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  • Writer's pictureFootsteps Counseling

The Circle of Life (But Really)

I feel like I'm about to get really conspiracy theory, "We didn't land on the moon," adjacent, but lately I have been noticing how it seems like everything in therapy is related back to a circle. Patterns of behavior, reaction, and emotions that we cycle through in every aspect of our lives. One example is the cycle of anger:


An image representing the anger cycle.
Example A, the Anger Cycle, provided by Therapist Aid.com

The idea of the anger cycle is that naturally, when you get angry, your behavioral response is actually someone else's triggering event.

Here's an example:

I walk into the living room and notice my husband left his socks on the couch (Triggering Event).

I think: He never listens to me. I'm not his maid (Negative Thoughts).

I feel unheard and disrespected (Emotional Response).

I feel my face flush and my heart start pumping (Physical Symptoms)

I rush to the office and toss the dirty socks at my husband (Behavioral Response).

And then from my husband's perspective…

I'm working in the office and Ashley chucks some socks at my head (Triggering Event).

I think: Shit I forgot again! She's so pissed (Negative Thoughts).

I feel dumb, forgetful, and frustrated with myself. (Emotional Response)

I shut down, physically tense, up and my mind is racing with what to say (Physical symptoms).

I yell, "You could just tell me to get them next time! (Behavioral Response).

Y'all can guess what happens next. We yell, over and over again, responding to the anger cues until our fight/flight/freeze response kicks in. I'll dig in, and he'll freeze out. Once calmed down, we'll likely repair the situation, but become increasingly more frustrated that we can't break the pattern.

We're both locked in the anger cycle and continuously triggering the other person into their own.

This idea, that we relate to the people we are close to in cyclical patterns, is not just represented in the anger cycle.


An image representing cycle of reactions in EFT.
Created by CZ Therapy Group

This example is an illustration on how couples fight from the lens of EFT, or Emotionally Focused Therapy. It suggests that when an "alarm bell" goes off, or you feel as if you are disconnected from your partner, we all react with protective, reactive, or defensive behaviors.


While I might be yelling "Hey! Do you even care?"

He may be thinking, "I can never do anything right."


And thus, the cycle continues.

An image representing the relationship cycle.


Lastly, this example suggests that the entire relationship itself follows a cyclical pattern, having seasons of hot, intense love that moves on to eventual conflict, and back again.


The point here is: there is no straight line of cause and effect when it comes to how we relate to other people.

"We split because he was narcissistic."

"I'm mad because she never listens to me."

"I cheated because she doesn't have sex with me anymore."

These are all one-way viewpoints that are valid in their own right, but are never going to be the whole story.

What you receive, and how you react, can set off a chain of events that look and feel like this:

A mass of tangled yarn.

I invite you to start considering your relationships with others as a constant feedback loop. Every action and reaction can help unravel the mess, or tangle it further.

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