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Dysfunctional Cycles and Spirals

Web resources on "breaking the cycle"

Dysfunctional Cycles and Spirals
B. Spirals

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Anthony Judge

This paper is a contribution to reflection on viable strategies for sustainable development on the occasion of the
UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002)

The following cycles and spirals were identitifed from the web as part of work on a separate paper on Psychology of Sustainability: embodying cyclic environmental processes (/psychsus_x_h_1) where their significance is discussed.

For a meeting on inter-sectoral dialogue on the occasion of the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) a somewhat related study was undertaken on the many sets of issues identified in declarations prepared for the gathering. This explored possibilities of structuring such issues by Configuring strategic dilemmas in intersectoral dialogue cyclically on the surface of a sphere [more].

A. Cycles (or circuits)

There is now a very extensive focus on "breaking" dysfunctional cycles [use web search "breaking the cycle of" (or "breaking the cycles of")] that might be understood as undermining healthy sustainability.

Once completed, the search was extended to include "breaking the chain of" and "breaking the chains of" on the assumption that "chain" was here understood as a synonym for "cycle". The links found were added to those for any equivalent cycle already in the list -- unless no such cycle was found (in which case the term "chain" was used in the list). In the latter case there is a question of whether "chain" is understood merely as a binding or burden without any sense of the circular dynamic associated with "cycle" -- as in the cases of the chains of: legacy [more], behaviorism [more], chastity [more], loneliness [more], man-made religion [more], or the past [more]. The search was further extended to "breaking the circle of".

The following loosely clustered list covers over 100 such cycles -- possibly with some overlaps or duplicates in practice. Those identified from the web searches may derive either from studies of such a cycle or mention of such cycles in the body of a text with some other preoccupation. It is intended to be illustrative of usage rather than concerned with identifying the best source on a particular cycle.

Abuse and violence

  • the "cycle of domestic violence", physical and emotional abuse" [more; more; more; more],, or family violence [more],
  • the "cycle of male violence"
  • the "cycle of marital strife" [more]
  • the "cycle of abuse" against pregnant women [more],
  • the "cycle of emotional blackmail" [more]
  • the "cycle of child abuse" [more; more],
  • the "cycle of animal abuse" [more], pet abuse and cruelty to animals [more],
  • the "cycle of insecurity" [more; more], social violence [more], and gang violence [more],
  • the "cycle of destructive behaviour" [more],
  • the "cycle of fear" [more; more; more; more], fear of aging [more], and anxiety [more],
  • the "cycle of institutional abuse" [more],
  • the " circle of violence in schools" [more],
  • the "circle of ritual abuse" [more],
  • the "chain of aggression" [more],
  • the "cycle of violence" relating to terrorism [more; more; more]

Self-abuse, defeatism and sin

  • the "cycle of destructive expression" [more],
  • the "cycle of depression" [more],
  • the "cycle of failure" [more],
  • the "cycle of maladaptation" [more],
  • the "cycle of addiction" [more; more; more], compulsive relapse [more] and associations [more],
  • the "cycle of substance abuse" [more; more; more], chemical dependency, nicotine dependence [more],
  • the "cycle of self-medicating emotional and psychological pain"
  • thje "cycle of emotional dishonesty" [more],
  • the "cycle of self-defeating behaviours" [more], or self-destructive behaviours [more], and destructive habits [more],
  • the "cycle of self-mutilation" [more],
  • the "cycle of anger" [more; more; more]
  • the "cycle of despair" [more; more],
  • the "chain of low self-esteem" [more],
  • the "chain of psychological slavery" [more],
  • the "chain of depression" [more],
  • the "chain of denial" [more],
  • the "cycle of apathy" [more; more],
  • the "cycle of negativity" [more],
  • the "cycle of self-indulgence" [more],
  • the "cycle of sin" [more; more], generational sin [more], and wrong-doing [more],
  • the "chain of mysicism" [more],
  • the "cycle of spiritual poverty" [more],
  • the cycle of reincarnations" [more; more; more] and karma [more]
Crime and irresponsibility
  • the "cycle of corruption" and bribery [more],
  • the "chain of lies" [more],
  • the "cycle of sexual addiction" [more; more; more],
  • the "cycle of teen pregnancy" [more],
  • the "cycle of offending" [more],
  • the "cycle of crime" [more], , and recidivism [more]
  • the "cycle of victims becoming offenders"
  • the "chain of incursion" [more], especially onto runways [more],
  • the "chain of repeat accidents" [more], accident repetition [more], and repeat injuries [more],
  • the "chain of firesetting" and arson [more; more],
  • the "cycle of emotional investing" [more; more],
  • the "cycle of emotional lability" and school failure [more],

Food, education, shelter and employment

  • the "cycle of ignorance" [more],
  • the "cycle of illiteracy" [more; more; more],
  • the "cycle of underachievement" [more],
  • the "cycle of dysfunctionalism" [more],
  • the "cycle of homelessness" [more; more; more]
  • the "cycle of child poverty" [more; more],
  • the "cycle of child labour" [more],
  • the "cycle of malnutrition" [more; more; more], and hunger [more],
  • the "cycle of unemployment" [more]

