Mask behaviour pattern

Could Learned Behaviour Patterns Be Harming Us?

Nothing is permanent about our behaviour patterns except our belief that they are so.” Moshe Feldenkrais

As we grow up we adopt certain behaviour patterns (also known as masks) that help us to survive and thrive. We learn these patterns in many ways, such as by adopting the ‘rules’ or beliefs of our cultures, families or peers, modelling the behaviour of others, or through education. These patterns may have helped us in the past but they may be harmful, rather than helpful, in certain circumstances.

Three of the most common behaviour patterns (or masks) are:

  • Be perfect – THE PERFECTIONIST
  • Be strong – THE ROCK
  • Please people – THE PEOPLE PLEASER

So what are the benefits of having a pattern?

Patterns can be extremely useful as a means of learning societal rules and expectations enabling us to interact harmoniously and be respectful of others. In addition patterns are:

  • Familiar making us feel ‘safe’
  • Efficient and use less mental energy as little conscious thought is required
  • Successful in terms of ‘protecting’ us, perceived as a strategy linked to us gaining approval from others, being liked or included and helping us avoid conflict or aggression from others
  • Part of our ‘identity’ in terms of how we see ourselves and how others see us

And what are the unintended consequences of following our patterns?

Whilst there may be additional consequences depending on the specific circumstances involved, there are several common consequences.

As a result of the pattern being what we have LEARNED, rather than CHOSEN, it does not always reflect what we WANT both generally and for specific situations. This can result in:

  • Negative feelings such as:
    • Resentment
    • Unhappiness
    • Lack of fulfilment
  • Exhaustion, burn out or being drained in energy as we are not intrinsically motivated
  • A sense of distrust as you are being inauthentic
  • Poor decisions due to an inconsistency between the action and the intention

So how does this show up in practice?

The ROCK, known as the go to person to sort out problems, who takes action and faces adversity with strength and positivity, may find it difficult to ask for help when they are struggling. They put on a ‘brave face’ and carry on. No-one thinks to ask them how they are or if they need anything. Why would you support the ROCK?

If this is you, work on:

  • Showing some vulnerability
  • Letting go of ‘fixing’ and switch to coaching others to solve their own problems
  • Being open. Consider other people’s ideas; if it’s their idea they are more likely to follow it through
  • Asking for support

The PEOPLE-PLEASER, known for their patience and compassion in supporting others, always thinking of others before themselves, sitting on the fence when decisions need to be made until everyone else has expressed their opinion so they can assess which decision will cause the least upset. They compromise their own desires, put off delivering bad news and are racked with anxiety and guilt because of this and in the long term often end up pleasing no-one.

If this is you, work on:

  • Deciding what is important in the situation and committing to the necessary actions before any interaction with others
  • Acknowledging any unpleasant emotions (in themselves and others) and observing them, rather than responding to them
  • Being compassionate to others, without ‘fixing’ their problems
  • Being clear – explaining the purpose for something will help people come to terms with bad news and process their own emotions
  • Setting personal boundaries

The PERFECTIONIST, known for their attention to detail, integrity and always having the RIGHT answer. Their fear of failure or criticism drives them to establish habits that enable them to put off making decisions or completing something such as continually ‘tinkering’, procrastinating or being distracted by other projects.

If this is you, work on:

  • Setting a measurement for when something is ‘good enough’
  • Setting deadlines and sticking to them
  • Reframing failure or criticism as feedback and an opportunity for growth and development
  • Being open to other ideas

Remember we all wear masks that may be hiding our true selves. Get into the habit of choosing a mask, or no mask, for the occasion and challenge others to put down their masks – offer the ROCK some help, ask the PEOPLE PLEASER what works for them and support the PERFECTIONIST to put down their tools and make a decision or complete their project.