Breaking Patterns

In my office I often hear clients tell me about the patterns in their life “I keep going after the same guys that are no good” or “why am I always finding friends that treat me poorly” and many assume there must be something wrong with them. Whether it’s dating partners who are unfaithful, disrespectful, or abusive – many people find themselves stuck in patterns they wish they could get out of. With New Year’s resolutions coming up I think of the appropriateness of seeking to break old patterns as a goal for therapy.

How can we break persistent patterns? This is complicated but the short and sweet answer is that we begin with awareness and insight. Looking for a starting point, looking into the similarities of relationships, and naming the patterns we see is the beginning. Maybe your pattern is choosing people who take advantage of you or continually let you down. Does this sound familiar to anyone else in your life? Was there a parent or figure in childhood who took advantage of you through manipulation, abuse, or due to chemical dependency or mental illness? Was there someone who was not there when you needed them and left your life? Early experiences can shape us, for better or for worse. An important figure from early in life may be the root or initial trigger that you find yourself repeating through other relationships. Identifying who this person/people are can help you connect the dots and begin to process the pain and hurt experienced in the past and in more recent relationships.

Many of my clients ask “am I crazy?” “why do I keep doing this to myself” and blame themselves and experience intense guilt and shame about these patterns in their lives. For starters, no, you are not crazy – you are persistent. We seek out similar people over and over again for a few reasons. One, familiarity. Have you ever heard the phrase “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know” ? This is often the case in relationships, even though we swore we would never be with someone like our dad we somehow end up with men with eerily similar traits. We are accustomed to and familiar with a certain type of person and so even though this familiarity is not life giving we still may seek it out.

Secondly, we are looking to correct the past. We know that the way we were treated was not okay, our needs were not met and that was not okay with us. Unfortunately, early in life we could not do much about this. We were often dependent on others for our needs and quickly learned that if others weren’t going to take care of our needs we would do it ourselves. This is not how it should be though and deep down you knew it and it didn’t sit right with you. You may not have been conscious of this and may not have said to yourself “my parent is not meeting my needs and that’s not how parents treat their children, that’s not love” But somewhere, somehow you knew this to be true. So when you got to be old enough to find a partner you wanted to prove to yourself that the way you were treated wasn’t right. Some can resist old patterns and find their prince charming, but many find a frog. Not because they are crazy but because they want a corrective experience.

Yes, we want to change our past and since we can’t time travel and couldn’t do much as young children to change our families, we attempt to change our current partners or families to prove to ourselves that we deserved better. Often they have similar traits to those who mistreated us before and we stick with it and hope that this time will be different. If you are reading this and thinking, yup, but what do I do? Hang in there. You are doing the best you can and are fighting to get your needs met in the best way you know how. It may not be the best option, but it has gotten you this far and that is something to be proud of. If this hits close to home and you are ready to tackle the ghosts in your closet and break old patterns, therapy can be a great option to help you conquer these unwanted patterns in relationships.


Written by Katie Claus, MA, LAMFT


Photo Source: