirroring the behaviour of someone else. Sometimes, this can lead to escalation, as I rapidly learnt dealing with my son as a tantruming toddler. Sometimes, sadly, it can lead to generations of dysfunction and abuse in a family.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Positive behaviours spread, and cycle, and feed back on themselves in just the same way. This is what keeps traffic moving, as each person let out at a junction pays the favour forward, if not in that journey, in the next one. Kindness received encourages kindness in the recipient. Receiving praise makes us more likely to offer it.
When faced with the behaviours of others, whether positive or negative, we each have a choice. Do we mirror it and keep the cycle going? Or break the cycle?
This is particularly important when dealing with negative behaviours such as neglect, stubbornness, destructive critiscm, violence, shouting. It is difficult, and unhealthy, to not feel hurt or angry or scared in the face of such behaviours. Our emotions are hugely important signposts to where our own needs are not being met, where important boundaries are being crossed, and we should never ignore them. But if we take the time to think, we can choose how we react.
Look carefully at any areas of conflict in your life and check for cycles where negative behaviours are being mirrored. It doesn’t matter who started them. We all need to stop the blame game, whether we are kids in the school yard, struggling partners, or world leaders with armed forces at our back and big red buttons. Someone needs to break the cycle. Someone needs to choose to stop mirroring the negative behaviour and start a new, more positive cycle. Shouting at my son never stopped a tantrum. Only calmness (with gritted teeth) prevailed. I had to choose to break the cycle.
If you can, face negative behaviours with positive ones. Meet anger with calmness. Hate with tolerance. Selfishness with kindness. Stubbornness with really listening to the other’s point of view. If that is too much to ask, or if the other person cannot or will not shift to a more constructive cycle, walk away. For ten minutes. A few hours. A few weeks. As long as it takes to at least avoid feeding the destructive cycle of negative behaviours while the dust, and emotions, settle. Often all it takes is one of us to recognise what is happening and to choose to not mirror the negative behaviour for things to shift.
Occassionally we hit a brick wall. Perhaps a partner or family member, or a co-worker. Someone who is unwilling or incapable of shifting their behaviour to engage in a positive, constructive cycle. It doesn’t matter whether it is verbal, physical, mental or emotional, a cycle of abuse can develop that is highly destructive and wrong. Somehow these people seem hell bent on keeping the negative cycle going, and they are often the ones that know exactly what buttons to push to get us back into their toxic game.
If a negative cycle can’t be broken, sometimes all we can do is walk away for good.