"He screwed me over again!" my friend Sam said when her boyfriend broke up with her a second time—and left owing her $1,000.
Not only did he take her money, but he would also often disappear for days at a time and had even damaged her car ("I'll take it to the mechanic tomorrow," he said, though he never did). While of course, I had sympathy for her, in the end, she was giving him power—allowing herself to be stuck in a repeating cycle of being wounded and ripped off.
Sam knew this guy's player reputation and dated him anyway. She decided to lend him money. She made the decision to take him back after he already let her down more than once. In the end, what she needed more than anything was to take accountability for her role in this relationship.
Of course, when it comes to ending bad relationships, I'm talking exclusively about the garden-variety, that-person-is-such-a-jerk type—not instances of emotional or physical abuse. That's a whole other kettle of fish and usually involves making a plan to get out. You can learn more about it here.
But if you're stuck in a run-of-the-mill cycle of complaining and not making changes—with your friends, your work, or yes, even a relationship that's simply not fulfilling your needs—you may be in what's called a "victim loop," and the only way is to transform it into an "accountability loop."
1. Notice the signs.
What are you currently complaining about: Not having enough money? Being unfit? Having flaky friends?
In many cases, you can harness your earning power—for example, by learning fresh skills, asking for a raise, or starting a side hustle.
And if you're not as fit as you'd like to be, the truth is that no one controls how often you slip on those sneakers but you.
If you're sick of flaky friends, who exactly is responsible for you taking initiative with new (non-flaky) friendships? Or having a grown-up conversation with current friends about your needs being met as a reliable pal? Yep—that's you and you.
As an extremely punctual person, I told a chronically late friend how unfun it was to always be sitting at a bar or cafe for 20-25 minutes waiting for her while she did I-don't-know-what. I mean, once in a while is unavoidable, but not every time. Because my time matters too. She's rarely been late since—and said it's been a source of pride for her (even other people have been pleasantly surprised by her newfound punctuality).
Signs of dissatisfaction add up over time—rarely is something going wrong a total shock. What signs are you ignoring? A dwindling bank account, tighter jeans, annoyance over yet another cancellation text? Pay attention. The earlier you notice the signs, the sooner you can take decisive action to correct them.
2. Be flexible in shifting your focus to you.
A great way to begin is to start all sentences with the word "I."
Think about how much more power you have when you say, "I'd like to learn how to be a better conversationalist" instead of "People judge me for interrupting them, but that's just who I am!"
Where can you start using "I?" "I can," "I have," or "I will" is even better!
Let's say you can't cook (... I'm with you on that one). I constantly say things like, "Cooking is hard!" "Ingredients are expensive, and they always get thrown out!" and "Ugh, it's so annoying that at the end of an exhausting day we have to figure out what to eat!"
Instead, I could say:
"I can learn a couple cooking hacks—hey, these don't look too tricky" (and Nos. 6 and 20 look extra delish).
"I have a Trader Joe's four blocks away—I can make this happen."
"I'll benefit from less-salty Seamless orders, that's for sure!"
When we start a sentence with "I," it's empowering. It feels different. Because you are playing the active role! And that means you have the powaahhh! Try it even for a day and notice what it does for you.
3. Decide to accept full accountability for your life.
When something bad happens, thinking it's anyone's fault but yours is not going to help you—ever. When you declare your own accountability, not only are you acting as your highest, most mature self, but something remarkable happens. The change-making magic of control is put squarely in your hands, and it starts to feel pretty damn powerful.
Here are couple of ways to activate your accountability:
Be honest with yourself.
When something upsetting happens, be quiet with yourself for a minute. Put both hands on your heart and ask yourself, "What do I know to be true?" Your inner guide will give you new direction. And it will only be based on what you are to do—not fixing anyone or proving anything to any other human. All of the answers are within you when you decide to take your power back. And exquisite honesty yields exquisite capability.
Be willing to shed something.
When we are willing to let go of something—a person, a physical object, a belief… after the initial scariness and sadness, there is space. That space allows fresh thinking and new opportunities to flow to you. Think about it—nature does this all time. Shedding is natural and healthy. We don't freak out when dead leaves fall off the tree, right? The tree ain't dead! It's in the cycle of renewal. Our bodies need to shed old cells and create new ones, and so do we.
Do you need to shed something in your life sooner rather than later? You know the truth.
Sam never got her money back, but her heart healed, and she learned a lesson worth way more than $1,000:
The biggest mistake we make when we give away our power is thinking we don't have any.
Susie Moore is Greatist's life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column!