It is not uncommon to find ourselves stuck in a behaviour or way of relating to ourselves and others that is unhelpful and that gets in the way of us leading a fulfilling and meaningful life. This kind of stuckness can take many different forms including chronic self-criticism, procrastination, explosive anger, substance abuse, avoidance of intimacy and the list goes on. Getting unstuck is one of the main reasons that people seek out therapy, in hopes of gaining some perspective or guidance as to how to reduce their suffering. An important (if not crucial) first step to becoming unstuck is to do the opposite of what we are inclined to do and to turn towards the behaviour, thought pattern, or emotion with a sense of non-judgmental acceptance.
In doing this we acknowledge how we became stuck in the first place, and start to address the underlying needs that this pattern (ineffectively) meets. Generally, any pattern that we have developed was developed at a time when we needed it in order to survive. In other words it was protective at a time when we didn’t know how else to protect ourselves. Maybe it wasn’t safe to express emotions around a volatile caregiver, so we learned to push our emotions down or avoid our own emotional experience. Overtime and with added life stress, this emotional avoidance might become even more extreme and take the form of numbing out through food, substances, or other addictive behaviours. Perhaps our pattern of explosive behaviour came out of a wish to have protect ourselves from appearing vulnerable after painful encounters with schoolyard bullies or abusive or inconsistent parents. Although these behaviors become maladaptive and harmful to us, they originally came from a sincere place.
Feeling ashamed or judgmental of these patterns only serves to leave us blind to the underlying need that the pattern meets, causing us to remain helpless in the face of the pattern/behaviour. It causes us to remain stuck. Buddhist psychologist and mediation teacher Tara Brach speak of the importance of forgiving the behaviour or pattern, psychologist Kristen Neff goes a step further to add that we can even thank the behaviour or pattern for keeping us safe at a time when we needed it. This type of acceptance targets the layer of shame which so often leaves us glued to the patterns that are no longer serving us. As we move away from shame and towards acceptance we are more able to address the causes of our suffering.
Here are 5 ways in which we can turn towards and start to rework unhelpful patterns:
Overall, patterns can be hard to change, but not impossible. If we treat ourselves with kindness and acceptance and consistently engage in corrective practices, we can move out of fear-based living and into greater well-being.
For assistance with changing unhelpful patterns, contact us.