Is it possible that the structure of snowflakes, trees, and hurricanes can explain human behavior? These are just a few examples of what is known as fractals.
What is a Fractal?
The Fractal Foundation explains:
A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop. Driven by recursion, fractals are images of dynamic systems – the pictures of Chaos.
Fractals are simple patterns that repeat over and over to create a larger pattern. When you look closely at the bigger pattern, you can distill it down and discover the smaller pattern — the building block at the heart of the chaos.
Examples of fractals in nature include trees, rivers, coastlines, mountains, clouds, seashells, and snowflakes.
Fractals in Human Behavior
Fractals don’t exist only in the physical realm of nature. All of life is comprised of patterns, including human behavior.
The people you date. The types of situations you find yourself in. How you take in information, show up in relationships, and deal with the uncertainties and challenges we call stress.
We often repeat the same pattern over and over until we finally reach a point where we are compelled to change.
Our patterns are the programs of our human operating system. Given a certain set of conditions, you have programs you run that dictate what actions you take.
The surface circumstances of any situation are largely irrelevant. They are merely the container for the current manifestation of the pattern.
For example, if you have a pattern of enabling someone else’s poor behavior in your family life, you’re likely also doing this in your work life, with your friends, with strangers, and even with yourself. You have a pattern of overgiving and overdoing.
How to See Your Patterns
We are wired to see patterns around us. This is one way that we make sense of the world. Patterns help us put things in context. But sometimes we struggle to see these patterns in our own lives.
To see it in yourself, you must develop the skill of stepping outside your immediate experience.
One question I like to ask myself (and my clients) when I notice a certain type of reaction is,
Where else does this show up?
You may have to look beneath the surface to see the actual pattern. Once you identify the pattern, you can break it down to discover the simple building block that lies at the source. It’s like unraveling a spiral thread, following the tree down to its single leaf.
That leaf is often a thought pattern or a belief that shapes your behavior. To continue the example from above, your pattern of overgiving and overdoing may result from a belief that you must prove your worth. Your overgiving and overdoing is a compensation pattern to make up for what you believe is a deficiency on your part.
The Opportunity for Healing
One of my mentors says, how you do one thing is how you do everything.
This can lead to some despair if you’ve discovered a destructive pattern. You might feel safer leaving the pattern unexplored.
On the other hand, the investment of energy to examine your patterns comes with great reward. If you can see the pattern in one context, you can see it in other contexts.
And if you invest the energy to change it in one place, it will change in other places too.
It’s worth the effort to unravel the spool of thread and distill the fractal into its most basic components.
This is where the source of healing lies.