What Is a Karmic Cycle?

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What Is a Karmic Cycle?

A karmic cycle is a repetitious pattern of events, emotions, or realizations that occur in your life. It appears in your life as an opportunity to break negative cycles and subsequently reap great wisdom.

It is believed that karmic cycles are opportunities to master a life lesson, and until that lesson is mastered, we will continue to repeat the cycle.

A karmic cycle isn't a medical term and has minimal research backing. For students of yoga, astrology, Buddhism, Indian spirituality, or New Age spirituality practices, the term karmic cycle may feel somewhat familiar. However, this may be an entirely new concept for those of us who don't dabble in the aforementioned worlds.

Either way, fully understanding karma, karmic cycles, and how both are vehicles for change in your life is the first step to healing. Let's dig into the history behind this concept.

History of Karmic Cycles

The history behind the concept of karmic cycles begins with the idea of karma. At its simplest definition, karma is a concept stating that the quality of a person's actions influences the quality of the outcome. In other words, a good deed will lead to a positive outcome, whereas a bad deed will lead to a negative outcome.

The term karma is a Sanskrit word and a central idea in Hinduism and Buddhism. In these Eastern religions, there is a belief in reincarnation—that every human has lived multiple lifetimes, with each lifetime being an opportunity to evolve and grow.

This growth comes through a series of moral, ethical, and spiritual challenges, which is when a karmic cycle comes in.

What a Karmic Cycle May Look Like

For example, let's say you experienced a moral challenge in a previous lifetime that ultimately resulted in failure—perhaps you didn't act in accordance with your morals due to fear, societal expectations, or simply because it didn't occur to you that there was another option. In a karmic cycle, you'll face a similar challenge in this lifetime. These challenges can come through familial dynamics, relationships, and even experiences in the workplace. 

Signs of a Karmic Cycle

Here are two attributes of karmic cycles: First, they appear to invite you to actualize your highest potential by having the chance to make different choices. Second, they're relatively easy to spot once you recognize the signs.

Something Feels Very Familiar 

Perhaps your boyfriend reminds you of your angry father. Or, try as you might, you keep ending up in toxic work environments. On the other hand, maybe you're struggling with something a bit more serious, like drinking half a bottle of wine every night while realizing that you watched your mother do the exact same thing.

In psychology, such scenarios may be linked to attachment styles or intergenerational trauma. In spiritual terms, this scenario can be considered a karmic cycle. The identifying factor is a repeated maladaptive pattern in your life. 

You Keep Attracting the Same Types of People

If every partner you've had featured the same not-so-great traits from your parents, you are likely in a karmic cycle of sorts.

Studies show that we gravitate towards what feels comfortable, even if that means we end up repeating a traumatic pattern.

If we are used to those who love us having a hot temper, the discomfort of seeing our partner get easily angered may be eerily familiar and even tolerated with a familiar level of suffering. Alternatively, having an upbringing with absentee caregivers may result in feeling comfortable in the loneliness of a relationship where emotional intimacy is lacking.

You Are Being Faced With Your Fears

Let's say one of your greatest fears is financial insecurity. Because of this fear, you may have unhappily stayed in your unfulfilling job for many years because it is stable and secure. However, on the inside, you may dream of a more fulfilling and creative career.

If you lose your current job, this could be considered a karmic opportunity. Instead of continuing the cycle of only applying for jobs that will support you financially but not fulfill you emotionally, you might choose instead to face your fear and decide to do something different. You might choose to finally go for a career that you feel would satisfy you, operating from a place of courage and inspiration instead of fear.

Facing your biggest fear is a karmic opportunity to reevaluate your true desires.

How to Use a Karmic Cycle for Healing

Remember, the purpose of a karmic cycle is to ultimately achieve a higher level of ethical and moral wisdom in this lifetime. Karmic cycles by design are for our healing. If we become aware of our karmic cycles and are ready to do the mental, emotional, and spiritual work to change them, then deeper healing and greater self-actualization are possible.

Seeking the support of a trusted mental health professional who honors your spiritual beliefs is important. The themes that can come up on these journeys can be harrowing and it can be challenging making different choices than any others you've made in the past, yielding different results. You do not have to do this work or walk this journey alone.

Seeking a form of holistic therapy can be a great fit, as many forms are spiritually-affirming, utilize an eclectic mix of cognitive and somatic therapies, and tend to the root cause of issues. 

Turn your focus towards your relationship with yourself. Are you overly self-critical? Do you find yourself acting out of alignment with your values? Then, with gentle care, begin to extend grace to yourself.

Moving through a karmic experience can be immensely challenging, and the stronger your connection is to your highest and truest self, the greater your chance to break old karmic cycles that no longer serve you. The ride may not be easy, but it is always worth it.

The Impact of Karmic Cycles

A karmic cycle has the potential to change your life. With the proper support, perspective, intention, and action, you will find that your life circumstances begin to shift for the best.

Remember, at the core philosophy of a karmic cycle is a lesson that transcends lifetimes. As you break free of old karmic cycles, you may observe and experience relationships, jobs, and ways of living your life significantly shifting as you continue your growth and evolution.

Potential Pitfalls of a Karmic Cycle

The path to change and maturation is seldom comfortable. However, when a karmic cycle begins to feel unbearable, reflect on how you feel when you try to avoid the issues at hand. More often than not, the pain we experience when we run from emotional work is worse than the discomfort of facing the pattern head-on. 

Something to be aware of when navigating a karmic cycle is the concept of spiritual bypassing. This is when spiritual concepts are used to avoid unresolved issues. Acknowledging you're in the midst of a karmic cycle isn't enough to create change. It is merely the first step to meeting your new life.

A Word From Verywell

Trying to change karmic cycles or maladaptive patterns takes effort, time, and patience. Try not to overwhelm yourself. The first step to change is acknowledging what you want to do differently and moving forward from there. Remember to practice self-care and self-compassion. You may also turn to a mental health professional and/or spiritual leader for additional support.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Larson P. Karma. Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. In: Leeming DA, ed. Springer International Publishing; 2020.

By Julia Childs Heyl, MSW
Julia Childs Heyl, MSW, is a clinical social worker and writer. As a writer, she focuses on mental health disparities and uses critical race theory as her preferred theoretical framework. In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy.