I have a beautiful, amazing, self-aware, introspective, kick-ass friend we will call Kimberly. Kimberly is one of those life-long learners who does not shy away from a challenge. She graduated from one of the top universities in the country. She got her yoga instructor certification, just ‘cause. She built her own coffee table with her bare hands. She rock climbs, travels, and is one of the best cooks I’ve ever met.
I’ve known this chick for three years and can certainly attest to her badassedness. But in those three years I’ve also noticed something that happens to Kimberly when she gets into a relationship. My independent, free-spirited, confident friend starts to question herself.
This woman, who once told me she went skydiving just to spite her fear of heights, starts asking, “Am I crazy?” And “What’s wrong with me?”
Kimberly is not crazy. She, like most women, simply has a pattern.
Her pattern goes a little something like this: She finds herself in a relationship and tries her damnedest to keep hold of her independence. Over time, her partner becomes threatened by her amazingness and plays on her insecurities to cut her down. Being the badass bitch that she is, Kimberly says, “Uh-uh,” starts packing her shit while listening to angsty chick rock at full volume, gets one foot out the door, and then…
She takes him back. And here’s when the “Am-I-Crazies” and “What’s-Wrong-With-Mes” start.
It’s so easy for me to see this pattern that I sometimes get frustrated with her—that is, until I remember that I too was stuck in a pattern for the majority of my 20s. I was perpetually in relationships far longer than I should have been, deftly ignoring red flags until I had a shiny new set of arms I could run to when my current relationship inevitably crashed and burned.
This relationship leapfrogging was emotionally exhausting, hurtful, and totally unfair to all parties involved. But I couldn’t stop. Instead, I wondered, “What’s wrong with me?” And “Am I crazy?”
The reason a pattern can make you feel crazy is because you don’t see how your choices and actions perpetuate the same result. After all, this guy may seem different for X, Y, or Z reason.
Patterns are so compelling because they feel safe. It’s much easier to keep doing the same thing over and over again than the alternative because change is scary. It requires that we admit we’re not perfect. It’s also a challenge to our identity as a static, persistent concept rather than a process that is constantly in flux.
For me, it was hard to break the pattern because it meant facing a really painful truth about myself:
I was afraid of being alone.
Jeez, Louise that was a harsh reality. It was so hard to face I had built up over 10 years of defense mechanisms keeping myself from it. Why? Because facing it meant having to do something about it. And stripping away all those defense mechanisms leaves you exposed to a lot of pain that you haven’t got the tools to deal with yet.
But here I am. I survived, and I’m happier for it. I no longer ask myself, “Am I crazy?” and “What’s wrong with me?” Why? Because I broke my pattern.
And lucky you, because I'm about to share with you 4 things I learned in the process.
1. There’s nothing wrong with you.
The first thing you gotta do is throw this thinking out the window because it’s a load of hooey. It’s something that’s been instilled in your brain from negative past experiences and toxic people. But let’s not get into the blame game—right now, you need to start loving yourself, flaws and all. Stop striving for perfection and meet yourself where you’re at. Because you are not perfect, and that’s perfectly okay.
Sometimes it helps to visualize someone (a child, a friend, a pet) that you love unconditionally and extend the same love and compassion to yourself as you would to them. Any time you see yourself going down a negative-talk-shame-spiral, ask yourself if that’s how you’d talk to someone you love.
It’s easy to get stuck here—you may notice yourself continuously going back to the negative talk and get frustrated. “Ugh, I can’t doing anything right!” Be persistently loving and patient with yourself. These things take time. And your mental health is worth all the time in the world.
2. Your pattern is there to protect yourself from something.
It’s most likely a perceived flaw or unresolved pain that is feeding into and being fed by your feeling of something wrongness. But as we just established, there is nothing wrong with you. There’s nothing in this world that would make you unworthy of love—nothing you could do, nothing anyone else can say, no amount of pain can take that away from you.
With this as your foundation, you can lean into the discomfort of looking at your pattern honestly. Remember, whatever painful reality its hiding is not going to make you any less worthy of love.
It’s not supposed to feel good. After all, this is what your pattern was protecting you from. It may feel like your heart is breaking. But that’s just your heart’s outer shell—once you’ve broken it, your heart truly begins to open. This is where real love comes from: The rawness of human experience.
3. Releasing your own pattern makes it easier to deal with pain.
Whether it’s yours or someone else’s, you no longer have to fall into old habits when confronted with pain. Realizing there’s nothing to fear, you no longer shut down and go into protection mode. Instead, you open up to it. After all, you see now that there’s nothing that would make you not okay. You’re safe. You’re loved.
Patterns exist because the ego believes you aren’t strong enough to handle the truth. It builds a set of stories to make sense of a world that is scary, unpredictable, and out of your control. Over time, we start to identify with these stories, skewing our sense of reality and throwing us into negative thought patterns and behaviors. For instance, maybe I believe my coworkers don’t like me because I’m smarter than them. So I become more condescending toward them, which makes them dislike me more.
But the reality is probably something else my ego is protecting me from. Maybe, just maybe, my coworkers don’t like me because I’m condescending toward them.
To challenge these stories is to ask, “Is that really true?” Is it really true that I’m smarter than everyone at the office? Alternatively, is it really true that everyone at the office dislikes me? Often, asking this simple question starts to break down the stories, and thus, the power the ego has over us.
After all, I don’t need to be the smartest person in the room, nor do I need to have everyone like me. I am worthy of love whether those things are true or not. There’s nothing you or anyone else could do that would make you unworthy of love.
4. Being able to deal with pain changes you in ways you cannot imagine.
Once we stop identifying with the stories of the ego, we start to change on our own accord. Instead of working from the “outside-in,” which infers there’s something fundamentally wrong with us, we’re working from the “inside-out.” There’s nothing wrong; therefore, we become free to be ourselves. And it turns out, you’re pretty effing amazing just as you are.
A beautiful thing happens when we’re in this space. We become more genuine. We’re no longer afraid of experiences outside our comfort zone because we know pain is nothing to fear. We cultivate deeper relationships because we no longer have to protect ourselves from the hurt that others feel; therefore, real empathy finally becomes possible. We can be honest with ourselves and others without fear. We can start truly being ourselves, because we know there’s nothing wrong with us.
Much like the lotus flower growing out of the muddy water, you are a thing of beauty that rises from the messy, sometimes painful muck of human experience. Time to bloom.
Want to finally unlearn one of your patterns? Let's work together! Get insight around your subconscious programming for true freedom and empowerment in your life. Visit nataliebphd.com.