Your Brain Likes Patterns More Than You Do

April 4, 2022 Sandy Sawyer

Often, people will ask me: what is the most valuable skill I’ve learned through being a therapist. Ok, so maybe very few people ask that, but it is a good question. My answer is not very simple, and it often changes. If Brene Brown would stop writing books and having TEDTalks, maybe my answer would be more stagnant.

So much of psychology and human behavior is about studying and understanding patterns. I am always excited to learn a new theory about patterns that I can apply to myself and in sessions with clients. If someone falls into the pattern of waking up daily in a low mood (haven’t we all at one time?), it helps to understand why this is happening. With awareness comes the ability to change a pattern. We can try changes to this routine like going to bed earlier to get more sleep, writing in a gratitude journal when we get out of bed, or even avoiding screens for the first 30 minutes of wake time.

The pattern may change if we can change the interpretations, body sensations, emotions, or urges that lead to a low mood. Sometimes we have patterns that seem to repeat themselves without reason, which can be frustrating. We can change our entire routine and still experience a mood that doesn’t match our behaviors.

Feelings aren’t facts, and emotions aren’t always rational. Sometimes, this means that we need to look at medical causes to see if there is a hormonal or chemical imbalance, which is why medications can be helpful. Other times, we might want to look at how our brain processes information, and we do that by starting with the understanding that we have two sides of the brain: the left “cognitive” side and the right “emotional” side. The right side of the brain forms first and begins to develop patterns at birth. Regardless of what we remember during childhood, we learn a lot about how to feel while our emotional brain develops in our younger, more formative years. This concept explains why we can have intense feelings that don’t match the situation. While this can be incredibly frustrating, it is also important to note that somatic therapy and therapies that use bi-lateral stimulation (EMDR and ART) are often used to connect us more to our subconscious feelings and emotions.

I have personally and professionally found Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) to be very successful in managing intense emotional patterns that are not based on facts and impede functioning. Talk therapy is a wonderful tool that can be very effective when rationalizing our way out of a feeling. However, for feelings that seem unable to move through traditional behavioral therapies, connecting more to the emotional brain and body through ART can be the ticket to feeling more connected to oneself and the present moment. If you’re finding it difficult to make sense of nonsensical emotions still, you’re in luck because therapy has no shortage of tools to help you decode them.

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Sandy Sawyer

The greatest gift I can give someone is to help them feel connected with themselves and others. When we are unable to feel comfortable in our own skin, we become vulnerable to unhealthy boundaries, toxic relationships, and loneliness. I believe a big step we can take towards finding joy is paying more attention to ourselves and understanding our own needs.