5 Sure-Fire Questions to Identify Emotional Patterns

Identify Emotional Patterns

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Emotional patterns drastically affect your life. Learn how to identify them.

Have you ever watched a B-rated horror movie in which one character hears a strange sound, goes outside to investigate it alone, and then is taken by whatever scary antagonist is out there?

And then, several scenes later, another character does the same thing? You want to scream, “Why don’t you do something different! You know what’s going to happen!”

It’s easy for us viewers to understand the flawed pattern of their actions. It seems so obvious to us that the sound is an ax-wielding killer, and the smart decision is to stay the f*ck inside. I mean, how can they not see the simple solution?

I have good news and bad news for you.

The good news is that you’re not at risk of seeing Mr. Ax Man (at least I sincerely hope not).

The bad news is that you’re a lot like these characters. The only difference is that instead of getting caught up in a pattern that leads to an unfortunate death, you’re getting caught in a negative emotional pattern.

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We are slow to identify our own emotional patterns and behaviors

Humans were not built to make 100% logical decisions. We’ve got some outdated brain processes that trap us in a scarcity mindset, as well as multiple brain biases that trick us into believing falsities.

And then those same biases make us think that we don’t have biases.

Oh, and we’ve also got a buttload of emotions that skew our judgment and make us act irrationally.

We are blind to many things, including ourselves. Because of this, we’re bad at identifying our own emotional patterns and behaviors.

It’s kind of like if we brought back my blind great-grandmother from the grave and told her to use Snapchat. She might be able to figure it out eventually, but it sure would take a lot of attempts, accidental swipes, and dog filters to get there.

What are emotional patterns?

Okay, so it might not be necessary for my great-grandmother’s ghost to snap me (#nofilter). Still, the ability to identify our own emotional patterns can have several benefits. But first – what do I mean by pattern?

An Example of an Emotional Pattern

I have a tendency to get hyper-critical of others when I’m feeling stressed. In particular, I get hyper-critical of my boyfriend (I know, right? He’s such a lucky man).

For a long time, I would fixate on his poor decisions and unleash my frustrations on him.

This would no doubt lead to an argument, an apology, and a lengthy discussion on how we can strengthen our relationship.

Things would be better for a while, but soon enough, the emotional pattern would repeat.

It took me a long time (and a great therapist) to realize that the things I became critical about often weren’t the actual problem. Instead, they were a stand-in for some deeper, underlying issues I was experiencing.

I would become critical when I felt a lack of control in some aspect of my life.

Some of you might be thinking, A person who likes to be in control tries to gain control when she is feeling a lack of control in her life? Um… duh.

And you’d be right, except for the “um…. duh” part is hard to see when you’re in it. Remember how humans are flawed and blind to many obvious things?

Once I became aware of my pattern, I could start to identify it.

Identify Emotional Patterns

It would be great if we could just erase all of our negative emotional patterns once we understand them, but life’s not that simple. (If it were, I’d have to write a blog about finding the perfect paint color or something dull like that).

Identifying our emotional patterns is the first step.

Now that I’m aware of my pattern, I can recognize it more quickly.

For example, this is what happens. I can feel myself begin to get critical again. Sometimes I even act on these critical thoughts (“Why are you never doing this one thing perfectly like you should always be doing?”).

When I realize that I’m being critical, I’m able to step back and look for the underlying cause. What feels uncertain in my life? What is causing me to feel a lack of control?

It’s this line of thinking that will help me. All of my previous actions (choosing fights, stressing over daily chores, etc.) were just a temporary outlet for my emotions.

Now, I can focus on what I deem important.

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The benefits of understanding our emotional patterns

Your emotional pattern is probably different than mine, but the consequences are the same: you get locked into negative loops and don’t know how to change.

By understanding our emotional patterns, we improve our lives in three key ways.

1. We can make better choices if we understand our emotional patterns

Rather than flounder around like baby giraffes on rollerblades, we can actually be in control of our thought processes and behaviors.

We can understand what we’re doing and assess if it’s the best course of action for the given situation.

In my case, this means that I can choose to dismiss my critical urges. A metaphorical “Critical Alert” will still start flashing in my mind (picture the intensity of a fire alarm mixed with the base from a late-night dance club). Now, however, I choose to ignore it.

When we’re caught in a negative pattern, we are often blind to our choices.

Understanding our patterns will set us up to make more intelligent decisions.

2. We can address the actual problem in question

Our negative patterns prevent us from seeing the actual problem. They give us distractions that might make us feel better in the short term but do little to help us in the long run.

I’m sure all of you have procrastinated at one point in your life (if you say you haven’t, go home. I don’t believe you).

Why do we procrastinate? Because it gives us temporary relief and allows us to put off something we don’t want to face.

Negative emotional patterns are kind of like our brain’s way of procrastinating without telling us.

We put off the real problem by focusing on a bunch of tiny, insignificant problems.

I put off my fear of vulnerability by focusing on smaller things, like my boyfriend not letting out the dog when he said he would. It’s easier to be mad about him neglecting our dog (who, for the record, would have been fine holding his bladder for that extra hour) than to dive into my trust issues.

Focusing on my dog, however, won’t make my trust issues go away.

Now, when I feel myself becoming critical, I stop and question, “What is bothering me in my life right now?” Asking this question gets me a lot closer to the truth of the matter.

