As many of you probably know, I have made a career out of looking at patterns. Of course, not in the literal sense, like this beautiful tile work to the left of this blog. Rather, assisting people in examining their own patterned behavior.
I am sure I am not the only one who's ever felt like they keep making the same "mistake" over and over again. Insert any pattern here -- over indulging in your favorite foods, night after night; drinking to get that buzz or picking the wrong type of men over and over again. We all have patterns of behavior.
Patterns develop for a myriad of reasons. The beginning of pattern development is through our childhood. It is a scientific fact that we learn through example. We can thank our parental figures for modeling how to cope and react and what to stand for. This is not to chastise our parents, but rather bring awareness to the potential roots of our patterns.
Generally speaking, we adapt and develop patterns in 3 ways. The first way is monkey see monkey do. Let's take for example growing up in a household where Mom is often reactive. Something bad happens and she over reacts, she goes to worst case scenario thinking and starts to catastrophize. Or maybe Dad never talks about his emotions. Even when something super sad happens he remains stoic and unemotional. As a child, you may learn these are two "appropriate" ways to react to adversity, fear or challenge in your own life. As a result you may overreact when your boyfriend does not respond to a text message within 15 minutes OR you are unphased and seemingly unbothered by your partner's verbal attacks on your weight. These are two examples of being reactive VS suppressive.
The second way we create patterns is doing the complete opposite of ours parents. Mom is overreact, so I generalize and minimize everything. I never make a big deal about anything, even if it truly is a big deal. I neglect my own self-dignity so I don't look like a drama queen. Maybe my boss at work gives me a poor evaluation and asks for feedback, and I say nothing because I don't want to make it a big deal even though I disagree with her assessment. Or maybe my Dad never talked about feelings, so I tend to exaggerate responses to seemingly normal requests from others. For example, a friend cancels plans due to a conflict of interest and you find yourself labeling your friend as selfish, rude and you tell him the next time he has plans he can find someone else to go with, rather than taking a breath and realizing things come up!
The third way of pattern develop is very much in the minority. Some of us will be able to see our parental figure's patterns and look objectively at what works and what does not work, applying it to our lives -- of course making mistakes a long the way, but none the less, adapting. This is very rare without early intervention (therapy at a young age). But some of you may be the lucky ones. :)
Society also impacts how we "should" and "shouldn't" react, communicate, show love, set boundaries, etc. Society at large fails us in pattern making. Society, movies and TV shows, often depict stereotypes of how certain [insert label; gender, sex, sexuality, age, race] types of people should act. Remind yourself you get to determine you behaviors not some outside source.
So, first things first -- GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK IF YOU ARE REPEATING UNHEALTHY PATTERNS.
Don't be so hard on yourself. A pattern does not just exist, it came from somewhere. That's Step 1.
Once you have compassion for yourself in making said unhealthy or unserving decisions (even over and over again) become curious. Instead of being harsh with yourself for the action, inquire why you may be making this same decision over and over again. Live with a sense of curiosity about your behaviors. "I wonder why I keep dating men who are financially stable but emotionally unavailable?" rather than, "I was picking the worst guys! What's wrong with me?"
Remember, your patterns have most likely allowed you to calm some sort of chaos in your life.
Once you've identified the pattern, look into it's roots. Simply ask yourself how your parents, siblings, society, etc. may have modeled how you act, what you settle for, --the list goes on and on.
Step 1 - Compassion; Step 2 - Inquiry.
Now here comes the hard part: changing patterns. Cautionary warning: It's going to be uncomfortable, very very uncomfortable. Why? Well, because our patterns are predictable. And we like what is predictable.
Predictability masquerades as comfort when really it is familiar.
We know how to deal with it, even if it hurts. We know what it feels like; what the aftermath is; etc. This is where we allow fear to encapsulate us. "If I start doing things differently, what will happen!? I won't know how to react!?" You're probably right, you won't. But you will learn. Because doing the same thing gets you the same result; good, bad or indifferent.
Be curious about new patterns. Think of yourself as a scientist, trying out a new hypothesis. Don't set expectations on the change, simply engage in the process and see what happens. For example, maybe you tend to keep quiet when you feel someone has said something hurtful to you. Or maybe you feel bad saying "No" when a friend asks you to hang out, so you always say "Yes." Start there. Say, "Hey, what you said kind of hurt me." You're allowed to feel how you want to feel - even if the other person's intention was never to hurt you. Or maybe you say "No" to your friend for dinner plans because you want a night in alone and your friend calls you a "bad friend." Remember, you're friend is allowed and entitled to their feelings, but you are entitled to your intention. Your response may be: "I'm sorry you feel that way. I just need some alone time right now."
Step 1 - Compassion; Step 2 - Inquiry; Step 3 - Testing a New Hypothesis (Curiosity + Testing).
The last and final step is application. Once you've tested out a new patterns [again, insert any behavior pattern] then look at the results. But remember, it's probably going to FEEL different. You were used to your old patterns. They didn't get there over night and they won't go away over night. It's like your favorite fuzzy sweater; waiting for you to slip it back on because it fits so nicely. Allow yourself to feel the results of change. Then become curious again. Ask yourself a few questions: "What did I like about how I handled x, y and z? What didn't I like? How did I feel after? What about a week later? Did it warrant a DIFFERENT result than I'm used to? Should I do it again, or make a slight or major change and test of new method?" Once you've engaged in some self-inquiry, after the fact; choose to continue the new behavior; alter it; or return to your norm. The choice is yours.
Step 1 - Compassion; Step 2 - Inquiry; Step 3 - Curiosity and Testing; Step 4 - Examining/Applying.
In ending, I leave you with this:
Remember, your patterns are the portals for change.
Instead of looking at your repeated patterns as black holes of self deprecation, look at them as entry ways into newness. Have compassion with your own patterns. Inquire where and why. Develop new ones. And examine their outcomes. You have the power to create change.