A lot of therapy is about sort of stepping back and seeing things – seeing yourself – from a different perspective. Getting out of the weave and the warp of the moment and looking more at the whole fabric of the situation you’re in. Seeing if there’s any repeating motifs or themes that might help you unlock some solutions… or even unlock parts of you.
And the wonderful thing is that you can do this without being in formal therapy.
Don’t get me wrong, traditional therapy is a great way to get the hang of this pattern-spotting business. And it’s incredibly powerful to work with someone who’s got your back and can help you see any blindspots you might have. But once you’ve become a pattern watcher, you can use it anytime you like, to find deeper insights and often deeper healing, too.
So what sort of things might you try to notice? What helps spot the patterns?
Sometimes questions like these are a good place to start:
It was on this same trip to work the other day, walking a different way, seeing different things, that I spotted this sign:
“FEED YOUR MIND.”
And it led me to wondering… What are you feeding your mind?
Are you nourishing it?
Or mindlessly stuffing some junk in for a quick bit of rush?
What are you putting in there?
(And what are you hoping to get back out of it?)
In his book, “Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life,” world renown Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes about mindful consumption. Not just of food. But of everything you ingest: television, conversations, images, thoughts.
So, if you were to look at the typical “diet” you feed your mind, what might you find?
Anger. It’s got a pretty bad reputation. And we’re often told what to do with it: be careful with it. Suppress it. Vent it. Override it. It’s like anger’s some kind of volatile, toxic force to be harnessed or defused.
But maybe there’s another way of looking at it altogether.
Maybe you can actually learn from anger. Listen to it. See what it has to tell you. Get curious about it.
The sticker in the photo (above), in a cleverly vandalised train carriage I travelled in recently, has another suggestion for how to respond to anger:
“If anger is present
rove to another age”
So let’s take another look at anger for a moment.
Ever noticed that ‘anger’ is contained in the word ‘danger’?
(That’s actually what the sign in this photograph says).
And it’s often how anger’s treated – like a ‘dangerous’ emotion. Volatile. Caustic. Like it might lead us to act impulsively or say things we might later regret, or to feel things we ‘shouldn’t’ feel.
So maybe you were taught to suppress it. Stifle it. Avoid it. Perhaps to secretly seethe with it on the inside but to pretty much ignore it in public. To pretend you don’t have it, maybe – that you’re ‘above it’ somehow.
Or maybe you’ve learned that anger gives you some sense of power. That it sort of justifies a ‘right’ to take spontaneous action because it ‘makes’ you. Perhaps you’ve even used it to justify behaviours you might otherwise feel remorseful about. Or maybe it lets you do things that it might otherwise be hard to work up the courage for.
But what if anger has another whole side to it that’s often overlooked?
How well do you know yourself?
Not just the bits that are easy to see in the light… but the parts that lurk in the shadows, too. The more hidden, darker undersides. The parts that might be harder to catch a glimpse of. That you’re less comfortable with – or even unconscious of.
Or maybe you don’t believe you have any of those…
Carl Jung believed that you do.
A luminary of the psychological realm, and founder of analytical psychology, Jung pioneered a whole new outlook on the way we tick. He peered into our darker spaces and our dim, forgotten corners. And there he saw the shadow play that he felt we all engage in.
Jung thought each of us (even you) harbour both constructive and destructive forces – the good and the bad – the yin and the yang.
And our shadow self is simply part of that rich mix. It’s just that it happens to be the darker side. The less socially acceptable one. The dangerous. “…The side of ourselves that we would prefer not to recognise.” 
So it’s the bits you’d rather disown. Or deny. The stuff that might unconsciously drive you in directions that your more public self could feel embarrassed about, shocked over, or even ashamed of. The secret self…
Do you feel like you might have one of those?
Stuck in traffic on my way home the other day, I could feel the frustration building, when I happened to spot a taxi with “Your Driver” painted boldly on the door right under the driver’s window.
It made me wonder about who my driver was at that moment… me or the frustration.
So I wonder, on the road you’re travelling, who is your driver when things get tricky or tough?
Who gets behind the wheel at difficult times?
Does it seem automatic to just let them take that control?
And then what happens?
Been stuck at the traffic lights lately?
Did you happen to notice where your mind traveled to while you were stopped stationary?
Were you frustrated? Annoyed? Wishing you didn’t have to ‘waste’ your time waiting like this? Angry that you have better things to do, better places to be, and yet, here you are, crawling along in traffic?
It’s interesting to keep track of what our thoughts are doing in these unguarded moments. To notice what we’re thinking (and perhaps also to muse about what we’re not thinking at those times).
Albert Ellis, one of the pioneers of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) talked about a thing called ‘low frustration tolerance’, or LFT. He identified it in the 1960s (and he also called it ‘can’t standitis’).