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How to Free Yourself from Unhappy Personality Patterns

Personality Patterns

Do you sometimes feel like you’re stuck in the same place, repeating the same personality patterns, and reacting to others in the same tiresome ways?

Deeply held proclivities from childhood exert a powerful influence on adult life, far more than you might imagine.  After years of repetition, certain ways of thinking, speaking, and acting become automatic even though they constantly create distress, drama, and discouragement.

There is a way out. It begins by getting to know your core wound and the specific survival strategies you embraced as a child and brought into your adult life.  That might seem impossible or too complex, but I have good news for you.

Steven Kessler’s new book, The 5 Personality Patterns (affiliate link), provides a lucid description of the main emotional survival styles used by most people, as well as a clear map showing how to heal and transform them. It’s written expressly for the normal peeps like you and me rather than clinicians— easy to understand, but not sparse on details.

Let me tell you, I resonated so strongly with the information presented in this book.  The insights I’ve gained have accelerated my self-understanding as well as my understanding of those close to me.  I’m keeping this gem close at hand, re-reading and studying the relevant sections and using the healing exercises for my particular patterns every day.

The Origin and Essence of the 5 Personality Patterns

A licensed psychotherapist for more than 30 years, Kessler adapted and modernized the 5 Character Structures originally formulated by Wilhelm Reich, a prominent student of Freud, into his own version, which he calls the 5 Personality Patterns.

This approach to personality differs from more static systems of personality type, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which tell you about who you are.

The 5 Personality Patterns represent automatic, body-based reactions —conditioned responses from childhood — which you employ to protect yourself from distress when you feel overwhelmed.  Instead of revealing who you are, they hide who you are.  Unlike static identifiers, these patterns can be healed, allowing you to embrace your unique gifts and live in wholeness.

These patterns originate in trauma, but bear in mind that what may be traumatic for one child might not phase another one at all.  The trauma could range from not getting basic emotional needs meet to full on abuse or neglect.

“Developmental trauma” — the trauma that occurs in our early years — results from misattunement from caregivers.  Misattunement can take many forms, but two simple examples include a child who consistently does not feel fully nourished or soothed or a child who is constantly controlled when he’s attempting to exercise autonomy.  “Shock trauma” (PTSD) occurs when our capacity to cope with threat is overwhelmed.

Some psychologists believe that in our earliest years – from conception to around 5 years of age – all trauma is both “shock” and “developmental” because it effects neural development and a child’s capacity for self-regulation as well as identity formation.  Thus these patterns form in response to both unfulfilled needs that feel traumatic to a child and shocks to the child’s system.

When you’re “in pattern,” you’re not responding in the present moment.  You’re acting out past thoughts, feelings, and experiences as though they’re occurring in the present moment.   You’re emotionally triggered and may even feel in a state of alarm, although you may not act alarmed, depending on your primary pattern.

The opposite of being “in pattern” is presence.  Presence, in this context, means one’s attention is in the here and now, not governed by thoughts, feelings, patterns, or traumas of the past.

In The 5 Personality Patterns, Kessler shows you how to move out of pattern into presence so you can live a happier and healthier life.

The 5 Personality Patterns:  Which One Rules Your Life?

Now let’s dive into the specifics of each personality pattern.

Although we may have threads of all the patterns running through us, most people express a primary and a secondary pattern.  Some people are in pattern almost all of the time, some part of the time, and some only occasionally.

5 personality patterns that block your happiness.

As we explore the patterns, remember they provide a map, but a map is not the territory.  Your pattern may not fit you perfectly or may manifest in slightly different ways when blended with a secondary pattern.  Nevertheless, I think your pattern will ring out loud and clear.

I can only provide very brief descriptions here, whereas Kessler devotes pages and pages to the intricate details of each pattern.  Here we go.

The Leaving Personality Pattern

In this pattern, the wounding occurred very early — in the womb or very soon after birth. Repeated shocks caused a fragile self to fragment and runaway back to the spirit world, which felt safer than the physical body and physical world.

As a result, this child was not able to complete the first developmental task of embodiment. Embodiment involves developing a strong sense of self that is securely attached to the body, as well as a strong energetic boundary to protect yourself from future disturbances.

As an adult, she often feels overwhelmed and will easily fragment under pressure.  She may find it difficult to function as she doesn’t have a strong sense of her own center that she can return to for reference and operate from.  She sometimes or may often feels like she doesn’t belong here in the physical world, and will find it difficult to function here.

The gifts of this pattern include creativity, sensitivity to energy, and for some, an ability to connect with the spirit world.  If you identify as a Highly Sensitive Person, this is likely your pattern, although you may have learned to move into presence already.

The need in this pattern is for embodiment. The dominant emotion is fear.

Ways to Heal the Leaving Pattern:  Sensing the body, developing a felt sense of your physical core, reaching out for soothing, developing social skills, returning to the body, recovering from shattering, dissolving the terror, strengthening the self, disidentifying from the inner critic, deciding to live, anger work, grounding, connecting to their inner core, developing strong boundaries (psychologically and energetically) and differentiating self and others.

