I look at my behavior patterns with compassion, to understand the emotional logic behind them.
The following audio is a commentary on Step Five for the 5th edition of the Proactive 12 Steps. See written transcript immediately below the audio player.
Transcript (edited for clarity):
Step Five continues the process that started with Step Four: Looking at behavior patterns, as opposed to just behaviors in isolation.
There is a difference between the Proactive 12 Steps and the traditional Twelve Steps. The tone of the original Twelve Steps is a tone that is very much related to the notion of good and evil: doing a moral inventory, paying attention to the wrongs you do. So, it’s very much a language of sin and redemption. There is a logic to it within a religious point of view. But it’s not necessarily the way that it works psychologically. And so it makes sense to pay attention to how this process unfolds here.
The process of change
First, we’re looking at behavior patterns, and then we’re trying to understand them. We pay attention to the emotional logic that’s behind them. When you have a repetitive behavior pattern, that means it is firmly ingrained. It doesn’t serve to beat yourself up about it and to force yourself to change it through willpower. This is very much the same problem that we talked about in Step One. When something is very ingrained, willpower doesn’t work.
And so what happens is this: With the best of intentions, you fall into a vicious cycle. And things go deeper and deeper and get more and more ingrained.
So what is this vicious cycle? You do something that you would call a “wrong” and so you criticize yourself for it. And you feel ashamed about it. And, through a lot of willpower, you manage not to do it for a little while… And then you do it. You slip. And now you feel terrible. You feel a lot of shame, and it’s tough to manage these feelings. So this then induces you to indulge. And the pattern, as you can see, goes deeper and deeper, alternating between moments of willpower and moments of shame. So that’s something that you’re not going to try to continue. It makes sense to step out of that cycle.
And the best way to step out of it is actually to understand what is happening. Because, when you know what is happening, you can take action at the level where things are causing the harmful patterns, as opposed to merely trying to change them through willpower.
Understanding vs condoning
We’re talking about understanding. Of course, this does not mean condoning. Condoning would be trying to glorify the problematic patterns. Understanding helps you change.
So, let’s say you identify a problematic pattern. Trying to understanding it means wondering why you do what you do. Is it just because you’re an evil, nasty person? Is it that you’re so lazy that you do things that hurt other people out of sheer laziness? Or is there some method behind the madness?
There might be some logic behind what you do. It would be some kind of emotional logic, not rational logic. What we will do in further steps is to try to understand better what is behind it. You probably already have a sense of what it is, if you approach it from wanting to understand it, as opposed to judging it and trying to eradicate it.
How do you proceed with exploring this?
It’s good to think of it as having several steps in this process. You know, sub-steps of Step Five.
First, you’re going to get kind of a general sense of it. Some fuzzy sense of what might be happening while you do what you do. Why, for instance, you arrive late at your appointments. Or why you might be angry at certain people. You go beyond the self-blame, and you understand the reason behind it. And, probably, it’s something like fear. So now you have a general sense of it.
Then you stay with it with your curiosity, and you try to work it a little deeper. You don’t stop with that very vague sense of: “Oh, I’m doing it because it’s fear,” but you try to be a little bit more specific. You stay with an example, a situation. You get a sense of what it felt like inside, and you let the feelings come up. So it’s not just an abstract concept, like “Oh, it’s fear.” But you recapture that sense of. Perhaps, your shoulders being tight. Perhaps, your chest is constricted, you’re not breathing much. Or something in your stomach?
So you visualize yourself more at that moment. You have a felt sense of what it was like. That’s not just an abstraction. And that is giving you more of a handle on what is happening.
And then, if you find another person, a friend, to talk to about what happened. It helps you find words to express this in such a way that somebody else can understand it. Your friend listens to you and asks questions. And, as they progressively get to understand what it is, it helps you find the words that capture what happened. As you do this, you gain more understanding about what it is that was causing you to slip into that kind of behavior pattern.
Step by step
So Steps like Four, Five, Six, Seven are going to be very related. And you might, at first, feel like they’re all the same. A Sense of: “Oh, I got it” as you move from this one to the next. And then again, “I got it. I’ve already done it in Step Four.” Or: “I’ve already done it in Step Five,” and so on.
What I want to encourage you to do is to pay a little bit more attention to the specifics of each step. There’s nothing wrong with getting a general glimpse, a sense of where this is going. But there’s also a lot of value in staying to dig a little deeper at each step.