We all have habits. Habits are the behaviors we repeat in our lives. Some habits, like brushing teeth daily, are healthy. Other habits, like smoking are unhealthy. Habits are observable and without too much difficulty, we can become aware of what our habits are.
We all have patterns. Patterns generate habits. Patterns are deeper and broader and have more to do with underlying beliefs about how to behave and the feelings associated with these beliefs. Like habits, some patterns are healthy, some are destructive. For example, a pattern of following rules might be rooted in the belief that order is good and feels safe. A pattern of not following rules might be rooted in the belief that one cannot trust authority and that doing things one’s own way necessary for survival.
Most people are not aware of their underlying beliefs and this is is why patterns may be challenging to change. If one wants to change a habit, it is most effective to shift the pattern underneath it. The good news is that patterns can be changed. The bad news is that most patterns are unconscious and we can’t change something we don’t know about.
Humans are multi dimensional; we are physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and energetic. The good news is that patterns can be shifted and reformed from almost any of these dimensions. The bad news is that patterns exist on all these levels and often need to be addressed on all levels in order to really heal or change. The good new is that this is possible, the bad news in that it may take some dedicated work.
Patterns are not habits, though most habits are formed from patterns. Patterns are deeper, older, less conscious. Patterns are like the foundation of a house and most are formed in childhood. Childhood experience is like a template for the rest of our lives. Each person’s template or foundation is unique, like a fingerprint. There are a myriad of ways to respond or react to any given situation and each person, based on their particular physical, mental, emotional and spiritual configuration will react or respond in a unique way. This unique way or responding to experiences becomes our template for moving through the world; it becomes our foundation, our pattern.
For example, Tess had a depressed mother and a very energetic, loving father. Her parents divorced when she was 5 and she lived with Mom. Tess’s mother became more depressed after the divorce and Tess felt like she had to care for her mother and be very good so that mom would be OK. Her father remarried when she was 6 and had a new baby soon after. Tess saw her father every other weekend. She tried to be helpful with the new baby so that her father would love her and want her around more.
These family dynamics became a template or foundation for how Tess viewed herself in the world and in relationship to others. Tess believed that she needed to care for others in order to be loved and always felt that she was not good enough because she did not receive the love that she was working so hard for. She was unloved because her mother was emotionally unavailable because of her depression and own feelings of failure and victimization. Tess felt unloved because her father chose to spend more time and energy on his “new family” than with her. He also didn’t like dealing with his depressed ex-wife.
5 year old Tess couldn’t understand that the lack of love came from the parent’s issue and had little to do with her worth as a person. Children have a limited understanding of the world and are naturally self centered, in that they believe the world is reacting to them. Tess’s child psyche made sense of the situation in a child way: there must be something wrong with me if they are not loving me. I will try harder to be good and caring of others. This because Tess’s foundation for future patterns.
As she grew older, Tess found herself drawn to friends and later boyfriends who were needy and depressed. She was familliar with the caregiver role. However, she also had a knack for getting involved with married men. She would fall hopelessly in love with men who were committed to other women. She came to therapy hoping to change these painful patterns. She had tried to change the habit, the behavior, of being “the other woman” by swearing off married men, but she seemed to be a magnet for them. If they weren’t married they were unable to hold a job or had serious physical or emotional problems that required her to care for them.
By shifting to the genesis of the pattern, the place where it all started, the behaviors and symptoms will unwind by themselves. This sounds like magic, but it is actually the very clear, conscious work of taking full responsibility for the self; the emotional self, the physical self, the spiritual self and the mental self. Having all these self parts does not mean that we are schizophrenic. It means that we are complex and that we cannot ignore the wheat and only water the corn if we hope to have a full harvest.
Through a simple mindfulness practice, or light trance state, we were able to become aware of this wounded 5 year old inside of Tess and begin a dialog. In the presence of this unloved child, Tess felt a lot of compassion and love and noticed how wonderful the girl really was. This girl felt she was worthless, but Tess noticed how insightful, sensitive, compassionate, wise, energetic and creative the girl is. I say “is” rather than “was,” because our inner truth is always available to us in present time.
Tess told the child all the good things she saw in her. The girl had never felt seen in an authentic way before that moment. Tess also said that she would be willing to love and care for this inner child and make room for her in her life by spending more time doing art and being in nature, activities the 5 year old loves, and less time “helping” needy friends. When asked, the little girl said that she didn’t like the unavailable men and promised to be a source of wisdom in choosing whom to date in the future. It seemed that without active connection with this vital part of herself, Tess was more prone to seeking love from unavailable men or to being a caretaker to try to get her own needs met. This inner connection fulfilled much of the need she had been unsuccessfully seeking through others. The little girl had felt abandoned by Tess and didn’t really trust her, but Tess promised to check in with the girl on a regular basis and to build inner trust by caring more for this girl than for the needs of others.
Tess had much work to do to rebuild this relationship with her emotional inner child after years of self neglect. She had been giving to others what she had wanted to receive herself. Once she began to give love, time and compassion to herself in a deep way, her need to give to others in an unhealthy way began to change.
Healing and maintaining a healthy internal relationship with the self is pattern changing. Work of this nature is foundational, it is happening on a soul level. In shifting how we relate to ourself, we shift our core beliefs and our future choices for how we move through the world. When the soul heals, the patterns, habits and behaviors heal and unwind easily and naturally.