That’s just the way I am!

You’ve been asked by your manager, your partner or your friends to change the way you respond in certain situations. But as far as you’re concerned, that’s impossible! Because it just so happens that, being the shy type that you are, you don’t express your opinions very quickly. Or it just so happens that you’re easily irritated, so you regularly say things you wish you hadn’t. Or it just so happens… I’m sure you can think of your own variations on this theme.

You’re not unique

Everyone has some behaviour pattern that they assume is due to them ‘just being the way they are’. And this isn’t that far from the truth actually. You view your own behaviour in a certain way that is in line with your convictions and interpretations. This gives you clarity and peace of mind in your life. After all, you and everyone else will have to accept that you just can’t change the way you do things. So there’s no point in wasting any energy trying to. And by saying ‘That’s just the way I am!’, you’re making this explicit. The disadvantage of saying this out loud is that you justify your own behaviour, and the pattern you are in gets even more firmly anchored. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got. But the question is: is this effective?

Ineffective patterns

These behaviour patterns are typically formed during childhood (but you also continue to develop new patterns as an adult). These are the years in which you find yourself defining general laws that become quite rigid, such as ‘I’m attractive, ugly, stupid, smart, …’ or ‘People will like me if I keep my opinions to myself.’ And these beliefs determine your behaviour. These patterns can easily develop in your youth because as a child you tend to think in black or white, without too many shades in between: ‘Eva is never nice to me’ or ‘You always disagree with me.’ The more often you expressed these convictions in your youth, and allowed them to influence your behaviour, the stronger they will determine your behaviour as an adult.

If you really want to alter an ineffective pattern, then there’s a vicious circle you’ll have to break through. This is the circle of experiences, interpretations, decisions, behaviours, responses, and then experiences, interpretations, etc. again. Let’s take a closer look at the steps involved in this circle.

Step 1: Experiences

This concerns the concrete situations without you attaching any judgement to them. Just the factual events as they happened (the important thing here is the influence of your parents, who were also acting according to their own behaviour patterns).

Two examples of experiences (that will be built on in the rest of this article):

  1. Your mother and father have unconditional trust in you. They are constantly showing/telling you this.
  2. You are continually being excluded at school. You don’t know why and you often just stand on the edge of situations.

Step 2: Interpretations

You start attaching meaning to the experiences. This is a process that we are constantly involved in both as a child and as an adult. Completely identical situations are interpreted by each of us in our own specific way. These are therefore our own unique interpretations.

Two examples of interpretations (elaborations on the previous step):

  1. As a result of this explicitly stated trust, you learn to have trust in yourself. ‘I have a right to be alive’.
  2. Because you are constantly being excluded, you convince yourself: ‘I’m not worthy.’

Step 3: Decisions

These aren’t logical decisions based on objective information, but rather decisions based on emotion, and taken subconsciously. And acting on your decision results in the situation disappearing of its own accord.

Two examples of decisions (building on the previous step):

  1. You decide: ‘I can be vulnerable because people want the best for me.’
  2. You decide: ‘I don’t add anything to the lives of others so I’ll choose for myself.’

Step 4: Behaviours

If you have taken the decision (consciously or subconsciously), then the logical next step is to act in accordance with that decision. You adapt your behaviour based on these new beliefs. The people around you won’t always understand why you are suddenly acting differently.

Two examples of behaviours (building on the previous step):

  1. You let others see your vulnerability, you are open about your feelings and easily make contact with others.
  2. You withdraw. You are suspicious of people who approach you in a friendly manner.

Step 5: Responses

People respond to how you behave. Your behaviour triggers counter-behaviour and has consequences. And these consequences intensify the pattern that has already been formed. The ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ is now a fact, the pattern has proven to itself that it’s the right one.

Two examples of responses (building on the previous step):

  1. People approach you easily and show their vulnerability in their interactions with you. A profound connection is formed.
  2. People sense your suspicions and prefer to avoid your company. You are increasingly alone.

Break the vicious circle

These responses of others not only confirm the pattern, but also form the starting point for the next circle. In themselves they are once again experiences that lead to interpretations and decisions, etc. If these patterns are positive, that’s fine, but if they are negative ones rather than functional ones, it’s time to break the vicious circle. How? By gaining insight into how the pattern has developed over time. By analysing the various steps in the process and by intervening in each step. What really happened and is it necessary to brood on it? Are the interpretations facts? Where is the proof? Which decisions did you make and are you prepared to let go of these decisions? What behaviour do you display and do you have the guts to experiment with new behaviour? If you implement changes in the previous steps, then changes are guaranteed to happen in the responses of others.

I admit it, this breaking of non-functional patterns is hard work, extremely confrontational and demands an enormous amount of perseverance. What you have to do, amongst other things, is to look for the beliefs you held as a child and that are still influencing your behaviour today, be prepared to validate and change these beliefs and then be willing to experiment with new behaviour. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance in this process if you think you need it. If you want support from a certified coach, then contact us.

Break your patterns and take pleasure in the impact this new behaviour has on you and the world around you!

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