By understanding our patterns, we can begin to acknowledge the actual problem.

3. We can create new emotional patterns that will benefit us in the long run

Did you know that each time we perform a new action, new synapses fire off in our brains?

Then, every time the action is repeated, the neural pathway in our brain is strengthened a little more.

Imagine when someone takes a shortcut across a yard and cuts through the patch of grass. Their footprints don’t do much except bend a few blades and scatter a few ants.

However, if a couple more people walk that same path, the grass begins to show wear. After a lot of people walk the same route, eventually, a dirt path will form.

I’m not sure if a neuroscientist would approve of my explanation. Still, you get the point: we need to identify our old patterns if we want to be able to make new and improved ones.

I know that I become critical when some part of my life feels out of sorts. I’ve done so for my whole life, on some level. However, in recent months, I’ve been working to change this negative pattern.

I identify the emotion and behavior, feel my standard response brewing, and actively choose to do something I know is more favorable for me.

In the end, this healthier habit benefits the people around me and me.

Patterns don’t change overnight. Just like it took a bunch of people to walk on that grass, it takes you a bunch of times to train your brain. It can happen, though, and it can have huge benefits.

Patterns

5 Questions to Help You Identify Your Emotional Patterns

If you’ve been convinced that understanding your patterns is beneficial, you might be wondering, How do I identify them? The five questions below are a great place to start.

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1. What behaviors are you doing?

This might seem like a simple question, but we often don’t ask it. Humans are wired to do, often without thinking. Our fight or flight kicks in without our permission. Our “feeling brain” steps in to dictate a behavior without our “thinking brain” being clued in.

For instance, how often do you think, I’m going to start playing video games as a reaction to my emotions. Instead, your body just says, I want to do this because it feels good, and you’re all like, Cool, yeah, that makes sense. Let’s do it.

Putting a name to the behavior builds your awareness.

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2. What emotions are you feeling?

Again, a simple question that can be difficult to answer. Emotions have a tendency to overtake us and distract us from other things.

Picture a rebellious teenager screaming about a new ear piercing while ignoring a sea of insecurity and loneliness.

We’re like these angsty teenagers, only with a brain that’s slightly more developed. We might not be screaming about the ear piercing, but we’re still hiding the insecurity.

A good strategy to identify your emotions is to try to listen to your body. Allow yourself to feel what emotions are coming up within your core.

This practice can help you push past all of your thinking brain’s flawed coping mechanisms and get to the real answer underneath.

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3. What negative emotions repeat themselves in your life?

Once you can identify your underlying emotions, when do you notice these emotions repeat themselves in your life? Believe it or not, we don’t usually experience a new negative emotion every week.

Our emotions tend to repeat themselves because we’re wired a certain way. Maybe you’re afraid of failure, or have abandonment issues, or feel a need for control. These needs are deeply rooted in you.

Tune yourself into when your negative emotions repeat themselves, and you’ll be closer to identifying your patterns.

Emotional patterns

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4. What negative behaviors repeat themselves in your life?

Again, it’s crucial to take stock of when your behaviors repeat themselves. At first, this question might seem oversimplified. I mean, we perform behaviors every hour of every day. Our life is a pattern of repeated behaviors.

However, if you fixate on the negative behaviors – particularly after you identify the repeating negative emotions – you can begin to identify your patterns.

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5. What causes a change in your emotions or behaviors?

Once you’re good at identifying your emotions and behaviors, you should turn your attention to what causes them. Instead of focusing on the “why” (Why do you do something or feel a certain way?) focus on the “what.” What caused a change in your emotions or behaviors?

“Why” can lead you down a dangerous and overwhelming rabbit hole. “What” can give you clear answers about your actions.

By focusing on when your emotions or behaviors change, you can usually get to the actual problem quicker. The causes of these changes will give you the information you need to figure out your emotional patterns.

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Conclusion

We aren’t always the most skilled at identifying our patterns. Our minds are biased, our memory is faulty, and our feeling brain often trumps out thinking brain.

Our emotions cause us to act in a way that is not only irrational but often detrimental to our overall happiness.

Fortunately for us, we have a tendency to repeat ourselves. We are predictably flawed.

By identifying our patterns, we can learn how to see and address the actual problem that is affecting us. We can interrupt negative patterns and eventually create more positive ones.

To identify our patterns, you can ask yourself five simple questions:

  1. What behaviors are you doing?
  2. What emotions are you feeling?
  3. What negative emotions repeat themselves in your life?
  4. What negative behaviors repeat themselves in your life?
  5. What causes a change in your emotions or behaviors?

The sooner you get to the answers, the sooner you will be able to take steps to solve the actual problem.

You can understand the causes of your negative emotional patterns, which will ultimately set you up to achieve your goals and experience greater happiness.

What patterns do you have? Is one of your patterns reading helpful blog posts, understanding the content, and then not taking the next step to engage? Take the first step in changing this pattern by commenting below!

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FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS

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Comment below with answers, ideas, and more questions, or contact me to collaborate on a future post!

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EXPLORING YOURSELF

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What negative emotions repeat themselves in your life?

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What negative behaviors repeat themselves in your life?

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What causes a change in your emotions or behaviors?

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EXPANDING YOUR WORLD

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What are the most common negative emotions that humans experience?

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Why are emotions so difficult to identify?

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What causes procrastination and how can we combat it?

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