Going Against the Grain: How to Shift Emotional Patterns (Part 1)
“The brain does not want to change. It prefers old habits even if they are destructive.”
-Abigail Cole Hardin, CLC; PNLP
By Abigail Cole Hardin, CLC; PNLP
For the past two weeks, I have been trying to build back trust in myself after years of broken promises.
Two weeks is not a lot, but I have covered more ground emotionally in these last two weeks than I have in the last two years. Over the past two years (going on three), I was forced to face my life head-on when it came to a screeching halt. All the things I had avoided or naively thought I could handle in a passive fashion, caught up with me. While it was my physical health that took the toll, I realized it was in direct correlation with my emotional health.
Some people can get by longer with maladaptive emotional patterns, but with the relentless stressors of living in New York City for over four years, it’s a mercy that mine caught up to me faster, so I could begin to face them.
Emotional patterns are different than the survival styles like fight, flight, fawn, or freeze.
They are usually more disguised in things like worry, doubt, negative thinking, thrill-seeking, impulsivity, avoidance, procrastination, self-pity, venting, anger, busyness, envy, comparison, and or having a constant need for approval.
We see these behaviors easily in ourselves and others so much so that they seem to be just “part of life” or “part of who we are.” But these are patterns based on our inner-thought life—and these behaviors are not actually who we are.
As Christians, we know that our identity is not in our behaviors. Our salvation states that we are “hid with Christ” and blameless in God the Father’s sight (Col. 3). We want to take hold of what Christ has purchased for us—freedom from sin. This is where our behaviors do need to change because they can!
In our sanctification, it’s about our yielding our wills to the power of Christ in us. He is at “work in us to will and to do for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). And while He is working, we must be yielding. Yet we are not yielding when we are constantly giving ourselves over to our emotions and letting our negative thoughts dictate our actions.
Even though I have drawn closer to the Lord in the last few years, I was still wrought with anxiety and focused on the negative. It was as if I was intentionally seeking out the negative in everything. Examining things like: what I was doing wrong, what I need to improve, what I need to avoid, what wrongs others were doing to me, and even what was right in me that I was sure wouldn’t last… (if you notice, these thoughts are really self-focused).
Emotional patterns are usually very self-seeking and self-gratifying. They take our eyes off Christ and what He has done, and put the focus on our impulses that we’re convinced we must serve.
We know from Scripture we have two masters within us: the Spirit and the flesh (Romans 8). It reminds me of the old Cherokee tale when the grandfather explains to his grandson the battle between two wolves within each person. One wolf represents evil and the other good. The grandson asks, “Which wolf wins?” The grandfather answers, “The one you feed.”
In these last two weeks, I’ve been feeding the good wolf of the Spirit and funny, how my thought life has changed!
In order to feed the “good wolf,” I have been doing “Future-Self Journaling” every morning – an exercise I plan to continue.
I learned about this through Dr. Nicole LePera, known as “The Holistic Psychologist.” It’s really simple as it doesn’t involve your current emotions, but focuses on the good feelings associated with who you are becoming in the future. Savoring these good feelings starts to form a positive bias within us. (I detailed this in my Gratitude blogpost).
The emotional pattern that I have been trying to shift is my negative thinking. Making this my aim every day and targeting how my negative thoughts manifest has brought so much self-awareness, but also so much resistance to change.
I noticed more than ever how I sabotage my own progress.
The brain does not want to change. It prefers old habits even if they are destructive. The brain fights change as it requires more energy to do so, and the brain is all about conserving energy. So, while I have seen a lot of shifting emotionally, it is only maintained by choosing to “feed” the wolf of the Spirit with positive truths.
The key is consistency in your self-awareness and choosing positive, small actions multiple times each day.
I will share more next week of how to remain consistent in going against the grain of shifting negative emotional patterns. But I challenge each person reading this to commit to a 30-day “Future-Self Journaling” exercise to build self-awareness and start to break destructive emotional patterns.