The Vulnerability And Scariness Of Pattern Interrupts

A friend reached out yesterday about pattern interrupts, because I’ve been preaching them for years, and they had an ‘Ah-ha!’ they wanted to share. They graciously gave me permission to share the conversation with you, because as we talked, I felt like they touched on parts of the pattern interrupt process that are rarely discussed, and I never thought to bring up.

But first, let’s talk about pattern interrupts.

What are they, and why might they be good?

A pattern interrupt is a technique to change a particular thought, behavior or situation. Behavioral psychology and neuro linguistic programming use this technique to interrupt and change thought patterns and behaviors.

Why a Pattern Interrupt Is Just What You Need, by Helen Roe

And while they are often used for self-growth, I talk about them most in communication.

Because I think we’ve all had THOSE CONVERSATIONS that spiral out of control, with button-pushing and anger, and retaliation, and more button-pushing and anger…

And, we can see them coming. We know when they have arrived. And we often feel helpless to do anything about it, even as we dread the cycle starting again.

That’s where the pattern interrupt comes in handy.

Because while our anger and retaliation is usually justified, that doesn’t mean that it’s the best choice to respond that way.

Let me say that again, another way:

Your feelings are valid.

Reacting with those feeling fueling you is often going to repeat the pattern, harm your relationship, and potentially hurt you even more than you hurt your partner.

So, a pattern interrupt can help.

Now, the pattern interrupt conversation:

Unrelated: I had a moment involving pattern interrupts last night, and I thought of you, lol. The concept has always seemed simple and straightforward and honestly not-difficult to me, tbh I’m pretty sure I’ve done it in the past w/o realizing that’s exactly what I was doing, but in this case it was FUCKIN’ HARD. I have a new understanding and respect for how difficult this can actually be to do.

My exact commentary, bc I think you might find this amusing, at the time was:

“Have you noticed that [the situation that just occurred is] exactly the point where our conversations are prone to going horribly terribly sideways?

I am noticing these things. I am choosing to respond differently. As much as it feels like trying to swallow a steel-wool hairball 😛

Not even kidding. There is literally physical discomfort happening right now. Although I’m pretty sure it doesn’t actually include internal bleeding.”

To which, I replied, “Yes. It is so freaking difficult sometimes to both notice a pattern AND interrupt it. Congratulations!”

And thank you. ^_^ The resulting actually-constructive conversation that followed was worth it. Not even a question. But wow if your buttons have all just been punched and your blood pressure’s up and THEY’RE JUST SO WRONG… feeling threatened and defensive like that, that is /not/ easy to set aside. I totally understand how relationships get stuck in spirals and go splat.

“On the far side, once you build up the habit of recognizing and avoiding, relationships unlock a level of achievement that is SOOOO amazing.

But, change and stress can bring new buttons, so keep ever-vigilant.”

I was surprised how vulnerable and somehow “less” I felt doing that — even though I was absolutely certain it was the correct thing to do.

“OH. I know that feeling so hard. Because you’re not taking your shot. And they might, still. And kill you dead.”

Yeah, /nods. I was not expecting how scary it ended up being. Which I am actually somewhat relieved to have experienced, now, because at least the next time I’m in a situation like that it won’t be quite so strange. 😀

So, they obviously made their change, and they were better for it.

But it’s HARD.

Sometimes it SO HARD. Like the aforementioned steel-wool hairball.

That said, it’s worth it. Most of the time. At least in my experience.

So, how is it accomplished?

Well, there are two steps. They are both difficult.

  1. Recognize the pattern forming.
  2. Ask yourself what response will best fit what you want.

Recognizing the pattern is more difficult than it sounds. Because while we’ve all felt “Oh no, here we go again,” that’s often a fear response, easily buried by marshaling our defenses, and it rarely makes it to the conscious forefront.

And the answer to number two is easy to get wrong, especially when what we want RIGHT NOW is to emotionally eviscerate our partner for hurting us so very badly.

Ultimately, though, that is rarely what we WANT.

What we want is to feel heard. To feel and give love. To get past this misunderstanding. To get on with our day. To be appreciated and to appreciate our partner. And so on.

And of course, pattern interrupts are not just for partners in love. They are for kids, friends, pets, coworkers, even people arguing with us online.

And the challenge with step 2, as noted above, is that pattern interrupt usually means dropping defenses. Not taking the shot. And opening ourselves up to them taking as many shots as they wish.

And sometimes, they WILL wish.

And they will hurt us. Maybe badly. And they may walk away. Or stay mad. Or get worse.

I’m willing to take that chance when I recognize it, though.

And even though I teach communication and pattern interrupts, I don’t always see it coming.

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