Changing Unhealthy Patterns

During conversations with clients, we eventually get to the topic of how to change those patterns and habits which are not healthy or helpful for on-going growth and healing. It isn’t as hard to understand what to change, as it is to actually make changes and stick with them.  Some of the best advice on how to make changes came from early books on healing and therapy for abuse victims. In the 1980’s, Ellen Bass and Laura Davis wrote a classic text, The Courage to Heal, which had great information for abuse survivors and those who work with them. This book offered straight-forward and practical advice which, for the most part, holds true today.  For those not familiar with their work, I have included a few ideas from their book.

The basic steps to making changes are:

  • Become aware of the behaviour you want to change; awareness is the first step to change because how can you make a change if you don’t know what to change?
  • Examine the reasons you developed that behaviour to begin with;  try to understand why you needed that behaviour at that time
  • Have compassion for what you’ve done in the past; even if you didn’t make the wisest, healthiest choices, you took the options you saw at the time; and now, you are making better choices, so focus on that
  • Find new ways to meet your needs; although every change doesn’t expose an unmet need, many do; by taking such needs seriously and finding new ways to meet them, you make it possible to maintain the change
  • Get support; people who are working to grow and change in their own lives will support you with encouragement and by example;  people who are living out the patterns you are trying to break will continually suck you back in;  respect the power of influence
  • Make several tries; although sometimes you can soar, usually making changes is a plodding process that doesn’t look very heroic or exciting; yet those everyday steps lead to real change and a more rewarding life
  • Be persistent;  most of the changes we make in our lives require repetition.”                   (pg.174)

Looking over this process one can see where the current ideas of radical forgiveness, support groups, one step/day at a time, positive affirmations, inner child work, unlocking personal power, daily meditation and lifestyle coaching come into play. There isn’t just one way to achieve a behavioural pattern change.  It requires one’s thinking, feeling and actions to be in sync with the personal change desired!

There are obstacles to change which need to be addressed. According to Bass and Davis, Fear of Change needs to be acknowledged and dealt with.

“...It helps to name your fears. Naming things gives them less of a hold. … Fear doesn’t have to stop you. Even if you are afraid, you can still go ahead and make the changes you want.  You just do it anyway. You do it afraid. You do it nervously, awkwardly. You shake or sweat. You are not graceful or composed.  But you do it.”   (pg.175)

What is interesting about this, is that the more often you make the change you want, eventually you come to realize that you CAN do it.  You gain confidence with making one change, which will help you to make more changes towards the life you really want.  Those old tapes running in your mind that say things like: “you can’t, you will fail, you aren’t good enough, you aren’t smart enough, you don’t deserve this, etc.”  will have to change, too!  Because they are no longer your truth.

Old patterns do not go away quietly. They are deeply entrenched and habitual. Because they are familiar,they trigger a sense of security within us, because we know how things will turn out. We may actually hate the result, but at least we know it!  It’s familiar and predictable.  Patterns will fight back if they are faced with being destroyed and dismissed.  In fact, the behaviour pattern you want to release may escalate when you try to make the change you really want. This is where support and perseverance are crucial if you want to get through and beyond this point. Make sure you have lots of both!

These authors also have a section called “A Little Self-Love Goes A Long Way”,  which is a lovely way to conclude:

Be kind to yourself. Be patient. Babies do not go from crawling to walking in a single day. We are not impatient or angry when they totter or fall. In fact, we delight in their first forays, even when they end in a plop.  Forgiving yourself when you backslide, being gentle with yourself, may be a pattern-breaker in itself. … Give yourself credit when you manage to do what you set out to do. … When you accomplish a goal, when you make a change you have worked hard to make, Celebrate!  Do something that is special for you.”   (pg.176-177)

Article written by Pat Antoniak, Registered Nurse – Registered Aromatherapist and owner of the Natural Comfort Wellness Centre in Tsawwassen, BC.

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