How to Overcoming Unwanted Patterns?

Unwanted patterns that consist of feelings, thoughts, or behaviors we would like to change but we find our attempts to change either totally or nearly always unsuccessful.

Even when we make progress towards changing those behaviors or feelings, our progress is often very tentative and after a period of partial success. It is extremely easy to lapse back into the old pattern as if no progress had even been made.

Most of the Unwanted patterns:

Most of the time Unwanted patterns are a combination of behaviors and feelings/thoughts. Some examples of behaviors that one could categorize as unwanted patterns are:

  • Always getting involved with the wrong kind of man
  • Not socializing as much as one would want
  • Not confronting someone who is making you angry or hurt
  • Taking on much more than your share of the responsibility just to keep the peace and
  • Not taking the steps necessary to try to bring about that job change or to further your education as you had planned.

Sometimes unwanted patterns may consist of feelings that persist in one’s mind. These feelings are often negative, not ones we would live with if we had a choice. Some examples of such feelings are anxiety, depression, dread, anger, hatred, and feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.

These feelings often represent inappropriate ways of dealing with a particular life problem for the person experiencing the feeling. For example, a man in treatment recently reported a dread whenever he thought about going to Florida to retire.

When asked what he was planning to do when he started living there, he began to rattle a list of things he did NOT want to do, such as take a part-time job below a certain wage level, work at a certain part-time job, or take a course he found uninteresting.

When asked to assess the probability of finding a suitable part-time job or doing meaningful volunteer work – which he said was an acceptable option – or taking an acceptable course, he said the probability of at least one of the things happening and things working out okay for him well over 95%.

However, since most of the time he focused on an unsatisfactory outcome, one which was highly unlikely to occur, it is not surprising that he would experience a feeling of dread with respect to this upcoming change.

Finally, unwanted patterns can combine feelings and behavior. When someone makes us very angry for very little reason, in addition to feeling this anger, we may lash out at this person with very little and, perhaps, no control.

Unwanted patterns persist and are so difficult to overcome because of very strong and related tendencies; the power of the status quo and our resistance to change.

The power of the status quo is exemplified in a situation that occurred several years ago. An intake interview of a woman who had been referred for counseling from the family court was being carried out. Of such cases, approximately three-quarters included violence.

This case exceeded most in the intensity of the violence involved. The woman had been hospitalized twice for severe injuries resulting from beatings by her husband.

During the course of the interview, which took place soon after the conclusion of her second hospitalization, she was asked what she planned to do next. After a short pause to think, she said: “I supposed I’ll give it one more try”. The ultimate resolution of the case is unavailable.

Our resistance to change is the second strong feeling which makes it so difficult to overcome old, unwanted patterns. An interesting illustration of this can be experienced by deciding to make one of the following changes for just one day.

Move everything you usually put in your left pocket into your right pocket and vice versa. Or move everything on the right side of your desk to the left side and vice versa. Or move things around in the kitchen or some other room in the house.

Most persons who do this experience extreme discomfort at first until they get adjusted to the changes. In fact, even just seriously thinking about doing such a thing can bring feelings of resistance – one does not really want to do this. And these changes are relatively minor, certainly compared to things such as a career change or a change in a major relationship.

The power of the status quo and the resistance to change reinforce one another. They are both often strengthened by feelings of low self-esteem and unrealistic beliefs such as “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”

If I go out with someone I really like, I could be trapped for life”. “I do not deserve or incapable of a better situation.”

The first major step in overcoming old, unwanted patterns involves attaining or trying to attain appropriate awareness.

Appropriate awareness may involve trying to become aware of one’s goals in order to begin to move towards these goals. Or it may involve the more difficult task of becoming more fully aware of the unwanted patterns themselves.

What precisely are these unwanted patterns? Are they inappropriate ways of looking at things, such as was the case for the man retiring to Florida?

  • In another example of inappropriate ways of looking at things, a recently treated woman tended to classify all men as either very exciting but totally irresponsible or responsible but very boring. Such black-and-white-without-shades-of-gray thinking often limits one’s capabilities or desires to take appropriate action, such as going out with many men and seeing how they differ from one another in a variety of ways.
  • Taking appropriate actions, our second major step in overcoming old, unwanted patterns, is often not an easy step. As we have seen already, the two very powerful forces of maintaining the status quo and resistance to change strongly oppose taking such actions.
  • Additional factors may also make the taking of these necessary actions more difficult for some persons, and impossible for others. These include four factors:

1. Not knowing specifically how to carry out changes.

Thus, someone may not know how and where one should look for a new job or career or how to determine whether one can live alone financially after being somewhat or totally dependent on someone else; or how to live with someone else after having been alone for so long.

2. Not knowing the appropriate pace to carry out these changes.

When looking for someone to date, should someone go out looking once a week, once a month, or more or less often than either of these two alternatives? If someone is angry about doing all the housework, should that person stop doing some of these tasks, all of these tasks; which ones and for how long?

3. Realizing that starting to make a change can be the most difficult part of the change process.

Sometimes doing a little something with respect to the desired change on one day can make it much easier to make a lot of progress on the following day. This may be referred to as the “breakthrough effect.” For example, you are looking for a new job, and you can’t bear reading want ads. However, if you do that for just ten or fifteen minutes the first day, it is likely that it will be much easier to do this for a much longer time, such as an hour, the next day.

4. Often people believe in the all-or-nothing phenomena when it comes to change or alternative behaviors.

First, you should realize that when you begin the process of carrying out change, very few changes are irreversible. Also, you should try to focus as often as possible on the reasons why you are trying to carry out the particular change.

This is very important since another powerful force that often seems to enter people’s minds during the change process, especially when things are not going as well as had been hoped, is: “Why did I make this change and not just stick with the way things had been before?”

At such times, it is important to reinforce the reasons why one DID make the change and recall, specifically, what the problems were with the previous situation prior to the start of change? During times of difficulty, the thought that “things will never good as they used to be” often creeps into one’s consciousness. This thought is rarely true, however.

Being aware of the above four factors can help a person bring about desired changes more easily. Not only are unwanted behaviors changed, but unwanted feelings are also likely to be shed or greatly reduced.

In fact, unwanted feelings may even be alleviated or totally eliminated by simply becoming more appropriately aware of one’s goals and taking some meaningful action or actions toward the carrying out of these goals.

However, carrying out these changes, even with an awareness of the above four factors, is still often not an easy task.

Sometimes it is very helpful or even necessary – to use the help of a therapist. A skilled therapist can help in both gaining sufficient awareness and taking appropriate actions, the two major steps in overcoming old, unwanted patterns.

An experienced therapist should be able to sense the appropriate pace of change for each person with whom he or she works and guide each person in a supportive manner, at or close to that pace, toward the goals established by the person in therapy.

The most appropriate approaches to change are those that are for the most part oriented toward present real-life problems; those that involve an understanding and awareness of one’s present thoughts, feelings, and goals; and those in which the role of the therapist is to help the person in therapy to both understand one’s thoughts and feelings and to move toward one’s goals at an appropriate pace.

Dynamic Psychotherapy is oriented in this way. Click here to see more about Dynamic Psychotherapy.

Gender need not be an important consideration in the choice of a therapist. As factors likely to affect the therapy’s successful progress and overall outcome, an experienced therapist who is strong at seeing problems from the perspective of the person in therapy and the overall orientation of the therapist are far more important than gender.

Clinical psychologist points out that sometimes a therapist of the opposite gender will facilitate the emergence of feelings about the opposite gender during the therapy. This can often speed the resolution of problems one has in conjunction with these feelings; enabling one to move more quickly toward desired goals.


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