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Mindfulness and Unaddressed Patterns of Behavior

Life is like a water balloon.

If you hold a small water balloon between your two hands and squeeze one side, the water has to go somewhere. This is a lovely global metaphor, as it is perfectly descriptive of the human experience. If we have a pattern of behavior and we clamp down on it without actually addressing its genesis, as well as its applicability or necessity in our lives, it tends to come out sideways. What this speaks to, in part, is our degree of mindfulness.

If we are paying attention, we understand where things start and where they have the potential to go. Should we have a trying day at work and don't shake it off, someone is going to get the brunt of it. If we are irresponsible -- intentionally or unintentionally -- and suffer the consequences of that irresponsibility, we are likely to act out our frustration in some way, even though that frustration is, ultimately, with ourselves. And so it goes.

Without attending to our lives and our experience, we lose the equanimity that provides us balance, as well as a sense of control and safety. Without attending to the underlying patterns of behavior that create, and therefore drive, our lives and our experience, we can end up constantly spinning in repeated patterns of behavior.

Scenario 1: A client of mine is driven by a compulsive need to "fill a space" that he feels in his life. That space has, over the years, been filled with productive, non-productive and destructive things, but, no matter their character, those things become consuming for him.

On the productive side, we have a man who never finished high school getting a GED, going back to college and getting a Bachelors degree, then a Masters, all in record time. On the non-productive side, we have a man who has spent hours on the Internet surfing for collectables on E-bay. On the destructive side, this compulsion to "fill the void" has led to a pattern of serial addiction and all its attendant behavior that ranges from alcohol, to pain meds, to gambling, to spending, to porn, to an emotional affair.

What has never been addressed by this fellow is the sense of lack or emptiness; what I have often referred to as the "God-shaped hole". Productive, unproductive or destructive -- the lack of redress regarding the underlying issue continues to prompt the obsessive-compulsive complex that prompts his addictions, which persist unabated.

Scenario 2: Another client of mine has been sober for 17 years. He came to me for some career counseling and, during the course of our conversations, his father, who had been ill, began to decline toward imminent death.

My client confided in me that, when he went to Hospice to speak with his father, he would drink a nip of Vodka and a beer before going inside. He was quick to point out that he was not drinking in any other circumstance and that his drinking was confined to the nip and the beer.

His father died and he stopped drinking that day. That was 3 years ago.

In the first case, the individual is not attending to his underlying patterns of behavior, and, in clamping down on them or completing a cycle of activity, the obsessive-compulsive complex that is the mechanism for soothing his sense of emptiness pops up somewhere else - there's the water balloon.

In the second case, the individual had learned a number of effective coping mechanisms that disallowed his engaging in the numbing/avoiding behavior of his addiction. When confronted with a situation that was too overwhelming for those new coping mechanisms, he fell back on old behaviors. But when the situation ceased to be an issue, those old coping mechanisms were taken out of play. That's not the water balloon - it's a conscious act.

This circumstance is not confined to addictive behavior - these examples were both convenient and coincident - but is reflective of all instances where an underlying template or pattern comes into play for us repeatedly, to whatever effect. The key for us is attending to the cycles, responses, reactions and self-created circumstances that define our experience.

The "take away" here falls back on the old adage of forensic psychology that says, "The way that people do one thing is the way that they do everything." What this intones is that people are nothing if not consistent. If we are to evolve and change, we need to be introspective, mindful and attentive to our patterns, templates and cycles of behavior -- as well as the genesis of our actions -- bringing all of this under the umbrella of mindful and conscious control, rather than letting those things run free...and run us in the process.

© 2009 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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More from Michael J. Formica EdM, NCC, LPC
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