Breaking the cycle of negative patterns

Patterns are important. The ability to recognise and act on patterns is a basic human survival skill. Without it, something simple like crossing the street would forever be a perilous undertaking, as we wouldn’t have learned what was safe last time we crossed.

However this skill also means that negative patterns are recorded and repeated. As you grew and developed, patterns that kept you safe tended to get embedded in your brain, meaning that in similar situations later in life there is a tendency to repeat them. If during childhood your needs were rarely met, you may have kept yourself safe by learning to put others first and ignoring your own needs and wants. Once in place patterns are hard to change, however situations do change, and in adulthood that way of being may not be helpful or appropriate now.

Part of the reason for this repetition of negative patterns is that the brain remembers situations that weren’t finished successfully in the past, and will often try to repeat them again in the future with the aim of working them out this time. However what often happens is that the usual pattern is used, leading to the same result as before.

Out of awareness people may choose partners that are similar to an important person from their childhood, for example choosing a partner that ignores their needs, as this is similar to a parent who was rejecting. The past gets confused with the present and the hope of getting that parent’s love and attention is played out through the relationship with the current partner.

However the problems of the past cannot be fixed by repeating the same pattern with another person. Instead what can be most powerful in making a change is being aware that there is a continuing pattern, working through what happened before, expressing your feelings about it, mourning it and moving on knowing that the future doesn’t have to be the same as the past.

A counsellor can help you with this process, as they will offer you a supportive environment in which you can talk about the difficult things in your past. Often this may bring up difficult emotions, like sadness and anger, ones you perhaps were not ready, or not allowed to show in the past. Working through these can enable you to leave the negative patterns in the past and free you up to build healthier and happier patterns in the future.

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Written by Chris Mounsher PG Dip, MBACP

Chris Mounsher is a BACP registered humanistic counsellor working in private practice in Brighton. He offers both long term and short term counselling and has particular experience working with anxiety, addiction, depression, low self-esteem and relationship difficulties.… Read more

Written by Chris Mounsher PG Dip, MBACP

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