When you catch the pattern, you can change it

When you catch the pattern, you can change it

Have you noticed a pattern of let’s say frustration and anxiety? Have you heard of this common issue: sticking to familiar emotional patterns, even when they’re painful?


We, humans, love familiarity, it keeps us safe. We decide something about ourselves and the world around us and keep feeding into that belief, even when it feels bad.


When I was taking care of the cat of one of my friends, I made the ‘mistake’ of parking my car on a public spot that someone considered ‘theirs’. Have you ever experienced this? I pointed out that it was a public street, and the woman turned red with rage and started yelling at me about how that was ‘her’ spot and that I should immediately move the car.

Her poor teenage daughter was standing awkwardly next to her.

I was startled at the level of aggression and decided to not participate in whatever pattern she was playing out. I stepped into my car, drove it to another spot, and continued with my day. This felt like a victory and incredibly satisfying because my old self would have easily participated to make a point.


Comfortable with uncomfortable emotions? 

You can keep looping in the same emotion because the familiarity of – let’s say – frustration or sadness feels safer or more predictable than the discomfort of uncertainty or vulnerability. Or in this case, choosing anger instead of humbly accepting that today you did not get access to the favorite spot for your car. I know, sucks.

Unconsciously, we can get a sense of control and stability in the known experience of frustration, anxiety, or sadness. Authentic joy, zest, and excitement might not yet be available to our nervous system.


What are the great thinkers of time saying about this?

Philosophy has explored how we relate to emotions, habits, and the realities of existence for centuries. The concept of preferring familiarity, even if it’s unpleasant, over uncertainty is well known.

  • Stoic Thought: Encourages control over our reactions and acceptance of external situations.
  • Existentialism: Sartre describes sticking with frustration as “bad faith,” a denial of our freedom to change.
  • Buddhism: Views attachment to negative emotions as a hindrance to achieving liberation.
  • Pragmatic Philosophy: Philosophers like John Dewey encourage adapting our beliefs and emotions to align better with new experiences and outcomes.

Modern thinking even goes a step further, claiming that on some level we experience pleasure in the so-called negative emotions, but that is for another day.


When our Nervous System gets in the Way

All these teachings did not lead to a satisfying solution for me. Yes, we can push towards new states, but something seemed to be in the way. So I dove deeper. What I came to understand is that certain preferred states were not modeled to us growing up. So our nervous system never learned what it feels like to be in that preferred state. Or we decided because of adverse experiences that a specific emotional state was not safe. Which would include feeling unsafe to feel safe, staying alert was considered safer. That made me conclude that we need to retrain our nervous system to feel safe with the full range of emotional states and states of being, including joy, zest, excitement, calmness, and groundedness as well as anger, grief, vulnerability, etc..


The solution can be closer than we think

First, we need to become aware of our emotional tendencies and patterns. Once we have awareness we get access to choice. Then we need to ask ourselves what it feels like to feel good—for example, feeling safe and comfortable. Where have you experienced that before? Can you remember that sensation in your body? Every time you notice you are reverting into your default state of let’s say frustration, you could ask yourself what warmth and compassion would do right now? Or what sparkly joy would do instead? Some of you will cringe at this idea, and I know it sounds ridiculous, but give it a try and see how you get on with this.

I have created a free guided meditation to support this process, you can find it here. Check out the course here if you want to heal your nervous system. Or if you want to understand and explore more about your psychodynamics, join our group coaching sessions here.

What would happen if starting today, you would take full responsibility for how you feel?

Thank you for reading and I would love to hear from you.

With gratitude,