Steps For Breaking Out of a Negative Feedback Loop
It’s been a tough few months for me. Professionally. Physically. And even and especially personally.
The kind of tough where the tears have come hard and frequent. The kind of tough where long nights have led to longer days. The kind of tough where I want to open up yet I’m afraid of breaking down. The kind of tough that calls on me to put in action all that I’ve learned over the past several years.
I’m not ready to write about much of it. And in truth, I may never choose to share much of the past few months. But I’ve also done quite a bit of thinking and now that some of the pressures are lifting, I’m ready to share some of those thoughts.
One of the hardest things in a relationship – any relationship – is to learn that you have been unintentionally bringing pain to another. It’s much easier to do than we realize. Patterns emerge, habits develop and we react instinctively instead of consciously. Inadvertently contributing to and feeding off of a negative feedback loop. A Möbius strip of unhappiness with no identifiable beginning and no end in sight.
As with any loop, inaction is an acceptance of the unchanging path. In order to change the pattern, steps – often painful and frightening – must be taken in order to sever the noose of negativity and to breathe in fresh air.
Recognize the Pattern
As with so many challenges in life, this first step is often the hardest. When we’re lost in the forest, we see the trees rather than the trail. Signs of a negative feedback loop include a sense of tension, a general uptick in criticism, positive bids for attention going unrecognized and a feeling of gears being misaligned.
Confront the Feedback Loop
This takes courage. Lots of courage. It requires a willingness to be vulnerable. A committment to speaking uncomfortable truths and being ready to listen to the same. It’s a balance of refusing to shy away from the difficult conversations and at the same time, striving to release any defensiveness that arises out of fear.
Be Open and Honest
This isn’t a time to bite your tongue. Those thoughts you hold back will fester and poison. But speak carefully with an intent to inform rather than a mission to destroy. Question your conclusions about yourself and others and be willing to consider alternatives to your assumptions. Conviction that you’re right helped get you into this place so replace it with inquiry and an unbiased mind.
Own Your Part
We judge others by their actions and yet we judge ourselves by our intentions. Regardless of the motivation behind your words and actions, listen to how they are received and be willing to make adjustments. Own your part of the contribution to the negative feedback loop and take responsibility for doing what you can to interrupt the cycle.
Assume nothing. Ask everything. Strive to see the big picture, understand the connections. It will be a process. A messy one. But a worthwhile one in the end. Because in order to untangle the cords keeping you stuck, you have to first see how they are intertwined.
This process is painful. Exquisitely so. And it’s easy and tempting and relieving to point fingers and offload blame. Easy and also pointless. Responsibility for getting into this place lies with both parties, so blame simply cancels out blame. And blaming becomes its own cycle, a viscous and ugly hold. This also extends to self-blame. Wallowing in guilt gets you nowhere. Learn backwards, focus forwards.
Sometimes you have to take some steps backward before you’re ready to move forward again. Too much, too soon puts too much pressure and can easily overrun the new pathways before they’re fully formed. Rather than running over, try starting over.
Staying in a loop requires nothing. Getting out requires effort. Intention. Action. Each person has to put in the work, both individually and collectively. Hold each other accountable. Hold yourself accountable. Change isn’t easy.
Facing hard truths isn’t easy. Considering an uncertain future is terrifying. And letting that hurt and fear overwhelm you will ultimately destroy your chances of successfully moving past this point. Do what you can – do everything you can – to stay positive and optimistic.
Take Care of Yourself
Step up your self-care game. From nutrition, to sleep to social time, make an effort to address all areas of wellness. When one area is out of whack, it can be helpful to fortify the others so that they can help support you. And right now, you’re emotionally depleted. So feed your heart and soul in healthy ways.
Focus on Language
Be aware of how the other person hears and receives caring and loving thoughts. Make an extended effort to “speak” in the language that they hear. Both of you are fragile right now. Take care.
It takes time to build and settle into a negative feedback loop. Accept that it will take time to disassemble it as well. Be patient yet persistant.
Remember That You’re On the Same Side
Both of you want to be heard. To feel safe. And to feel loved. You want the same things even if you need them in different ways.
And remember that sometimes what we think of as the worst actually turns out to be the best thing to happen to us.
Even though these months have been hard, I’m proud of myself. I’m coming from a place of now, not reacting from the wounds of the past. I’m scared, but I’m facing my fears instead of pretending they’re not there. And I’m confident that I’ll be okay no matter what the future holds.