Why do you suppose Groundhog Day remains a popular movie, some 23 years after its release? I’d suggest it has to do with the recognition of how repetitive patterns and automatic responses can give any of us that sense of deja vu. Didn’t we have this argument already? Where have I heard that response before? Was it yesterday or last week that we said all of this, word for word?
No one wants to have the same arguments, or desires to be stuck in the mire of automatic responses. Fortunately, you don’t have to be Bill Murray or rely on Hollywood magic to stop every day from feeling the same. In fact, if you’re reading this post, you’ve already taken a crucial first step! You’re seeking solutions and you accept that obstacles to such change exist, e.g. we’re blaming the other person and keeping the focus on what they’re doing to upset us, and we’ve begun to identify so deeply with our automatic responses that they feel natural and organic.
Let’s explore some further steps to consider:
Commit to change. Easier said than done, of course, but this requires much more than a verbal promise during yet another repetitive argument. We must truly want to change and accept our role in making that change happen. As mentioned above, this usually requires us to not only take responsibility for our reactions but to explore them. Ask yourself: What are my automatic responses and why am I addicted to them?
Understand the role of blame. An essential component of the “same argument” syndrome is blame. Each person takes the easier route of blaming the other. This often serves the purpose of shifting the burden of change away from ourselves. Ask yourself: What am I refusing to accept about myself and what do I gain by deflecting blame?
Identify and explore our emotions and triggers. At first, this seems quite simple. The other person does something (again!) that they know you don’t like—there’s your trigger—and you get angry—there’s your emotion. But anger is not a primary emotion. It almost always is masking a deeper, more embedded feeling. When we discover this underlying emotion, our triggers grow far more obvious and our needs become more transparent. Ask yourself: What triggers my anger and what is my anger masking?
Pinpoint the source of fear. Whether incurred during childhood or last year, old wounds can instill fears and our fears—no matter how old—often play a major role in our current behavior. Ask yourself: What am I afraid of?
Replay the encounter. When you’re alone, long after the same old argument has taken place, you’ll likely be in a less emotional state. This could be an ideal time to honestly run through the entire episode. What was said, in what order, in what tone of voice, and how did you feel each step of the way. Ask yourself: If I could be a neutral observer, how might this argument appear to me?
Talk to the other person involved. Request time to discuss this ongoing situation in a calm setting. Such a request not only allows for an honest, productive, and potentially non-confrontational conversation, it also shows the other person that you’re stepping up and willing to work on this. Ask the other person: What automatic responses do I fall back on during our arguments? After such a conversation begins, it might then be helpful to visit a therapist together.
If you need help breaking the pattern of repetitive arguments and automatic responses, contact me today for a free consultation!