Why Am I Always Repeating the Same Problems Over and Over?

[May be relevant if you feel as if the same problems keep resurfacing in your life without ever being properly dealt with.]

I

Imagine that you’re untying a giant tangle made up of many, many pieces of coloured string.

(I have no idea why you might be doing this. Presumably you’re very bored.)

untangling-1

Perhaps you find a loose end, and are able to wiggle that piece of red string back through a loop. Now the red string is now slightly less tangled. But a bit of further investigation reveals that you can’t go any further on that piece of string just yet. You have to go and find another opening somewhere else on the ball.

Luckily, it seems that now the yellow piece of string can now be approached in a way that it couldn’t before. And that leads to an untangling of part of the green string. And finally this creates an opening to work on another loop of the red string.

Gradually, by alternating between all the different bits of string as opportunities arise, you untangle the entire mess.

Why did I do this...?

Why did I do this…?

Well done you.

II

Do you ever feel as if you’re constantly facing the same problems over-and-over? It’s like someone – whatever idiot runs the Universe – has put your difficulties on repeat.

Nothing ever gets solved once and for all.

Loneliness at school. A flash of insight: “I’m too worried about the opinions of others!”

I need to self-validate.

Struggles making friends as an adult. Another flash of insight: “It doesn’t matter how many friends I have.”

I need to self-validate.

Problems maintaining romantic relationships. A now-familiar flash of insight: “I can be happy with or without a partner.”

I need to self-validate.

Seriously. How many times do we need to relearn the same lessons?!

III

So you wiggle the string marked “self-validation” and get it through the gap.

You tug at it eagerly and it dangles loosely. That’s self-validation taken care of!

Except it’s still part of the tangle, and the next bit seems to be hidden underneath something else. No more progress to be made there.

But that string marked “existential angst” is looser now…

IV

Sometimes I read old diaries from my teenage years, and I’m amazed (and more than a little embarrassed) at how similar my problems are today to the problems I had back then.

Everything I worry about is part of a recurring pattern, it seems.

Does that mean I’m not changing or growing? Am I, in fact, a massive failure for constantly repeating the same old cycles? Am I deluding myself to believe that I’ve grown and changed and become more capable?

I don’t believe so.

Each time an issue recurs, I have the chance – if I choose to take it – to untangle just a bit of the string they’re attached to.

Each time I untangle the whole mess just a little bit more.

V

Life isn’t literally a tangle of connected strings. [citation needed]

But if you’re ever tempted to beat yourself up for repeating the same old patterns, perhaps it would help to think of life that way.

Maybe your particular tangle just requires you to return to the red string from time to time.

You’ll get there eventually.


No stick people were horribly bored during the production of this post.

Don’t forget to watch the custard-based TED talk, if you haven’t already! (And if you have, why not tell your friends about it?!)

Or check out the Book for Anxious Humans, which explores anxiety and happiness through embarrassing real-life stories, fantasy fiction, thought-provoking discussion and terribly-drawn doodles.

Like us on Facebook, for more thoughts on happiness.

Read the whole series on Anxiety here.

3 comments

    • amanda on 17th December 2016 at 8:00 pm

    dear neil
    as I sit here crying after days weeks and months going over and over the same things like a dvd on repeat feeling disgusted with myself and ashamed . reading your posts gives me such comfort you are an amazing person and I hope one day to be able to laugh at this anxiety and hit the delete button on these bloody (excuse my French) repetitive thoughts . keep up the good work you are an inspiration . thank you

  1. Hi Amanda,
    I’m sorry to hear you’ve been going round and round on repeat for so long – I know the feeling, and it’s EXHAUSTING. I’m glad you got some comfort… you don’t have to feel disgusted and ashamed, these are really common traps for us to fall into.

    I hope you do manage to break out of those repetitive thoughts – I am sure you’ll find a way to! Thank you so much for the encouragement, it’s amazing to hear that something I’ve written has resonated.

    • R on 12th June 2018 at 11:30 pm

    This is exactly how I feel. I feel comforted there is nothing wrong with me. It is sad that life has to be this way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.