Not again! Despite your best efforts, your fiercest pattern has you in its claws. Your current relationship is turning out just like the last three, or your bank account is empty, or some other area of your life is in complete disarray.
In that moment of grim recognition, your Inner Critic piles on the shame and “shoulds,” telling you that everyone else has this figured out and you’re not trying hard enough. On top of the pattern itself, you feel desperation over not being able to fix it.
Hold still, move in
When my cat hooks my hand with her claws, I’ve learned to hold still, and then move my hand toward her to get unhooked. The same idea works with a recurring pattern.
Name the experience
Hold still by naming the experience you are having right now, in its rawest form.
- “I am having the experience of not getting what I need.”
- “I am having the experience of not being seen.”
- “I am having the experience of my boundaries being violated.”
What words convey your own experience? Pause. Breathe. This is where you are right now.
It’s not just you
We each have a unique set of strengths and tools to apply to our problems. Some problems yield so easily that we barely notice them, and we wonder why other people don’t manage them as well as we do. Some problems require a lot of hard work, but the progress is clear.
A few leftover problems are unaffected or even exacerbated by our particular strengths and tools. Those become our recurring patterns. We all have them.
Next time your Inner Critic tells you to try harder, remember that you’re doing your best with the resources you have. Since your tools aren’t fixing this problem, holding still and naming the experience may be your best option.
Become a world expert
Now that you’ve gained a sliver of relief by holding still and naming your experience, you can move in and unhook the claws by becoming a world expert in your own pattern. Study it with kind attention. Consider keeping a lab notebook for your observations.
Gently look back
You’ve seen this pattern a lot, and you already know a lot about it. You probably have a long list of attempts that haven’t worked. Honor your efforts! In science, negative results are just as important as positive results.
With gentle curiosity, look at how the pattern has started and run its course in the past. As much as you can, skip over fault, or blame, or who was right and wrong. Simply look at what happened and how you responded.
You can also study the present, noticing your sensations and emotions when you’re in the grip of the pattern. What happens in your body as part of this experience you’ve named?
Notice the changes
Every time the pattern comes around, it can seem as if you’re trapped in a loop which will never change. At the same time, you continue to acquire new information, skills, and awareness. You’re on a spiral rather than a loop, moving through the pattern slightly differently each time. Take note of even the smallest differences. Think back a few years, or ask a compassionate friend, and you may realize that they add up to big shifts.
Also remember that “never” and “forever” are flashback markers. Unprocessed traumatic memories can mysteriously draw similar events into your life in an effort to heal. As you hold still and move in toward the pattern, the traumatic memories have an opportunity to integrate into ordinary narrative memory.
Trust your senses
As an expert, you’ll become sensitive to the merest hint of the pattern. Your Inner Critic may be tempted to accuse you of projecting it into the world. Take a look at that list of all the fixes you’ve tried. Trust that you’re not secretly trying to make yourself miserable. If you’re sensing the pattern, there’s a good reason.
Watch it in action
As painful as it can be to see a pattern coming and be unable to change it (this time), the act of observation is already a change. Pause. Breathe. Name your experience moment by moment, including the frustration and despair of being in the pattern again. Bring in as much gentleness and support as you can.
Recurring patterns can highlight your weaknesses, and at the same time show your hidden strengths. Is it easy for you to intuit and follow someone’s wishes (even though you want clearer boundaries)? Is it easy for you to relax and not sweat the small stuff (even though you’d prefer to know where your keys are)? You may not be getting the results you want, but there is still ease there. As you become an expert in your pattern, notice and celebrate your strengths.
Taming, not banishing
We’d all love to banish our fiercest patterns and never encounter them again. Unfortunately, we have to live with them instead. Taming them by naming our experiences and studying them will keep us from getting clawed as much in the process. We may even come to grudgingly appreciate them with time.
Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way by Rick Carson emphasizes the themes of Simply Noticing and Playing with Options in a compact, playful format. Highly recommended.
Photo credit: *Kicki*