Circular Conversations

Circular Conversations - Arguments which go on almost endlessly, repeating the same patterns with no resolution.

Typically both parties take opposing positions over an issue, dig in and then reiterate their arguments and the merits of their own position until one or both of them is exhausted and gives up.

Circular conversations can last hours, days, weeks, months, years, even a lifetime. When you think about it for a moment, the only reason people would subject themselves to that is they retain the hope that at some point the other person will change their mind, see their point of view, learn something, recognize their mistake and be persuaded that they were wrong all along. Logic would suggest that after 2 or 3 times around the loop most people would give up - but many of us don't. We go over and over.


Because what we are defending or arguing over is often a "bottom line issue" or - perhaps more accurately - it represents a bottom line issue. Often, the argument is over something superficial - like, for example, who should turn out the light or who should say "I'm sorry". The reason these become circular arguments is that the issue expressed often represents an underlying feeling such as "I feel disrespected", "I feel hurt" or "I feel afraid". When we argue, we are often trying to communicate feelings but, because of the tension in the air and, because the other person is not validating our position, we often feel too vulnerable to express our feelings. Instead, we tend to abstract or represent our feelings in the form of a position, an issue or an event such as "you lied to me" or "you're being insensitive" or even "I hate you". While we may say these things, we will not be satisfied until we believe the underlying feeling beneath our statements is resolved, addressed or acknowledged.

Enter the person with the personality disorder and you sometimes have the recipe for a never ending circular discussion. That is because the person with a personality disorder does not always able to see the same reality that you see. To a person with a personality disorder, the way they feel dictates to them what the facts are. So to them if they feel betrayed then you are a betrayer. If they feelloved then you are loving. If they feel afraid then you aredangerous. If their feelings match up to your reality, that's great! You will be wonderfully validated, incredibly appreciated and deeply and sincerely loved. However, when their feelings do not line up with yours, then it is going to be a long night.

People with personality disorders have all the same human emotions as you do. They naturally want to be validated and accepted. The problem is that their representation of reality, while valid to them, is not always factual. They may start talking to you in a way that you can't accept, endorse or agree with. You may discover that you just can't reach resolution. It won't change until they feel different, which might take a few minutes or a few years.

So what can you do when you find yourself in a circular argument?

First thing is to catch yourself in one and recognize the pattern. Acknowledge that you are in a conversation that is just going around and around.

Second thing is to realize that feelings aren't inherently good or bad - they just are. The way you feel is just the way you feel. Feelings are a byproduct of circumstances, emotions, brain chemistry and a host of other things. You can't control the way you feel - neither ca the person with a personality disorder. The way you feel is just a natural reaction to what you are experiencing.

Then switch from stating facts to stating feelings - your own feelings not the other person's. Don't say "I feel like you are lying". That is not a feeling, that is an opinion. Say "I feel scared" or "I feel hurt" You don't have to say why - just say it. The wonderful thing about stating your feelings is that nobody can contradict you (although people might try) Nobody knows or owns your feelings except you.

Then end the conversation. Don't slam the door. Don't storm out. Don't try to get the last word or win the moment. Just stop. Calmly and with your dignity intact. If you like you can say "I need a break" or "Let's discuss this later" but just end it there.

Then get out of the way. Don't wait for your feelings to be validated. Don't wait for the other person to change their mind. Just get out of the way. You can't make that person feel differently. Their feelings are their feelings just as much as your feelings are yours. You have no more right to tell them how they should feel than they have the right to tell you how you should feel. Let them have their feelings. Judge them by their behavior - not by their feelings. After that, If their behavior is acceptable and safe for you to be near then that is great. If not, then you need to get out of the way and stay there until it is.

If you can do that - you can break teh circle of circular conversations. Congratulations! You deserve a big pat on the back!