Introduction to the Pattern System

The Pattern System is a way of understanding your personality that is oriented toward psychological healing and personal growth. It also helps you to understand other people—why they respond as they do, what makes them tick.

Once your have understood the Pattern System and explored yourself according to its model, you will come away with a comprehensive map of your psyche. You will be able to see...

  • Your strengths
  • Your defenses
  • Your underlying pain
  • How you compensate for it
  • Your inner conflicts
  • The leading edge of your growth
  • What you need to explore next
  • What psychological capacities you can develop (or are already developing)
  • How to ground your spiritual development in higher functioning

Therapists, coaches, and other helping professionals can use the Pattern System to understand the detailed psychological structure and dynamics of their clients. Researchers can use it as the basis for psychological studies.

In the Pattern System, patterns represent dysfunctional behaviors that cause problems for us or other people. Healthy capacities are the ways we feel and act that make our lives productive, connected, and happy. Emotional wounds are what happened to us in childhood that resulted in pain, trauma, or negative beliefs.

The Pattern System organizes the patterns and capacities according to various psychological dimensions, such as Intimacy, Power, Accomplishment, and Self-Esteem. Each of these describes an area of psychological functioning that is important for human well-being. The Pattern System includes a group of ten Interpersonal Dimensions plus a group of Inner Critic Dimensions and another group of Personal Dimensions. I will illustrate these using the Interpersonal Dimensions.

The Pattern System is a very potent when integrated with Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), which is a very effective form of therapy that I practice, teach in courses, and use in Self-Therapy Journey. The Pattern System is also compatible with a wide range of other therapy approaches.

The Intimacy Dimension

Each dimension contains two or more polarized patterns (which means that they are in conflict with each other) and two or more integrated capacities. I will show how each dimension is structured by looking at the Intimacy Dimension as an example.

There are two patterns in the Intimacy Dimension—Dependent and Intimacy-Avoiding.

The Dependent Pattern involves relying on your partner to take care of you and make you feel OK about yourself. This can make it hard to leave a relationship that isn’t right for you.

The Intimacy-Avoiding Pattern involves blocking intimacy within a love relationship.

Two healthy capacities—Intimacy and Self-Support—are related to these two patterns.

Intimacy involves the ability to be close to your partner through affection, sharing, sex, love, and caring.

Self-Support involves being able to take care of yourself and feel solid and good, whether or not you are getting your needs met by your partner, or even if you aren’t in a relationship.

Capacities Integrate and Patterns Conflict

Self-Support is a complement to Intimacy. For healthy relating, you need both capacities. Intimacy helps you be close to someone, and with Self-Support, you do not lose yourself or your identity in the closeness. If you have Self-Support, you won’t become overly dependent on your partner, and you won’t try to be overly pleasing or caretaking.

This is the nature of healthy capacities—they naturally integrate with each other—they don’t oppose each other. They work together, both helping you to flourish. In this dimension, they help you thrive in a love relationship. If you have both capacities, you enjoy love and intimacy while at the same time being solid inside yourself in a way that doesn’t depend on this closeness. Furthermore, true intimacy involves a relationship between two individuals—people who are self-supporting and solid in themselves.

The patterns on the left and right sides of the figure don’t integrate with each other in the way the healthy capacities do. If you have both an Intimacy-Avoiding Pattern and a Dependent Pattern, they will be polarized, which means they battle each other to determine how you relate to others. You have an inner conflict in which these two parts of you are fighting each other to determine how much intimacy you will have. One pattern reflects a desperate need for connection and nurturing, while the other involves trying to avoid closeness out of fear.

If you have just one capacity in a dimension and not the other, it isn’t really a capacity. For example, if you have Intimacy without Self-Support, it isn’t really Intimacy—it is Dependency. And if you have Self-Support without Intimacy, it is really Distancing. For this reason, the nature of capacities is that they include or integrate their polar capacity—for example, Intimacy integrates with Self-Support.

The Capacity Is the Healthy Version of the Same-Side Pattern

Self-Support is the healthy version of Intimacy-Avoiding—the pattern on the same side of the chart. A frequent motivation for distancing is to become Self-Supporting by cutting off your intimate connection with your partner so you aren’t Dependent on him or her. You might even stay away from relationships altogether to cut off your needy longings so you can feel self-sufficient. However, when you have the Self-Support Capacity, you can be autonomous and solid even while being really close to your partner. Another way to say this is that Intimacy-Avoiding is a dysfunctional version of Self-Support.

