Changing Destructive Patterns The in-between existence BY: Troy Murphy |July 2017
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We do the same darn things over and over, hoping for a change and angered at the continuous string of bad luck. Insanity, right? We live within the realms of engrained patterns—internal and external. Relationship patterns and neuronal patterns wedge their ways into our lives and seemingly take control; we live on auto pilot. We’re not condemned to live life in disappointing desperation. But changing engrained patterns requires a heroic effort. Patterns of behaviors are complex. The building blocks creating motivation often remain hidden. The behavior, the first salient portion of the chain events, becomes the focus of attention. Yet the behavior is not the beginning; the behavior is the final expression of a long chain of internal events.
The self marches through experiences soaking information through the senses, drawing from numerous systems, neurons fire, transmitting energy. In the chaos of experience, the brain relies on memories to sort the present into recognizable chunks assisting the self to appropriately and effectively react—a fine tuned machine. Sometimes! The biological system responds to triggers, exciting emotions and motivating action. An experience isn’t an isolated event. The neuron communication during the event creates stronger bonds. The experience ignites the firing of select neurons. They fire together. Underlying brain functions are established preparing for smoother interaction with the world. We see, we feel and we react. The experience is the beginnings of a pattern.
Bringing the pattern into awareness is a step. The automatic pattern continues but at least in awareness we see it, recognizing the habitual reactions, the emotions, and the triggers. Although now seen, the same destructive emotions continue to be excited by the same triggering events. We can begin the difficult task of intervening when from experience we know the chain reaction leads us down the same dreary dead-end street.
States of mind are automatic reactions to associated triggers—that angry look from our partner, even when we are deserving, fires neurons, inciting the behaviors that destroy intimacy. But, fortunately, brain networks aren’t permanent. Neuronal connections are biological—a function of learning. Our brains have plasticity, new connections can be forged and old connections frayed. With proper attention, hard wired systems change. Most changes are slow, discouraging the actor trying to curtail past failures and replace destructive responses with something better. A few concerted efforts for change doesn’t rewire networks. Basking in a few changes, we may quickly abandon purposeful effort, believing we achieved our goal. This isn’t so. Habits have yet to form. Before the habit forms, behaviors must be forced many times, only with patience and consistency does significant change occur. The drunk too quickly returns to the bar, believing he conquered his demons, only to find himself intoxicated, discouraged, and helpless.
We can change. We can create a life we desire.
"States of mind are automatic reactions to associated triggers—that angry look from our partner, even when we are deserving, fires neurons, inciting the behaviors that destroy intimacy."
The journey of change is slow, requiring patience, self-discipline and skill. Many find the new change painful, a discomforting adventure demanding constant effort, a vast distance from the ease of habitual reaction. Instead of persisting, the weary quickly revert to the destructive patterns. But the return isn’t always welcoming. Once enlightened, the past is never the same. Awareness creates conflicts, dulling the painful dissonance demands stronger personal deceptions. We want to stay relevant, in control, but must avoid the damaging acceptance we failed at purposeful change. Defense mechanism charge to the rescue. But dodging responsibility further strains mental systems, depleting energy, the energy that should be directed to the tasks of living.
Sometimes when well-meaning attempts to change fail, the failure creates greater vulnerability. The failed attempt to exercise and eat more vegetables may initiate a binge of neglect, scarfing down a donut and chugging coffee for breakfast. The temporary improvement, once failed, invites “the what the hell” response. But even momentary improvements can benefit our lives, even if we can’t maintain the original goal. Instead of back sliding into “what the hell,” we can congratulate the level we achieved—even if only temporarily—and then make new plans.
Changing neuronal patterns is not simple. Change requires painful acknowledgment of shortcomings and purposely acting different than naturally flowing inclinations. Here we must face the deficits in self-discipline. Any weaknesses in strength will be shamelessly exposed.
Denying responsibility, blaming unpanned interference, may relieve discomfort of self-realization but prevent the personal change we seek. The blaming creates a helplessness—we then painfully suffer the shocks that with motivation we could escape. Empowering ourselves with determination and skill, we free ourselves from the self-imposed dungeons of missed opportunity.
Growth comes from facing discomfort—not from avoiding it. We must take responsibility for our lives. We are surrounded by impacting events. We suffer from childhood neglect. Unplanned, unwanted annoyance will harass us; but we still must take responsibility. We choose to move forward despite these thorns of living. We may need help, most of us do, perhaps professional guidance.
Courage isn’t fearlessness but moving forward in spite of fear. Security, then, isn’t found within the boundaries of predictableness but through self-confidence to manage unpredictableness. True security emerges when we trust we can transcend failure.
The neuronal firing pattern doesn’t disappear with enlightenment. If we have habitually blamed and skirted responsibility, we will continue to be inclined to blame and deny; but with enlightenment of these unhealthy urges to shirk responsibility, we can challenge them and choose alternate courses—a course that better serves long-term intentions.
Be in touch with uncomfortable feelings, examine them, and seek embedded wisdom within the feeling. Through familiarity of your emotional patterns and unhealthy past choices, you can mindfully make a different choice—choosing a better path. Eventually, over time, these choices become habit; new neuronal connections replace the disheartening connections of the past. We then become who we desire to become.