Intolerance and injustice

  • the "cycle of revenge" in ethnic conflict [more], or retribution [more], or vengeance [more]
  • the "cycle of hatred" or hate [more; more; more], misunderstanding, and cultural trauma [more],
  • the "chain of intolerance" [more],
  • the "cycle of racial intolerance" [more; more], distrust [more], global apartheid [more], and white dependence [more],
  • the "cycle of social exclusion" ,
  • the "circle of denigration" [more], stigma [more],
  • the "cycle of disadvantage" [more; more; more; more], and social disadvantage [more],
  • the "circle of backwardness" and marginalization [more],
  • the "cycle of deprivation" [more],
  • the "cycle of female deprivation" [more] and underachievement [more],
  • the "cycle of blame" [more], guilt [more], shame [more], and humiliation [more],
  • the "cycle of injustice" [more; more], inequalities [more],
  • the "cycle of oppression" [more; more], and domination [more],
  • the "cycle of forced labour" (forced labour, prostitution, sexually transmitted disease and drug abuse) [more]


  • the "cycle of mental illness" and incarceration [more; more], and insanity [more],
  • the "cycle of personal stress" [more; more],
  • the "cycle of disease" and ill health [more; more; more], and disease transmission [more; more],
  • the "cycle of infection" [more; more; more], food-borne disease [more]
  • the "cycle of pain" [more; more],
  • the "cycle of emotional and physiological suffering" [more],
  • the "cycle of food allergy" and dependency [more],
  • the "cycle of eating disorders" (bingeing and purging) [more], and emotional eating [more],

Lifestyle, community and governance

  • the "cycle of destruction" within communities [more; more],
  • the "cycle of debt" of individuals [more]
  • the "cycle of mission dependency"
  • the "cycle of welfare dependency" more],
  • the "chain of dependency" [more], and co-dependency [more],
  • the "cycle of poverty" and impoverishment [more; more; more] including multi-generational [more],
  • the "cycle of patronage" [more],
  • the "chain of fashion" [more],
  • the "cycle of work and spend" [more],
  • the "cycle of resistance to modernity" [more],
  • the "chain of traditional business thinking" [more],
  • the "cycle of mistrust" [more],
  • the "circle of non-cooperation" [more],
  • the "chain of defensive communication" [more],
  • the "cycle of public disgust towards politics" [more],
  • the "circle of impunity" [more],
  • the "cycle of failure" in community response to the vulnerable [more],
  • the "cycle of civilian failure" and military dictatorship [more]

Macro-concerns and environment

  • the "cycle of food security" issues [more; more],
  • the cycles of macro-economic dependency [more; more], exploitation [more; more], and oppression [more],
  • the "cycle of fisheries collapse" [more],
  • the "circle of low productivity" [more], and low-skill economies [more],
  • the "cycle of plunder" and pillage [more],
  • the "circle of poison" and harmful chemicals [more],
  • the "cycle of weeds, insects and diseases" [more], (crop rotation)
  • the "cycle of debt" of developing countries [more; more; more],
  • the "cycle of subsidies" [more],
  • the "chain of capitalism" [more],
  • the "circle of high investments and high savings" [more],
  • the "chain of environmental destruction" [more],
  • the "cycle of repetitive flood loss" [more],
  • the "cycle of large scale mortality and salvage" [more],
  • the "cycle of population pressure" [more],
  • the "cycle of competition" among regional powers [more], and escalating tensions [more],
  • the "cycle of weapons proliferation" [more], and smuggling [more],
  • the "cycle of inflationary" settlements [more], and wage expectations [more],

It is significant that most of the cycles recognized in documents on the web are only indirectly related to issues of sustainable development as normally described. Those above tend to emphasize the experiential nature of the cycles -- whether or not they have been elaborated or authenticated. There is a possibility that whilst the cycles characteristic of behavioural entrapment have become necessarily familiar to many, those associated with environmental degradation and its developmental implications have not.

It is appropriate to note the occasional occurrence in the search of cycles or chains that are in fact beneficial -- so that the breaking of the cycle is in fact itself a problem, for example: the "chain of causation" [more] or evidence [more], the "chain of logic", the "chain of command", the "chain of property title" [more], the "chain of energy metabolism" [more], the "chain of aquifer replenishment" [more], the "chain of the generational contract" [more], the "chain of humanity" [more], the "chain of organization structure" [more], the "chain of the seed" [more], the "chain of survival" [more], or even "The Chain of Being" [more].

Also of interest is the occurrence of a few documents on "transforming the cycle of", in relation to poverty [more], karma [more], and youth violence [more].

In the continuing work on the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential [online] efforts have been made to document the thousands of loops or cycles linking world problems, or the global strategies in response to them [more]. Users can experiment with visualizing them in various ways [more] and even binding them to music [more]. In a web-enabled knowledge society, there is a case for exploring how such patterns of links contribute to the "songlines of the noosphere" rather than thinking of them in relation to "information highways" [more]. The phenomenon of "webrings" that link related web sites is a move in this direction (with 62,000 Rings, 1.08 million active Sites, and 670,000+ unique registered users in July 2002) [more]. The possibility of "songlines" even suggests the merit of envisaging the sacralization of hyperlink geometry [more].

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