A similar correlation applies on the left side of the graphic. Intimacy is the healthy version of Dependence, where you can have the closeness you want without being too needy. A common motivation for Dependence is to get Intimacy by merging with your partner or receiving excessive amounts of caring. However, Dependence often involves losing yourself in the relationship, which makes it virtually impossible to have true Intimacy because that requires both people to be present with a sense of themselves (Self-Support). Another way to say this is that Dependence is a dysfunctional version of Intimacy.

So on each side of the graphic, the capacity is a healthy version of the pattern, and the pattern is a dysfunctional version of the capacity.

The Capacity Transforms the Opposite-Side Pattern

If you have the Intimacy-Avoiding Pattern, you need to focus on developing Intimacy in order to resolve or transform that pattern. Thus, the capacity on the opposite side of the graphic is the one needed to transform a pattern. In order to develop Intimacy, you will need the courage to work through your fears of closeness, reach out to your partner, allow yourself to be vulnerable, and work through other difficulties that may arise.

The same applies on the other side. If you have a Dependent Pattern, you need Self-Support to transform it, which is the capacity on the other side of the graphic. When you are Self-Supporting, you have the internal sense of solidness and inner nurturing to keep you from falling into Dependence.

Each dimension has the same structure as the Intimacy Dimension, with two (or more) patterns and two (or more) capacities, in the same relationships with each other.

The Interpersonal Dimensions

The Intimacy Dimension is just one of ten interpersonal dimensions in the Pattern System. The following are brief descriptions of some of them:

Conflict. How do you deal with differences of opinion as well as desires, disagreements, judgment, anger, and fights? Do you use avoidance tactics? Do you become angry, blaming, or defensive? Can you communicate your concerns without judgment and own your part in a problem? Do you become frightened or feel bad about yourself? Can you bring up conflicts and set limits on attacks?

Social. How do you relate to people socially? Are you outgoing or shy, scared or confident in reaching out to people or making conversation? Are you self-effacing or charming, attention seeking or avoiding? Are you overly oriented toward performance in the way you relate to others, or are you more genuine?

Care. How do you balance your needs vs. other people’s needs? Do you end up taking care of others rather than yourself? Do people tell you that you don’t show enough care or concern for them?

Intimacy. Do you avoid intimacy, need it too much, fear it, love it? Can you be autonomous in an intimate relationship without denying your needs? Do you get overly dependent in relationships, or can you support yourself?

Power. How do you deal with power in your relationships? Do you give in too easily to others or try too hard to please them? Do you need to be in control? Do you feel as though you must stand up for yourself against people you view as dominating? Do you frustrate others without realizing why? Can you assert yourself? Can you work with people in a spirit of cooperation?

Strength. How you deal with self-protection and assertiveness in situations that can bring up anger. Do you dump your anger on people? Do you disown your anger and therefore lose your strength. Can you be centered and communicate clearly when you are angry? Can you be strong and forceful without being reactive?

Trust. Are you usually trusting of people, or do you easily get suspicious? Can you perceive when someone isn’t trustworthy, or are you gullible?

Some additional interpersonal dimensions are:

  • Honesty
  • Evaluation
  • Responsibility

Each of these dimensions has the same structure as the Intimacy Dimension.

You can explore any dimension to see which patterns and capacities you have, and to what degree. If you do this for all the dimensions, you will have a map of your psyche, which can aid you in deciding where to target your work toward personal growth.

Click Browse the Pattern System to explore each of the three dimension group charts and their dimensions, patterns, and capacities.

For a website that covers the details of the Pattern System, click here

Structure of the Dimension Group Charts

Looking at the Interpersonal Dimensions Chart above, you will see that there are two types of patterns—hard and soft. The Hard Patterns (on the right side) tend to be aggressive and cause other people pain, while the Soft Patterns (on the left side) tend to be passive and cause the person pain.

If you have a Hard Pattern, you need to develop the corresponding capacity on the left side, which is a Relational Capacity. If you have a Soft Pattern, you need to develop the corresponding capacity on the right side, which is a Self-Supporting Capacity.

Click Hard and Soft Patterns and Tight and Loose Patterns for more information.