The Merging and Merging Compensated Personality Pattern

The wounding in this pattern occurred in the first few years of life and relates to nourishment – the ability to receive sustenance and feel full and satisfied. The child did not receive or was unable to take in the nourishment and soothing she needed, which caused anxiety, making it harder to take in what she needs and turning this into an unfulfilling cycle.

She continues to feel needy and looks outside herself for someone else to fulfill her needs.  She’s clingy, desirous of attention, and also fragile.

In the Compensated Merging Pattern, she rejects her own needs, projects neediness upon others, and tries to satisfy their needs, under the cover of a pretense of strength.

The need in this pattern is for nourishment. The default emotion is shame and self-doubt.

The gifts of this pattern include the ability to attune to others and meet their needs.  The best therapists excel at the art of attunement, a skill they may have developed due to this pattern.

Ways to Heal the Merging Pattern:  Developing will and strength, self-care, dropping the compensation, strengthening the self, anger work, grounding, connecting to their inner core, creating boundaries (psychological and energetic), and differentiating self and others.

The Enduring Personality Pattern

Remember the ‘terrible twos?’  This is when the Enduring Pattern may come into play.  This is when a child suddenly discovers his separateness for others. His developmental task in this stage is the assertion of his autonomy.

If a parent suppresses the child’s autonomy by attempting to control him, especially through the use of threats and punishment, the child will feel angry and ashamed.  Although he’ll resist the parents attempts at control for as long as he can, eventually he’ll realize he cannot win against such a strong force.

And so instead, he learns to passively endure, while seething with rage on the inside.  He turns against himself to subdue his own desires to express himself and act as he wishes, which he knows only bring external disfavor.

This is the type of person who perseveres no matter what.  They may seem grounded, peaceful and compliant, but these qualities cover an underground pool of rage.  Those stuck in the Enduring Pattern are unable to successfully move and act in the world in the ways they truly wish.

The need in this pattern is for autonomy.  The default emotion is resentment, guilt, and shame.

The gifts of this pattern include stability and stamina.

Ways to Heal the Enduring Pattern:  Learning to move, filling your space with your own energy, defending your space and your boundaries, moving toward a goal, anger work, relaxing your clutch on the ground, holding an energetic boundary, differentiating your own energy from that of others, defending against the inner critic, identifying and expressing your own needs, differentiating from others.

The Aggressive Personality Pattern

In the next stage of development, once autonomy and a healthy sense of will have been established, the need is to be held by something larger and stronger than yourself.  When the child doesn’t feel this sense of protection at a critical moment – what likely feels like a life and death situation to him – he may choose to resource his own strength and face his fear alone.  If he  succeeds, he learns he can manage successfully on his own, but he feels alone, failed or betrayed.

This child has a strong sense of self, a powerful will, and the capacity to secure his personal territory, but he feels he cannot fully depend on others.  He only feels safe when he dominates others.

The need in this pattern is to feel safe by being held, contained, and protected by something that’s both good and stronger than you are. The default emotion is anger.  Every pattern has its specific way of expressing or suppressing anger, but anger is the dominant emotion in the Aggressive Pattern.

The gifts of this pattern include the ability to make things happen in the world. You can probably think of a politician or two who acts out of this pattern.

Ways to Heal the Aggressive Pattern:  Feeling defended and protected, feeling contained, re-owning vulnerability and needs, anger work, acquiring a felt sense of safety, learning self-containment, learning to function from inner peace, grounding and holding your edge.

The Rigid Personality Pattern

This pattern results less from trauma and more from the parents inability to value their child’s inner experience.  They focus instead on external measures like appearance and performance and emphasize following rules and obedience to authority.

This child loses touch with his inner experience and his own inner GPS.  He focuses instead on the structures and rules of life. When overwhelmed, she redirects the excess energy by getting busy.

The need in this pattern is to be loved for who you are rather than what you do and to have all your many parts loved and valued.  The default emotion is anger manifested as judgment, blame, criticism, and/or resentment.

The gifts of this pattern include the ability to be successful according to cultural norms.  These are people who live model lives with fastidiously clean homes and finely manicured lawns.  I’m reminded of Marie Kondo, creator of the KonMari decluttering program and Emily Post, whose name is synonymous with etiquette.  That’s not to say they only functioned in pattern as opposed to presence, but their need for order may have come from this pattern.

This particular pattern is described somewhat differently in the Neuro-Affective Relational Model, described in the book Healing Developmental Trauma (affiliate link), another modern adaptation of Reich’s Character Structures.  This model has named it the Love-Sexuality Pattern.  Although rigidity may be present, the primary feature is a schism between love and sexuality.

Ways to Heal the Rigid Pattern:  Loosening the one right way, turning inward for guidance, disidentifying with the inner critic, being a mess and still being loved, exploring pleasure and fun, relaxing the wall around you, anger work, grounding, and connecting with your core.

Having read my blog, can you guess my patterns?  My primary pattern is Leaving and my secondary pattern is Merging and Compensated Merging. The two Merging Patterns don’t necessarily run together, but I feel they have for me.  This combination was reversed in the past.  Since I’ve healed some of my merging issues, the Leaving Pattern has come to the fore.

