The Self-Effacing Pattern

If you have the Self-Effacing Pattern, you are concerned about your impact in the world.

You may feel shy and awkward in social situations, and find yourself speaking little or limiting what you say to small talk. You might also seek to avoid social situations in general, withdrawing from other people and not reaching out for connections.

You may not speak up about your own ideas, stories, or achievements, especially in group settings. In conversations, you may try to keep the focus on others, and when the spotlight lands on you, you may answer questions about yourself with sparse replies or respond awkwardly. Perhaps you are self-deprecating, making not-so-funny jokes at your own expense. You may find it very hard to receive compliments or attention gracefully, instead deflecting them and redirecting attention on others.

You may be quiet, aloof and not participate, or even avoid connecting with people. You may act as if you don’t deserve to be heard or appreciated. At times, you may feel incompetent or inadequate.

Some people are also quieter by nature, but happy to be so. The Self-Effacing Pattern is more likely to apply to you if you are quiet, but unhappily so. You wish you could speak up and be recognized. You would like more connection with people and to feel like more people knew and liked the “real you.”

While you can’t always be sure of how others will receive you, you CAN address the beliefs inside yourself that say you are “less than” or unworthy of attention. By working to heal this Self-Effacing Pattern, you can feel confident to take risks in social settings and put yourself out without fear of being judged or ridiculed.

For more information about the Self-Effacing Pattern, see

The Caretaking Pattern

If you have the Caretaking Pattern, you are caring and compassionate toward others, but often at the expense of your own needs or desires. At some level, though, your caring may come with strings attached. You may have a desire to be appreciated for all that you give to others, rather than giving without the need for a return. You may be aware of hoping that people will care more for you and give you their time and attention in return for your efforts.

You may take pride in being a “mind-reader.” You may get a lift from providing assistance that you believe people need even before they ask for it. You may frequently give too much help, and often at the expense of taking care of yourself. You may regularly be the last person to leave a party even when you’re exhausted, because you’re always helping the host tidy up. You may believe that all of your giving to others is building up a pool of help and favors that you can call upon someday. Or you may believe that by reading the minds of your loved ones, you will be able to expect them to do the same for you–that they will know and deliver the support you want without you ever having to ask.

Some level of the desire to help others is natural and healthy. We are, after all, social beings who need interpersonal support to get along in the world. But if you find yourself regularly sacrificing your own comfort for the sake of helping someone else–for instance, if you give up a therapeutic massage appointment because your sister “just has to have your opinion” on a new couch she’s buying–you very likely have the Caretaking Pattern.

In fact, your caretaking part may assume that other people aren’t as capable of taking care of themselves as you are. You might believe that you “know better” when it comes to what would be good for someone else. Unless this person is a small child, though, it is unlikely that your perception of someone else’s needs is more valid than their own.

For a variety of reasons, you may not have received feedback from others that your caretaking is a problem. If you have the Caretaking Pattern you probably attract people who may, on some level, like being taken care of, or who become dependent on you. You may have people in your life that you believe would suffer if you were to stop caretaking them, and you may enjoy “being needed.”

The key to knowing if you have the Caretaking Pattern is to look at how often you are meeting your own needs. If you are always putting yourself last, if you are tired and feel like you are responsible for making sure other people are okay emotionally, logistically, or financially, then you have the Caretaking Pattern.


The Taskmaster Pattern

If you have the Taskmaster Pattern, you have an intense focus on hard work or discipline. You may do this because you want to be successful and thereby gain the satisfactions of success-money, praise, power, freedom, or admiration. You may do this because you want to avoid being a failure or mediocre and be judged, shamed, or rejected. You might be more concerned with developing a discipline such as meditation or exercise or eating in a healthy way. You might be focused on accomplishing things that are needed for your life to work, such as doing your taxes or mowing your lawn. This becomes a problem when you push yourself too hard or expect too much, not allowing yourself to be relaxed and easy. You may not respect your need for a healthy balance in your life.

The biggest problem with the Taskmaster Pattern is there is often a Taskmaster Part of you that attacks you for not living up to its expectations. Your Taskmaster Part may believe that you must work very hard or be extremely well disciplined to get results. It believes that the best way to get you to do this is for it to tell you in no uncertain terms what you should be doing, and to push you unmercifully to do it. It thinks that the harder it pushes, the more likely you are to succeed. Your Taskmaster may believe that if you take any time off from your project or fail even once to do your discipline, you will be a failure. Its attitude is all or nothing.

Your Taskmaster may tell you that you must work this hard to be a good person or even to be OK. It sets high standards and expect you to meet them completely. It may even ignore the connection between the work it demands and the results it wants. It just rigidly tells you what you should do.

