June 17, 2011: Can we even break old, rigid patterns from childhood?

(Previously: Our subject the past few weeks has been those rigid, automatic patterns of thought and response that come up during stress.  Last week, I suggested that we can change many of them if we practice linking new options directly onto the old ones.   This is refreshingly effective, but it may not help us with some of  our earliest learned responses.  These come with beliefs that warn us not even to consider anything new. )

Other than addictive behavior, which is a future subject, childhood learning is the most confining.  The first  step in breaking free is awareness.  Awareness may sound simple, but it can be elusive.

Most of the time, people think about their experiences of growing up and its impact upon them with a mixture of guilt and blame.  We feel guilt over our regretted acts; we  feel blame at those who influenced us toward  those mistakes.

Awareness, in contrast, is a matter-of-fact recognition of where we were and what we learned there.   Its tone is more acknowledgement than judgement.  Of course, there may be plenty reasons to blame both ourselves and others, and there is definitely a time for that.  Eventually, if we want to break free, we have to progress to awareness.

Why can’t we have all three — blame, guilt, and awareness?  As we are about to see, there is not enough attention to go around.  If we keep using up our attention on blame and guilt, there is not much left for awareness.  This seems surprising.  How can there be so little conscious attention?

We think our consciousness is broad, because it is literally all we know!   Yet, it is really like a beam of light.  It can be diffused over a broad area, or it can be like a narrow laser.  Either way, it is a lot more limited than we realize.

Want to prove this to yourself?  Experiment with a simple exercise.  First, be aware of your left  hand.  Now, add you right knee, and keep both in mind.  Next, add your left foot too.  Okay, now add the back of your neck.  Did you start to shift your attention from one to another?   At somewhere around 4 and 5 parts of your body, you cannot pay simultaneous attention.  That is the limit of your awareness.

Healing certainly requires seeing blame where it belongs.  Motivation for  change requires appropriate guilt over mistakes.  Yet, when the time comes to actually make  changes, the next step becomes awareness.

Now  that we know what awareness is and isn’t, we will start to use it.  Next week:  “instant analysis.”

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4 Responses to “June 17, 2011: Can we even break old, rigid patterns from childhood?”

  1. linda tucker Says:

    Coming onto the “website” page, on the “leave a Reply” part – I was reminded that I don’t have a website, and should . Every time I think about doing it I become – “overwhelmed” and freeze. . Here’s the cool part, your writing about childhood patterns reminded me that “overwhelmed” was just that – a pattern. A rigid one that wants to hang around. I became aware. Now, maybe, I can begin to consider a website without taking a nap.

    I like how you presented this – with a physical example. Lots of words coming at me, always, well, OVERWHELM me and I don’t learn, so by asking us to focus on a knee, hand, etc. was extremely helpful. I like also that you keep the explanations simple and relatively short and spread out overtime.

    I am 66 years old and still working on some of this stuff. But, here’s the good news to those of you who are a lot younger – awareness of patterns has enabled me to dismantle, or at least dilute, some destructive thoughts and behaviors. To that end, I just had a book published and am about complete the second! My older patterns would have prevented that from happening.

    Linda Tucker

  2. Dr. Rick Blum Says:

    Speaking of concrete examples, thanks for offering the encouraging account of your own working past confining, old patterns.

  3. Ellie Says:

    Working on one’s self-awareness ability in order to break out of cemented old behavior patterns is a challenging project, but very doable with very happy results. It opens up new doors of opportunity that otherwise remain slammed shut. It’s a blessing that we can only focus on a small number of things at once. Why make things harder than they actually need to be? Awareness is a wonderful thing.

    I like your banner heading with the two outreached hands coming together with the Yin and Yang element. Very nice.

  4. Dr. Rick Blum Says:

    That makes a lot of sense! By the way, the design was by Steve Kadjan, and it was the cover design for “The Tao of Psychotherapy.”

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