Patterns in the context of relationships are the unconscious repetition of behaviours that will perpetuate what we expect from the world and other people based on how we were raised and our previous relational experiences (what was imprinted/programmed into us).
Our psyches continue these patterns both by our choice in partner and also our behaviour with partners.
Our choice in partner will be to unconsciously continue the pattern by choosing someone who will act in ways that are familiar and evoke feelings in us that are familiar. We choose someone who will fulfil our need to repeat what we know. Even if it’s not what we want.
Our behaviour will unconsciously create dynamics and situations within the relationship that will evoke the expected and familiar responses and therefore the feelings that are familiar. Even if it’s not what we want.
- Look what was modelled to you by your parents' relationship with you and each other.
- Consider the messages you received about what love feels like when you were young.
- Notice the feeling you regularly have in relationships (eg: hurt / angry / neglected).
Here’s an example how to break it down:
“I end up doing all the work in the relationship. I organise, plan, tidy up, cook, clean – everything! And I feel so angry and lonely in the relationship. I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to just put the effort in. And what about a bit of attention for me? No one considers I might need some help every now and then.”
PATTERN/PROGRAMMING: One parent was probably co-dependent to the other parent and taught you to be too, perhaps that parent also had an anxious attachment and you were neglected as the parents’ focus was on themselves or each other rather than the children. You find it hard to express emotions directly or have a voice in relationships now because it wasn’t encouraged in you growing up. You learned that you got attention by ‘doing’ and being good/helpful. If your other parent had avoidant attachment you will be drawn to avoidantly attached partners now too to continue the pattern. You perhaps feel hard-done-by a lot of the time, taken advantage of and hurt. This is what is familiar and what will constitute some of your pattern.
Our choice in partner will be to unconsciously continue the pattern by choosing someone who will act in ways that are familiar and evoke feelings in us that are familiar.
- Who are you attracting and are attracted to?
- How do you behave with those people?
We must become conscious of our unhelpful behaviour/choices if we are to shift our patterns.
PATTERN: Attracted to people who need rescuing (those with addictions, mental health issues, financial problems).
BEHAVIOUR THAT MAINTAINS PATTERN: Become caretakers/over-responsible for others, take charge, tell others what to do, neglect/lose yourself, get resentful.
PATTERN-CHANGING BEHAVIOUR: Allow others to take care of themselves, offer help and advice only when asked, take responsibility for yourself & pursue your own interests + dreams, accept someone as they are and if that’s not possible letting them go.
PATTERN: Attracted to unavailable or avoidant people (those to whom we can’t get as close as we would like, people who withhold, are distant and aloof).
BEHAVIOUR THAT MAINTAINS PATTERN: Become obsessed, bombard with questions, tell what to do, neglect our interests + dreams, get angry, be over-emotional, try to make jealous.
PATTERN-CHANGING BEHAVIOUR: Take a step back and behave with control and dignity, have emotional boundaries, notice the positives, take responsibility for your own needs, observe their behaviour objectively and see what is on offer in the relationship when you are not triggered - and if you can accept that.
PATTERN: Attracted to charming, good looking people who say the right things initially but then become withholding (those with addictions or narcissistic tendencies).
BEHAVIOUR THAT MAINTAINS PATTERN: Ignore red flags, make excuses for bad behaviour, walk on eggshells, feel trapped, become isolated from friends and family.
PATTERN CHANGING BEHAVIOUR: Have eyes wide open & notice warning signs, maintain your own voice and ask questions/get clarity, have boundaries so you always feel free and in control of self, stay in touch with family + friends and focus on your own rich life.
When we consistently do these pattern-changing behaviours they will repel people that aren’t right for us, and attract those who are.
- Take responsibility for your choices and behaviour.
- Get clear on what you have done unconsciously in the past that inadvertently sabotages your relationships.
- Make a note of the key behaviours you would like to change or work on.
When working on a client’s patterns, I will always do a relationship history with them. It’s really useful to go back and see how each of our past relationships unfolded, what happened and the impact of those experiences on us.
With our newfound self-awareness we are able to view what happened with more compassion and understanding, and we can often make sense of situations and outcomes that were confusing.
And we can also become much more conscious of what was driving our behaviour and reactions, and how we have been perpetuating our patterns without realising it. It clearly highlights what traps we fell into and where to focus our personal growth efforts moving forward.
I recommend watching my Relationship Teaching Videos before doing this exercise (especially Teaching 1: Why Your Relationship Is Struggling A What To Do About It, and Teaching 3: Why We Are Attracted To Certain People).
The Relationship History I do with my clients is available as a pdf download right here.
Step 1: Get Clear On What Your Patterns Are
Step 2: Become An Expert In Your Patterns From 2 Angles
Step 3: Do A Relationship History
We can become much more conscious of what was driving our behaviour and reactions, and how we have been perpetuating our patterns without realising it.
Step 4: Break Down Your Unhelpful Behaviours Into 4 Categories
FEAR: What is underneath our thinking, feeling and behaviour? The wound it is touching and the fears, vulnerabilities and insecurities we have.
PROTECTIVE: How do we ‘protect’ ourselves in our vulnerability: going into survival mode (fight, flight, freeze), being reactive, defensive, avoidant, and/or projecting (blaming)?
CONTROLLING: Because we’re frightened, how do we attempt to control the other person and what they do or say, so we feel better?
PERPETUATING: How do we stay stuck in this pattern, feeling we aren’t ‘doing anything wrong’, ‘it’s not our fault’ or the other person is the problem?
Okay, this is a moment of truth for us so let’s dig deep. I want you to feel strong in your relationships. Dignified, in control (in a healthy way!) and NOT in the victim position. If we are anxiously/avoidantly attached, co-dependent, have low self-esteem, struggle with depression and anxiety etc we can slide into victim very easily. This is not an empowered place.
Far better to know ourselves, why we do what we do, own it and rock our boundaries and self-awareness with our heads held high. So this exercise is about getting clear on what is underneath all our unhelpful, sabotaging behaviour: Fear
The clues of our fears will be in our scripts and ascertained from your Relationship History. It’s what makes a triggering moment triggering. Our fears tell us of our hurts, wounding, vulnerabilities and insecurities & they play a huge part in how we relate to others. They will have themes around abandonment, rejection, being engulfed, overwhelmed, not being good enough, being unlovable, never getting what you want etc.
Because nowhere are we more vulnerable than in our relationships. So when our fear is triggered we are unconsciously going to become Protective. We do this by defending ourselves (becoming defensive), going into survival mode + reacting into fight, flight or freeze.
When another person’s behaviour triggers us, the unconscious instinct is to Control the other person’s behaviour. We do this overtly, telling them what they feel is wrong and what they ‘should’ be doing, or covertly, by punishing them with silence or disapproval, speaking badly about them to others and withholding love and affection.
Finally, we get stuck. Feeling hard done by and wronged, we feel justified in continuing the above behaviours, not taking responsibility for our part in things and Perpetuating the pattern.
Exercise: Describe what your behaviour looks like in each of these categories.