You may be totally concerned about whether you are advancing and achieving. You may believe that life is a competition and an evaluation of who is the best or most worthy. And you must be near the top or you aren’t really OK. This need to advance is not limited to work and career. Many people who are interested in personal or spiritual growth have a Self-improvement Taskmaster who tells you that you must continually work on yourself to become better or to advance spiritually.

The biggest problem with the Taskmaster Part is that it believes that the best strategy for helping you to be successful is to berate you and attack you when you don’t work hard enough for its standards. It tells you that you are no good, that you can’t do it, that you are lazy, etc. This rarely helps. It usually makes you feel bad about yourself and therefore hopeless about meeting the demands of the Taskmaster. So the Taskmaster’s approach usually backfires and makes it harder for you to work well and succeed. It makes it harder for you to be successful in a discipline, because anytime you aren’t really succeeding, it tells you that you can’t do it. In addition, the Taskmaster may tear down your self-esteem and make you feel depressed.

For more information on the dimension this pattern is part of, see

A Story of an Intimacy-Avoiding Pattern

This is the story of one person’s intimacy-avoiding pattern, one of the patterns in the Pattern System.

George isn’t happy about the lack of intimacy in his marriage with Kate. He doesn’t like that they seldom have sex. And yet, he doesn’t take action – he doesn’t talk with her about how he feels. Instead, he just lets his disappointment fester in hopes she’ll eventually pick up on the clues. And they don’t share anything else that is important to them, such as the struggles in their lives.

George has noticed they don’t go out on “dates”, and do fun things together, anymore. It is clear to George that Kate certainly has a Distancing Pattern. She tends to be depressed and withdrawn into herself – at least around him. So it is easy for George to point his finger at, and attribute their problems to her.

However, even though George says he wants more sex, sharing, and fun in the relationship, he doesn’t initiate them.

But George thinks he has a “good” excuse…

GEORGE: “I work long hours …okay, probably longer than I need to. But in today’s ify economy, I need to grab all the overtime hours I can get. Anyway, I often come home from work exhausted, and I don’t have any energy left for sex – or “sharing my feelings,” as Kate likes to say. So how am I supposed to initiate those things?”

Equal time is only fair, right?

Here’s what Kate has to say: KATE: “George almost always falls asleep right after dinner. He never suggests places for us to go, or things for us to do. He only complains about what we don’t have with each other. Even though he is clearly unhappy, he won’t initiate the closeness he says he wants.

He’s the male … He’s supposed to be the aggressor. So why does he expect me to take charge of the intimacy in our relationship?”

Of course, even if George found the energy, he might not act on it anyway, because of how much Kate has pulled back from him. In fact, their lack of intimacy is a long-standing dynamic in their relationship that they BOTH contribute to.

But for the moment, let’s focus on George’s part of the problem, his Intimacy-Avoiding Pattern:

GEORGE: “Okay, here’s the thing: I’m aware that I’m afraid of being rejected by Kate. Because when I do initiate sex, she often isn’t interested … and that hurts me.”

For a while, that was the only reason George knew of for avoiding reaching out for intimacy. Then George sought therapy, where he started exploring the deeper issues behind this pattern. He soon discovered that he had other fears that went back to his relationship with his mother:

GEORGE: “My mother tended to be intrusive and controlling, so I associated that with being close to a woman. A part of me is now afraid of intimacy, because I believe that means I’ll be smothered and controlled by any woman I am close to. This belief keeps me from acting on my desire for intimacy with Kate.”

In addition, George’s mother was worried and anxious much of the time during his childhood, and when George got close to her, her anxiety spilled over onto him, and he became anxious, too. So naturally, he didn’t want this to happen. As a result, a part of George now believes that intimacy will lead to him being flooded by a woman’s anxiety, and this is keeping him distant from Kate.

The Disowned Anger Pattern

This short article describes one of the patterns from the Pattern System.

If you have the Disowned Anger Pattern, you have a tendency to keep your anger hidden, to the point where you may not even be aware of when you are angry. You may, in fact, act passively and without assertiveness or strength. Because your inner fire has been doused, you are more likely to behave in pleasing or self-effacing ways, and you may lack self-confidence or drive.

You may have hard time standing up for yourself, setting limits, saying no, or being firm. Because you have disowned your anger, your strength is also squelched.

You may believe that anger is a “bad” emotion that is dangerous and destructive. Of course, anger can be destructive, but it also has an important role to play in our lives, so disowning your anger entirely will cause problems. Since you keep your anger tightly suppressed, it may occasionally come out unexpectedly or explosively without warning, like a stove pot blowing its lid from too much pressure. These extreme outbursts may create a feeling of shame and confirm your belief that anger is dangerous and out of control. This may lead to a cyclical pattern of clamping down to prevent your anger from getting out, followed by further blow-ups.

