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I caution people to be careful about how far to rely on this, but often we can figure out our challenges and problems by taking a good look inside ourselves.  If we can begin to parcel out what is truly ailing us, then perhaps we can work to finding the solution.  One of the primary elements of therapy is helping a person explore what is innately known.


Image of patterns in a therapy room

A lot of therapy is about sort of stepping back and seeing things – seeing yourself – from a different perspective. Getting out of the weave and the warp of the moment and looking more at the whole fabric of the situation you’re in. Seeing if there’s any repeating motifs or themes that might help you unlock some solutions… or even unlock parts of you.

And the wonderful thing is that you can do this without being in formal therapy.

Don’t get me wrong, traditional therapy is a great way to get the hang of this pattern-spotting business. And it’s incredibly powerful to work with someone who’s got your back and can help you see any blindspots you might have. But once you’ve become a pattern watcher, you can use it anytime you like, to find deeper insights and often deeper healing, too.

So what sort of things might you try to notice? What helps spot the patterns?

Sometimes questions like these are a good place to start:

When have you felt like this before?

Is this particular sadness or pain or fear or anger really only related to just this situation at hand (which it may be) – or is this about a repeating pattern you know from some other time in your life? Does it feel familiar? What are the common elements? What does it tell you about what you need or want or hope for?

How have you handled situations like this one before?

Did you run? Or hide? Or fight until there was only you and some scorched earth left? Or maybe you insisted on doing the “proper thing” even though it hurt you in the long run. Did you put others before yourself?

And, in light of all that, how do you want to respond this time?

When there are patterns, it can be hard to break them (even if part of you wants to). You might feel different about yourself if you try it. So, if you’re used to looking after others before yourself, but you don’t this time, you might feel like “the bad guy.” Or if you’re used to unleashing your fury, but you decide to find another way, you might feel like a bit of a “pushover.” But it’s probably only habit speaking. Just be prepared that it might feel a bit strange if you do things differently this time.

What do you want?

Rather than leaping out of some knee-jerk reaction, it’s always worth asking yourself what you actually want here. What do you want in the longer term? What will you have wanted when this thing is resolved. (Not just in the heat of the moment, when all your emotions might be crying out for “justice” or “retribution” or even automatic “peacemaking” before you can intercept with your mind or your heart).

What does the pattern want for you?

It’s a strange question, I know. But it can be so revealing. If you ask this question and really sit with it a moment, what sort of answer arises for you? Does the pattern want the same thing you do? Or would it like you to stay stuck in old habits? Does it want to protect you in some way and keep you so safe that you start to rust? Or is it protecting other people in your life? What does it want?

Stepping back like this and seeing things from a different perspective means that you can use your very life as your guide. You can turn to your history and your habits for insight that only you can give yourself.

And, as Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck put it:

“If I can observe my mind and body in an angry state,

who is this ‘I’ who observes?

It shows me that I am other than my anger,

bigger than my anger…”

And bigger than your patterns, too…

Photo: the patterns of my skirt and the rug in my therapy room.
Reference: Joko Beck, C, 1989, Everyday Zen, Thorsons, p.49.
Text and photo copyright: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar
Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a writer, blogger and Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.