A former client of mine whom I'll call Ron kept souring on work situations. He started each new job with real hope that this time it would be different. But it never was. All too soon, he would find himself bored and dissatisfied with the work and disappointed in the office environment, feeling isolated and not liked by co-workers.
Another client, Bonnie, kept losing the same fifteen pounds over and over in a seemingly endless loop of weight loss and regain.
Why do we keep doing things that make us unhappy? Why do we repeat the same scenarios over and over?
It's important to understand why certain patterns emerge.
If you find yourself attracted to romantic partners or friends who cause you grief, examine your own feelings, desires and motivations.
Gina, for example, is attracted to achievers after a long marriage, now ended in divorce, to a successful, wealthy businessman. "I'm attracted to successful guys, no question," she says. "I like the benefits of a guy's success, I'll have to admit." Gina has little professional ambition herself and prefers a quiet life of yoga, meditation and exercise. But she's not attracted to similarly mellow males, seeing them as slackers.
It was only when she began to examine her own negative self-talk about herself as a slacker that she began to make a plan to enhance her own career prospects, making her less dependent on a man financially and more open to a wider variety of men. She also began to see that, perhaps by choosing men who would always disappoint her with their unavailability, she was making a choice not to commit to a relationship.
When she began to see her own complicity in her recurring romantic disasters, Gina began to think about how changing her own behavior could change her romantic prospects and, most important, her own life satisfaction.
It's important, too, to see what changes you might want to make if you've found yourself with friends or lovers who are critical or abusive or otherwise detrimental to your well-being. No one deserves abuse or shabby treatment. If you find yourself endlessly trying to please, making concessions you don't want to make, ask yourself why you feel the need to do this. Talking with a therapist and/or people who truly love you about this can help you to uncover and change the feelings of unworthiness, low self-regard, or other negative self-talk that could be leading you to these unhappy (and unhealthy) relationships.
If you find yourself in the same situation at different work places: It is time to ask yourself some difficult questions: are you in a line of work congruent with your talents and personality? Do you need to re-think your career strategies? Go to night classes for re-training? Consider a complete career change? And are you doing anything to irritate or alienate co-workers in job after job? It can be quite telling when different workplaces with different people all seem to work out the same way for you. It's time to see what your own contribution might be to your workplace unhappiness.
Sylvia, a former client, always felt like an outsider at a succession of workplaces. She told me that co-workers and bosses didn't seem to like her. We examined her interactions at work and found that there was a behavior pattern, stemming from Sylvia's long-ago childhood, that was causing problems for her everywhere she went.
Sylvia, a middle child who felt that both her older sister and younger brother got preferential treatment from their parents, brought these feelings to each workplace. When her boss reprimanded her for being late to work, her response was not to apologize and take responsibility for her tardiness but to accuse him of preferential treatment of younger, more attractive co-workers who were also sometimes late and who seemed to get away with it. She was quick to bring their transgressions to his attention and to resent what she perceived as special treatment of others. This behavior made her unpopular with both bosses and co-workers until she began to realize that playing out a childhood sense of unfairness in her workplace was not productive. She found that when she changed her behavior even a little, it made a big difference.
If you find yourself having trouble with change: You're part of a very large club! Many of us struggle with change, whether it's making a commitment to a relationship, to lose weight, to change jobs or to say "No" to an adult child who is hitting you up for more and more financial help -- again. Making a step-by-step plan for change and starting with a small, do-able step can set you on the way to positive change.
Deciding that just for today, just for right now, you will eat a healthy meal, not with a sense of deprivation, but with the happy discovery that healthy food is delicious, is an important first step toward permanent weight loss. Deciding to say or do something kind for another instead of being critical can be a vital first step toward building a positive relationship -- romantic or friendship -- with another. Deciding that just this minute, just right now, you will speak up for yourself and refuse to tolerate another's cruel comments or that you will say "No" to raiding your savings to pay off your adult child's credit card debt once again can be the beginning of a growing sense of self and of your adult child's beginning to grow up and take responsibility at last.
That first step toward change is hard, but it can get easier with time, with each step you take.
It isn't easy to change long established patterns. But it starts with a decision and taking that first step and then another and another.