The important thing to recognize is that feeling anger is not bad. Anger is information that something important to you is being pushed against, or that a personal boundary is being crossed. In order to hear the message that your anger is trying to tell you, you must first acknowledge it. Anger also provides the fire and personal power to respond in a strong way to threats or violations. The trick is to own your anger in such a way that you convert it to strength and firmness, which is the Strength Capacity. This way you don’t need to act out your anger in destructive ways.

Generally, anger is culturally stereotyped as OK for men but not for women. Because women often receive the message that people don’t like them when they are angry or that “nice girls don’t get mad,” they are more likely to suppress the feeling from an early age. However, while the Disowned Anger Pattern is common among girls and women, boys and men can have it as well. Anyone may have the learned from their family or society that they are not supposed to feel or express anger, and therefore learned to hide their anger, even from themselves.

If you rarely feel angry (except for occasional blow-ups) and you also don’t have access to your strength and personal power, then you probably have the Disowned Anger Pattern.

This pattern is part of the Strength Dimension of the Pattern System. Click for more information on that dimension. Click for more on the Pattern System as a whole.

The Pattern System for Psychotherapists, Part 4

The is the continuation of the article The Pattern System for Psychotherapists.

Patterns in Group Therapy

In group therapy, certain patterns engender particular group problems or roles. For example, clients with an Entitled Pattern can become monopolizers of the group’s time, while clients with a Judgmental Pattern can create a hostile, unsafe group climate. By recognizing the patterns of your group members, you have a better chance of forestalling and handling group difficulties.

Patterns vs. Personality Disorders

Patterns are different from personality disorders in that, by definition, a certain level of psychopathology is required for a client to be diagnosed with a personality disorder, while a client can have a pattern at any level of dysfunction, from mild to severe. For example, a client with an extreme version of the Distancing Pattern might have a schizoid personality disorder, but someone with a milder version of that pattern might simply have difficulties in allowing intimacy or committing to a relationship.

Let’s look at the correspondences between personality disorders and patterns.

Other Psychotherapy and Personality Systems

The concept of a pattern corresponds to existing concepts in various psychotherapy schools-the schema from CBT, the Jungian complex, the psychodynamic defense. Many patterns and capacities correspond to Jungian archetypes. As a result the Pattern System can be used in conjunction with a wide variety of different models of therapy.

The Pattern System is different from systems of character types, such as the Enneagram or that used in Bioenergetics, because these systems attempt to capture a client’s entire character in one type. However, in the Pattern System, each pattern describes just one aspect of a client’s personality, and we expect that each person will have many different patterns and healthy capacities, at least one for each dimension. In fact, the richness of the pattern system fosters an attitude of looking deeply into a client’s behavior and issues with the goal of understanding the uniqueness of that person’s dynamics, rather than just giving him or her a label.

The Pattern System is similar to the Myers-Briggs test in being based on certain dimensions of personality. However, the Myers-Briggs system is oriented toward clarifying a person’s innate tendencies, while the Pattern System is focused on understanding a person’s healthy and problematic ways of functioning, which are more based on life experiences and can be modified by psychotherapy.

The Pattern System and IFS

IFS (Internal Family Systems Therapy) was created by pioneering psychologist Richard Schwartz, PhD. It is an established and increasingly popular form of therapy which I use almost exclusively in my practice as a therapist because it is so powerful and user-friendly.

The Pattern System and IFS complement each other. IFS is a very powerful method for psychotherapy that is process oriented. Unlike many other therapy approaches, IFS doesn’t attempt to lay out the specific dynamics of a person’s psychology, in terms of underlying core issues, primary defenses, and so on. Other than the very important distinction it makes between managers, firefighters, and exiles, IFS focuses exclusively on the therapy process, with the assumption that the therapist doesn’t need to figure out and interpret the client’s issues. Once the client gets to know his or her parts, they will tell you what is going on.

The Pattern System supplies the specific psychology of various types of parts. It constitutes a map of the human psyche. Each pattern delineates a type of part that is commonly encountered in IFS work. Each healthy capacity defines an aspect of the Self or a non-extreme part in IFS. The Pattern System shows how a kind of protector may protect certain kinds of exile, which parts may be polarized with each other, be allied, and other systemic relationships. The Pattern System lays out the typical motivations for each type of IFS protector and the usual childhood origins for each type of exile.

The Pattern System doesn’t encourage people to put parts in boxes and assume they know a part when they understand what pattern it has. We recognize that each part is unique and must be understood by getting to know it experientially. The Pattern System provides a way for people and therapists to begin to understand what a person’s configuration of parts may be and what typical dynamics and relationships exist.

Therefore these two models complement each other. IFS provides the therapy process and the Pattern System the psychological content. The Pattern System doesn’t need to include a method for therapy because it can rely on IFS for that. They work together beautifully.

For more information about the Pattern System, click