Published on 3/11/2022

How to Interrupt Negative Patterns
Winnis Chiang

When unfavorable situations, actions and emotional conflicts happen again and again in your life—same scene, different characters—there's a good chance you are in the presence of a negative "pattern."

Some examples. Repeatedly choosing the wrong friend or partner, having constant conflicts with coworkers, being chronically in debt, trying to please others, seeming to get along with everyone, but often throwing tantrums at a family member you care most about!

At best, these negative patterns lead to frustration. At worst, they cause undue pain, uphill struggle, bodily harm, and sometimes even death.

The good news is: you have the power to change these negative patterns. Below are some ways to begin to disrupt them so that you can start laying down new, more positive patterns.

Become aware.

No matter how entrenched a pattern seems, the act of noticing begins the shift away from damaging thoughts or behaviors. Put simply, you can't change what you're not aware of.

One way to increase awareness is to sit and think and observe patterns. The goal here is to pay attention, nothing more.

In this step, focus your awareness on just the facts and feelings of the patterns. Don't let your mind wander into the analysis of "why" you have them right now, for it will likely try to justify and defend the pattern. You can analyze later (see below); for now, just notice.

Also, ask people you trust to help you see the patterns. Our blind spots are called "blind" for a reason; we just don't see them. But they'll be clear to others.

Discover the hidden payoff.

Becoming aware of your negative patterns, and you will see evidence they are damaging you and your relationships. For example, your pattern of conflict with co-workers has gotten you fired several times, and now your resume reflects that pattern, too.

The key to interrupting negative patterns is to understand this: we generally don't keep repeating behaviors unless, on some level, we get something good out of them.

These hidden reasons are known as "payoffs," and they either help you get more of something you want or avoid something you don't want.

In the example above, the person in constant conflict with co-workers could be using the conflict to cover up deep insecurity with the quality of his/her work. The conflict, in effect, distracts from scrutiny.

Or the conflict could stem from uncensored outspokenness. The person may have an oppressive situation at home, and being excessively frank at work may allow him/her to feel powerful and self-expressive in at least one arena of life.

Look for positive patterns.

One of the best ways to disrupt the negative patterns that may be wreaking havoc with your life is to also study the positive patterns in your life. For these can be "grafted" onto your negative patterns with great success.

For example, you can use the discipline you've been exercising regularly to stop using credit to finance your lifestyle. For another example, if the boss calls during a quarrel, the couple can immediately stop the fight.

Even if you will, if you are frustrated that things are too difficult to change, remember that you are not alone. There is hope because "what is impossible with man is possible with God" (Luke 18:27)

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will." (Romans 12:2)

Author's content used under license, © Claire Communications

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Winnis Chiang

Winnis Chiang, LMFT and founder of, is passionate about helping Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking parents to get along with, enjoy, and positively influence their American born children.