By Lawrance Khotso

A familiar pattern often brings one comfort and relaxation because one can predict what is to follow with certainty. Whether it is in a video game or communication or traveling, familiar patterns play an important role. They help in solving problems quicker and better. Even our languages have patterns which make it easy for us to communicate without having to explain a million times. There is something about a familiar pattern that makes it relaxing, comforting and welcoming. It makes one feel understood, supported and safe. When it comes to psychological functioning, a familiar pattern gives one a sense of identity and self-knowledge by creating consistency.

For me it was all those beneficial things and more, it was also a pattern of chronic fear and self-loathing. In it what mattered was avoiding rejection and disappointment, what I desired did not matter. It was an inflexible pattern of existence ruled by strict routine and structure where the option perceived to be safe took priority. It was a pattern of being a slave to fear, defense mechanisms and delusions because they at least protected from possible pain and rejection. A state of existence characterized by ever-present self-doubt, poor self-concept, pleasing an imaginary audience, and paralyzing fear. A familiar pattern where my thoughts, actions and feelings were overanalyzed and evaluated while I painted the worst picture that scared me half to death. A pattern of reasoning myself out of what I desired and then wondered what could have happened had I taken a chance, even then fear would paint the worst picture and my defense mechanisms would rise to dismiss the missed opportunity as unworthy or postpone it for a far distant someday. This pattern left me filled with lots of regrets and feelings of worthlessness, and yet I did not leave because I am used to it and it was for me a normal.

I then tried a new unfamiliar pattern of courage, bravery and openness then realized how vulnerability and honesty can be freeing. I did what I would not do according to the lies of the familiar pattern. I faced my fear, from that I did experience disappointment and rejection; however I learned that negative outcomes were not as bad as anticipated when actually experienced. I am now fascinated by an unfamiliar pattern characterized by risk-taking, volunteering, honesty, vulnerability and openness. This unfamiliar pattern includes facing rather than predicting the unknown, uncertain, unexpected, new and different. It is an unfamiliar pattern but I am comfortable in it.

And after trying this unfamiliar pattern I no longer want the familiar pattern but I am not sure I can choose the unfamiliar pattern. For many times I tried to change patterns but I always returned to my familiar pattern. I am afraid I am going to go back to the known habits and regress to former habits. I am scared I will make another full cycle ending up exactly at my familiar pattern. The very pattern I realized was rather “something familiar” rather than a “comfort zone” because I did not feel comfortable in my familiar pattern but yet I stayed. I am concerned I will have withdrawal symptoms for the familiar pattern.
The familiar patterns of our lives are what we hold on to and they too hold on to us in some. It is the language you use to communicate, it is not easy to just stop and adopt a different language because the inclination to place the words in the familiar pattern always remains. For language is not only about talking, we also think in terms of a language and interpret life using our language.

While I may try to leave the familiar pattern for an unfamiliar one, I am faced with knowing that I cannot simply leave, no matter how uncomfortable that familiar pattern was. And as Freud said it: “neurotics complain of their illness, but they make the most of it, and when it comes to taking it away from them they will defend it like a lioness her young.” Maybe I too will defend my familiar pattern because that is all I know, it is the language I use to tell the story of my life.

Image: Luis Llerena

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