How to break negative relationship patterns
The 1993 fantasy comedy “Groundhog Day” staring Bill Murray gave us the term Groundhog Day as cultural shorthand for getting stuck in a recurring situation. This can happen in our dating life without us realizing it. We often don’t notice the recurring pattern until after yet another break up that strangely echoes the one before. And the one before that…
Now you may want to stop me right there and say, “But wait! It’s not MY behavior that’s the problem. It’s the guys/gals I date.”
But if you feel like you keep on dating the same kind of person, getting into the same situations, and facing the same kind of heart ache over and over, then the bad news is that you are probably caught in a negative behavior pattern. The good news is that there is definitely something you can do to positively affect your own love life!
“Wherever you go, there you are.”
That line has been attributed to a number of different thinkers and writers over the years. On the surface it seems obvious and trite: of course I’m there, wherever I go. But the idea that the one constant in your life is you, is actually pretty profound. If you look back on the past relationships in your life and see a definite negative pattern, whether that be dating the same type of person or ending up in the same kind of impossible situation at the end of a relationship, no matter how much you tried to pick someone who seemed different from the person before, you can see that the common denominator in all of the equations is you. And it is quite possible that what needs to change in order for your life to improve, is also you.
This is in no way to ever blame anyone who has experienced abuse for their own abuse. The only person to blame for abuse is the person who chooses to abuse another person. However, patricularly for people who experienced abuse early in life, sometimes perceptions of what love is and how it is supposed feel can be skewed. It can lead people to false beliefs about their own worth and how they deserve to be treated. And that is something that can be changed.
So how do we change ourselves to change our negative relationship patterns? It’s easier than you think!
Now, I’m not one to advocate endless navel-gazing or Eat, Love, Pray style removals to far off places to bring about change. Most of us have jobs and lives to attend to and people who rely on us. Besides, there are much faster and easier ways to gently move ourselves towards the lives and loves we most want.
The Thee Keys:
The Three Keys to lasting behavior change are Self-awareness, Self-love, and Gratitude. Yep. That’s it! If you can master those three profound behaviors, you can change anything in your life that you want to change. Don’t believe me? Let’s break it down.
Self-awareness: Paying attention to your own thoughts is the first step.
When you think about your past relationships, or any situation that you want to change, ask yourself, what story are you telling yourself about the situation?
You might be telling yourself that this will always happen to you because no one understands you. Or that no one can be trusted and everyone will betray you. Or maybe you believe that you simply have bad luck and that you have, and always will, get the short end of the straw.
Listen to all the things you inner voice is telling you- this reveals your own thoughts about your current experience. These are exactly the thoughts that are keeping you stuck. Once you learn to recognize these negative impressions, you’ll be aware enough to be able to shift yourself into a better situation instead.
Self-love: taking care of your needs and having the same kind of compassion for yourself as you would for others you love.
How do you treat yourself? Do you believe that the wants and needs of others are more important than your own? Do you criticize yourself harshly for not being perfect and agonize over every little mistake? Do you deflect compliments and praise because deep down, you feel like you don’t deserve them?
So many of us are taught self-negating behaviors in childhood that it is difficult to learn how to practice self-love. Without even knowing it is there, many have a deep underlying belief that taking care of ourselves is selfish and wrong, but nothing could be further from the truth. When you practice self-love and take responsibility for making sure your own needs are met, then you are most able to tap into your power as a human being and you become a far greater source of good in the lives of others.
When your cup is full, it’s easy to be generous to those around you because, you have so much to give.
Gratitude: the act of noticing and expressing appreciate for every good thing in your life, no matter how small.
Gratitude elevates your mood and thoughts by dissolving the negative ideas and emotions in those stories that you are now aware of, replacing them with a positive mindset. The fastest way to deeply feel gratitude and get to a place where you feel better, is to express your appreciation out loud.
Give someone a sincere compliment. Tell them about something you’ve always particularly liked about them, or thank them for something they’ve done for you, even if it was very small. And don’t forget to appreciate yourself too. Doing this feeds right back into self-love.
Appreciating and loving yourself teaches others how to love and appreciate you. Show yourself the kind of love that you want to receive. Love that isn’t endlessly difficult. Love that doesn’t have to hurt. Love yourself the way you love a favorite child in your life. Be kind to yourself, even when you see yourself falling into one of the negative stories you identified. Be generous with your own thoughts as you gently move yourself away from the negative thoughts and replace them with positive, appreciative, grateful thoughts.
Breaking the Pattern
Now, let’s return for a moment to the Groundhog Day movie. What most people remember the movie for is the fact that the day started over and over again ad nauseam, but what many forget about is how Murray’s character finally ended the cycle of repetition. It wasn’t until he genuinely changed himself with self-awareness, self-love/self-improvement, and gratitude that he was able to break the cycle and move on with his life. The final Groundhog Day that he spends in Punxsutawney is the best day of his life up to that point. As he falls asleep next to the woman he has grown to genuinely love and cherish, he tells her that even if he is doomed to wake up alone and repeat the day all over again, forever, he wants her to know that he is finally happy because he loves her. I’d add in that he finally loves himself as well. The charater was able to break the cycle using the three keys, and you can too.
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