How to Stop Going in Circles

WebMD Blog:

How to Stop Going in Circles

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Photo:Kevin Dooley/flickr


There are times when we seem to have lost our way – when we feel like we’re going nowhere or just moving in circles. How do you get back on course? The answer can be found in the results of a study that looked at how people get their bearings when they’re placed in unfamiliar locations.

Researcher Jan Souman and her colleagues sent subjects out into the Sahara desert or a large jungle and asked them to walk a straight course. Over several hours, they tended to walk in circles – but only when they could not see the sun. When they could see it, they seemed to use it as an external reference, allowing them to be better (though not perfect) at following their desired straight course.

Similarly, when you find yourself getting repeatedly confused by an emotional issue that you don’t know how to cope with, it may be time to look for an external point of reference. One of the best ways to do this is to see yourself from an outsider’s perspective. You might do this by imagining that perspective, talking with a friend, or reaching out to a therapist. If you choose to enter therapy, it is essential that you find a therapist whose way of viewing your difficulties fits with your way of thinking. You also want to find one who you would feel safe – or safe enough – with to reveal your inner struggles, making yourself vulnerable.

For instance, Christine was particularly insecure whenever she was with her friend, Allan. No matter how many times she would tell herself that she was a capable person and to be strong, she would end up feeling anything but that when she got together with Allan. Her sister, Kim, pointed out that this happened only with him. Christine thought more about what he did – and about the dynamic between them – that triggered her to feel insecure. She realized that he would put her down in subtle ways, which prompted her to question herself, especially because she thought he was so smart. She also became increasingly aware that as smart as she thought Allan was, she did not always agree with him – and she did not appreciate when he was condescending to her, even if he was factually correct in what he was saying.

Once you have a better understanding of what is going wrong, you can chart a course to help you move toward improving yourself or your relationship. Your awareness of the future you want for yourself can serve as an external reference to help keep you on course. Along those lines, although Christine still respected Allan’s intellect, she decided to assertively call him out of when he was putting her down. With time and repetition, he did this less, and she felt more secure in herself.

Whether you look to a therapist, friend, or some inner perspective for guidance when you are going in circles, it is important that you find an external point of reference to help you separate from your disorienting, emotional perspective. You will then hopefully find that your course begins to straighten and you move forward in life– but if not, remember that you can always re-orient and try moving forward again.

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