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Monday, May 24, 2010

Repeating the Same Behavior and Expecting Different Results

"Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein:  Definition of Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results
Repeating the Same Behavior and Expecting Different Results:
I was talking to a friend recently about the idea of "repeating the same behavior and expecting different results." She gave me permission to tell her story as part of my blog because she thought it might be helpful to other people. So, let's call my friend Donna (not her real name).

Several years ago, Donna was expressing her ongoing frustration to me about her boyfriend's compulsive overspending. She and I talked about this numerous times. She usually said something like, "I told him, 'If you don't stop overspending, I'm going to stop bailing you out,' but does he listen to me? No. He just keeps overspending and I keep lending him money to pay his bills."

Donna and her boyfriend were caught in vicious cycle of his overspending and her bailing him out and then her feeling resentful about it. She knew she was caught in a cycle, but she didn't know how to get out of it. At the time, she couldn't understand why he didn't change.

One day, I came across a poem by Portia Nelson called "There's a Hole in My Sidewalk" and I thought of Donna and her habit of continually bailing out her boyfriend and continually feeling resentful about it. So, the next time that she complained to me about her boyfriend's overspending and her efforts to bail him out, I said to her, "It sounds like you have a hole in your sidewalk." She looked at me as if I was crazy, but before she could say anything else, I gave her the poem:

There's a Hole in My Sidewalk - By Portia Nelson

Chapter One:
I walk down the sidewalk.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost...I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find my way out.

Chapter Two:
I walk down the same street.
There's a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three:
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall's a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It's my fault...I get out immediately.

Chapter Four:
I walk down the same street.
There is a big hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter Five:
I walk down another street.

After she read the poem, Donna smiled and said, "I see what you mean. I keep falling into the same hole. I need to walk down another street."

Shortly after that, Donna found a therapist to work on this issue, and she also started attending Al-Anon to deal with the codependent dynamics between her and her boyfriend. When her boyfriend approached her the next time to tell her that, once again, he ran up his credit cards and he wanted to borrow money from her, she told him that she couldn't lend him the money. It was very hard for her to break her usual pattern of bailing out her boyfriend because she had been doing it for so long and he had come to expect that she would bail him out. So, of course, there was no incentive for him to change because he never had to face the consequences of his behavior. She told him that he would have to figure out some other way to deal with his debts. Needless to say, her boyfriend was very unhappy with this response and he couldn't believe that she wouldn't lend him the money.

Donna's refusal to continue in the same codependent behavior caused a big argument between them, and her boyfriend ended their relationship. The breakup was very hard for Donna. She went through several months of emotional pain and doubt as to whether she had done the right thing by refusing to lend her boyfriend money. Several times, she wanted to pick up the phone and tell him that she was wrong and try to reconcile their relationship. But deep down, she knew that she had done what was right for herself as well as for him.

A year later, Donna met the man who eventually became her husband. She is very happy in her relationship and, in hindsight, she realized that refusing to keep "falling down the same hole" over and over again with the same results was one of the best things that she had ever done for herself.

Making a change is a process. And changing an established pattern can be very difficult. First, you have to be aware that you're engaging in this pattern and recognize the consequences of it. It's very easy to be in denial and to blame other people or external circumstances. If and when you do become aware of an ongoing pattern that is not bringing you the results that you want, you have to be willing to change. Once you have established the willingness to change, you need to take action to stop repeating the same pattern.

If you discover that you're caught in a cycle where you continue to repeat the same behavior with the expectation of different results, you might benefit from working with a licensed psychotherapist who can help you through the change process.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, and Somatic Experiencing therapist. 

I work with individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.

photo credit: Dan Correia via photopin cc

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