Breaking Free from Unskillful Patterns
It’s a piece of work.
Posted May 15, 2019
"We're helpless victims of our conditioning until we become conscious." —Ajan Sumato
Linda: Some of us come into marriage with an optimistic attitude and some of us are aware that we come in with heavy baggage from our families that will have to be unpacked. Those who come with a large amount of fear and unfinished business from our family of origin are prone to acting out unskillful patterns with our partner until we become more conscious of what those are. It is commonplace to come into partnership with unhealed issues from our family of origin, which will predispose us to look at our partner through faultfinding eyes, still reacting to ways we have been wronged in childhood.
When the inevitable difficulties occur in any partnership, one common pattern for her is to automatically slip into a position of the weak victim of the big strong guy who makes blundering mistakes, or for him, the helpless victim of the wicked, selfish witch. Another common pattern is finding ourselves bereft feeling neglected and ignored. If we don’t realize how disempowering these reactive patterns can be, the relationship can deteriorate. We are challenged to create safety that allows us both to explore what old material is being activated to deal with it more effectively.
It is work to break the automatic knee-jerk response of blaming when things go wrong. But with conscious effort we cultivate a positive orientation.While learning about our old unconscious patterns, and how much trouble they create, we find out motivation to do the powerful work to free ourselves. Instead of seeing ourselves as a victim, who claims the moral high ground, we look more closely and find that rather than perpetrators and victims, we are much more likely to find co-conspirators that create the difficult scenario together.
Freeing ourselves from old unskillful patterns requires a high level of responsibility. By accepting that we have power to impact our lives, we feel less like a victim. As we take steps in our own behalf, assert our needs, and admit our strengths, we practice compassionate self-care. We become less dependent upon others to care for us and consequently therefore less likely to sink into resignation and resentment when the world doesn’t treat us the way we want it to.
When we give some attention to our inner whining victim, it gets smaller, rather than dominating us. A victim is not big on taking action; they are more likely to be acted upon. When acknowledge what the victim so resentful and hurt about, often action can be taken to remedy the situation.
Even when we don't want to continue old traditions, we may doubt that it is possible to shed them. If we don’t yet know how to do it, it is likely that we will need help in the form of a counselor, support group, books, and classes to learn more skillful patterns. An abundance of help is available when we are ready to avail ourselves of it.
There are many ways that families indoctrinate the kids. Parents try to do the best they can, but they can only impart their own level of consciousness to their children. There are genetic precursors in addition to the modeled and learned behaviors. There may be alcoholism in the family for generations. There may be a history of women keeping men's secrets about affairs or incest. There can be raging and all manner of manipulation. There can be extreme emotional withdrawal where each member lives in their own world, disconnected from the others in the home where they crave emotional connection and support, and on and on.
To move past the destructive patterns does require a willingness to violate the family system. We must break the invisible loyalties to our family, and create a new way of being. This process begins with bringing the dysfunctional patterns up to conscious awareness. Telling the truth to ourselves about the enormity of the pain that these patterns have caused us over the years begins the process of change. But that is only the first step. Then comes the hard work of thousands of repetitions of the alternative behaviors until a new normal is established.
The person who has suffered with alcoholism for years attends twelve step meetings and tells her story over and over again, to keep the truth high in her consciousness, and each day chooses sobriety. The rage-a-holic also chooses, day by day, to hold on to his temper, and to choose more skillful ways of communicating. When the ones who have been keeping secrets for others, protecting them at her own expense, begin to tell the truth, the process of healing is underway.
Once we break free, we are proud that we have stopped the unsavory patterns that we inherited from my family. When the evidence starts to come in, we trust that we won’t revert to verbal violence under stress. We begin to trust that we would never spank a child to discipline them now that we have self-discipline, and know more creative means to keep some order in the house. We finally learn how to speak the truth, without the blame and judgment that used to characterize our communication when we were upset. We no longer sweep problems under the rug, but have grown enough courage to bring up the hard subjects. We learn to speak in our own behalf, and feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment about the changes that we have made to grow beyond the conditioning from our past.
As we discover our old unskillful patterns and address them, we feel more powerful and become more authentic and at ease. As we see the evidence come in about our own changes, we begin to trust that people really do change. We no longer fear that we are stuck with the unskillful patterns that we picked up in my family of origin or in previous adult relationships.
We can delight in the idea that in some way, we redeem the women and men in our ancestral line who felt disempowered in their relationships, and dreamed of a future when their children and grandchildren would enjoy safety and experience happiness in the family. We can have peace of mind that our children will not have to struggle as much with those old painful patterns; they can wrestle with other challenges. We trust that we have done a formidable job in providing an emotional environment for our kids that is more wholesome than the one we came from. To know that unskillful patterns that have been in the family for generations are now over gives us a sense of the sweetest satisfaction.