Understanding and accepting control patterns before letting them go

The longer I’ve been experimenting with Aware Parenting, the more I am appreciating the intricacies of control patterns. 

At first I wanted to get rid of them all; not only my own and my children’s, but everyone else’s too.  Now I see appreciation as a vital step in letting them go.

This all stems from seeing two basic fundamental drives in human beings, from conception onwards – the need to fit in, to understand, and to belong in the family and culture into which we are born; and the need to be authentically true to ourselves – to express our own preferences, our feelings, and our own uniqueness.

At some time early on in life, these two needs often come into conflict.  A baby feels hunger, but his mother believes that he needs to wait a certain length of time to be fed.  A baby feels upset, and his father believes that if he is being a good father, his baby will only feel happy feelings.  A toddler wants to explore an object, and her mother wants to protect her mobile phone.  A child wants to eat a certain food, and his father thinks he has to eat all his dinner before he can have pudding.  

In order to belong, to be loved and accepted, babies learn to restrict their preferences and feelings and instead to do what brings a smile or a warm tone from their parents.  When they refrain from expressing their true feelings, what develop instead are control patterns (see elsewhere on this site for more information about how control patterns develop). 

A control pattern is not just a habitual way to prevent a feeling from being fully felt and expressed; contained within it are a set of beliefs, gained from the original experience of crying, and seeing the parents’ responses. 

These beliefs can be things such as, “If I cry, something terrible happens,” (If the baby cried and saw the anxiety of his parents); “If I show my upset, I will be left forever,”  (If the baby cried and was left; remember that small babies don’t have any concept of time, and being left alone whilst upset, for them, is forever), “If I express what’s really going on for me, something will explode,”  (If a parent gets angry when a toddler won’t stop crying).  

As you can imagine, the beliefs that emerge are infinitely varied, whilst also all being on the same wavelength – if I express what is real for me, something very unenjoyable will happen.  In that respect, a control pattern is a strategy to get very important needs met – for love, security, safety, belonging, acceptance, inclusion, appreciation, and so on.  

These kind of beliefs lie behind the control patterns of babies – the baby who sucks on his hand with a numb look on his face, the baby who sucks a dummy, the baby who feeds every hour at night at a year old.  The beliefs become more entrenched as we move into childhood and adulthood – the child who runs around manically whenever he is upset, the teenager who seems glued to his mobile phone, and the adult who goes to check his email every time a feeling starts to emerge.  

As a parent aiming to practice Aware Parenting, most of us will come to the conclusion that to help our babies to stay present, and to live with few, or no, control patterns, requires us as parents to move beyond our control patterns and become more present. 

Often it is not enough just to want to stop our control pattern – because it is there for a very particular reason; to get an important need met. 

When we stop a control pattern, we may feel very uncomfortable indeed – and this is probably not just the feelings that the control pattern was protecting us from, it is also probably the feelings related to the acquired belief – eg. “If I show my feelings, something terrible happens.”  The feelings are also about the fear of the terrible thing happening. 

In order to release a control pattern, we may need to find ways of moving into a new way of thinking about what happens when we cry; new, more wanted beliefs.  Each parent will have his or her own way of doing this; for me, Field Center Certified Facilitating is my preference (see elsewhere on this site for more information about this).

As parents aiming to practice Aware Parenting, we may also want to take this into account when our babies our children develop control patterns (and if we have any control patterns, our children will inevitably develop some too).  From my own experience with my children, I have felt very frustrated at times when they have developed control patterns; when my greatest wish is for them to grow up free to express their feelings, and free to be present and aware.  

Now I aim to reframe that – and to see that their choice to use a control pattern is to communicate something to me, and to get a need met.  So instead of just trying to get rid of the control pattern and to help them to cry with me, I aim to do some other things instead. 

First is to see where they have learnt that from; to look to myself, and to make the changes required in myself.  The next is to see that in order for them to let go of that control pattern, the underlying belief will need to shift – and that will also require change from me; both in my being, and my doing of parenting.

When we as parents live a life more in alignment with who we truly are, more aligned with our values, and on more friendly terms with our desires, we instinctively become more joyful and present. 

Our babies and children cannot help but follow suit – because then there is less and less conflict between being whom they truly are, and belonging in their family. 

Authenticity and integrity become the way of our family.  Presence cannot help but be a part of the party!

August 2009