What I mean by a repeating pattern is a particular way of relating to a situation. It’s a way of experiencing the world – a prism through which you see things, and it can have its good aspects, and it can also create problems if it becomes rigid in the way it’s used. But at the same time since it is you, a part of you, it can be very helpful to see and understand the problem from a psychological perspective and then channel the energy, rather than ‘it’ taking over and insisting on a particular way of seeing things and relating to people and situations.
Alex was a lawyer and had a good job which he enjoyed. Sometimes he was under a lot of pressure, but usually found it easy to deal with that and enjoyed ‘this pressure of getting things done’, and that he had ‘really got into the detail and found an answer’. But what had brought him into therapy was that his boss had indicated he needed to ‘see the larger picture’ if he wanted to get ahead. Also there was a sense he could be rather ‘abrupt’ with clients and this had created some problems.
Talking about his work situation led into him describing how he had struggled at university, coming from a family where neither of his parents had a ‘professional background’, and how it meant so much to him and his parents that he ‘succeeded and got ahead’. But what he had found difficult at university was that things seemed ‘too amorphous and vague’ and he couldn’t get his ‘teeth into it’. This memory linked back to what he loved about his work. It was ‘finding a way through a complex legal web’, but only when it was ‘clear cut’, in the sense there was a legal problem to which he knew there was an answer and he could find it. But when things were not clear in the way he wanted, he became anxious and stressed which would then lead him into thinking negatively about himself and what he was doing. Also, it was under these circumstances that he sometimes became abrupt with clients.
In this process of talking, he brought up his relationship with his mother who had been ill over the last year. The treatment she had been through had not helped that much and it wasn’t clear what to do next. He described how there were ‘all these different options’ and in trying to help his mother think about the next step in her treatment, once again, there were those negative feelings and thoughts.
This linked back to the work situation, and where there was a ‘straight path’, he was fine. But if there wasn’t, he could see it was the same tendency or particular way of looking at the situation he was now having around his mother’s illness.
A ‘tendency’, when ‘it’ is under pressure, will often play out in different important areas of your life. Here he described how his partner had often said he wouldn’t let her talk about things. He always insisted on finding an answer, when she was saying she just wanted to talk. Here again he was repeating this tendency to want things to be clear cut. Of course there are past relationships which go back into childhood which have played a part in his development and almost certainly underpin this tendency. But staying with the present, this is a way of relating to the world that can work for him. But under stress, like with his partner, looking after his ill mother and at work, he ran into difficulties.
So what to do when you realise there is a particular tendency or repeating pattern in the way you relate to certain situations? The starting point is to see this habit or tendency, which you often feel you should get rid of. But this is not possible, as you can’t really get rid of an aspect of yourself or change who you are. Rather it is more helpful to see it as an energy, a part of you and your personality that can be channelled in a more creative way, as Alex does do sometimes.
Alex didn’t find the therapy easy, and this repeating tendency would sometimes be there in our relationship – where was the answer and why wasn’t I doing more to help him? But as he stayed, over a period of nearly eight months, he became more able to accept, sometimes he didn’t know, and the way forward simply wasn’t there yet. Just as important though, was the acceptance, that he does have this tendency, and it is a part of who he is, and it can play out in a positive or negative way. But most importantly was the realisation, as he became more aware, he could channel this energy. He didn’t have to go down that path where he insists on knowing the answer and getting stressed and unhappy in the process.
©2022 Kevin Rose
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