How Understanding the 5 Personality Patterns Can Help You

Learning about your personality pattern will help you understand yourself and others more deeply.  You’ll naturally feel more self-accepting, less alone, and empowered to make positive changes in your life.

The 5 personality patterns that block your happiness.

Learning about all five personality patterns will help you feel more empathy and compassion for others and show you how to interact with them more skillfully, especially when they’re in pattern.  Once you learn the patterns, you’ll be able to parent with more love and intelligence too.

There is so much more to know about these personality patterns.  If you would like to learn more, I highly recommend The 5 Personality Patterns:  Your Guide to Understanding Yourself and Others and Developing Emotional Maturity (affiliate link).

Did one or two of these personality patterns resonate for you?  I would love to hear.

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra





































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  1. I think there must be a sixth pattern–overidentification with all other patterns. Ha! Really, I could see all the patterns in myself, as well as recognizing that I had engaged in most of the healing practices. As I read each pattern, I thought–that’s me! Or that WAS me. I must have been, to use a term my daughter is fond of, a hot mess. I’m so grateful that one way or another I found my way to heal many of these issues. Do they still pop up from time to time? Of course, but they are more quickly recognized and addressed now. (I’m remembering earlier in my life when someone pointed out how angry I was underneath, and I just couldn’t even see it. Wow, was she right.)

    This sounds like a great book for everyone to learn more about themselves. Not just to identify the issues but to heal them. For me, learning to enter into my body was a huge step.

    Thanks for bringing this to everyone’s attention. And welcome back from your break. How was it?

    • How interesting, Galen! I can definitely see threads of all the patterns weave through my life at times, and many long periods of being a hot mess too, but I haven’t lived each one fully as you have. Maybe it’s the cult-potentiate in you. 🙂 Several of the types have submerged anger that can be very sharp when it comes out, but this is different than the aggressive person who has that as a dominant style. I definitely have a fierce streak myself, I must confess.

      You really touched upon a important point – this books shows us how to heal too. And I’m so glad you have found your healing. Of course, our patterns still come up but such a relief not to be constantly ruled by them as you say. I like what you say about learning to enter into your own body. I completely resonate with that as a Leaving Pattern person.

      My break has been good, mostly because I just could do anything else. I may not be back 100%, but I felt inspired to share this post. Much love to you.

  2. Ah, I see what you mean. Okay, so maybe I don’t have as much of the aggression pattern as I have/had anger in some of the others. Cult-potentiate?? Did I miss that in the article?

    Glad you had a good break.

    • Maybe! Or maybe you do / have embodied all 5. I don’t know what a cult-potentiate is. I thought the word multi-potentiate to excel in multiple fields or arts or ways.

  3. I am glad I finally got to read this, Sandra! So interesting! I am definitely predominantly the leaving pattern and although I have done lots of healing, I am the HSP and even though I try not to be so sensitive, I just am. It is a tough one, as you know, but has many rewards as well because we miss very little that goes on around and within us 🙂 The secondary pattern for me is also the merging pattern, so we have very similar patterns it seems.

    • Dear Jean,

      I’m not surprised by our similarities! Every type has its challenges, and we know ours well. I know you’ve done so much healing. I feel that’s what’s happening for me now. We’ll probably always be sensitive, but more capable of using our gifts! Much love to you.

  4. How awesome this is Sandra…and I clearly need to look a lot deeper since I don’t seem to resonate with any of these patterns. Though I suspect somewhere deeper within chances are high that I do! 🙂

    What a fascinating read…thank you for sharing.

    • I think some children do grow up relatively happy and healthy, Elle. They may have some subtle patterns as adults, but are most often able to live in presence. So maybe that’s you. Or maybe you’ve healed your pattern(s). I wouldn’t be surprised as you’ve healed so much and live so consciously. Hugs and love!

  5. I’m with Galen. I definitely relate to several patterns, but not the rigid or aggressive. Very interesting and informative information. I was not familiar with the five personality patterns. I would like to explore further.

    • Hi Debbie,

      It’s usually to have a primary and a secondary pattern. I don’t related to the rigid or aggressive ones either, although I can sometimes be rigid or aggressive! It’s not primary for me though. I found the information very, very helpful.

  6. This is such a wonderful and interesting take on the personality types. While I have studied so many personality types as part of my training….the more we dig in the more we can find.
    Lots of love,

    • I’m glad you liked it, Zeenat. I’m sure you know a lot. But more is being understood and revealed all the time, as you say.

  7. Really fascinating book review, Sandra. Thank you. I’ve recently become aware of certain patterns left over from childhood and my need for energetic boundaries, so this is definitely synchronicity. Will definitely check out the book!

    • Oh yes, Debra, very in-sync. It’s one of the few books on this topic that address the energetic aspect as well as the psychological. I hope you find it helpful!

  8. Dawn

    Interesting. I was like….no, no, no, no nu…..wait a minute….yep…..that’s me!

  9. Hi, this is Steven Kessler, the author of the book. I’m always glad to see people investigating this work. Thanks to you, Sandra for posting this info.

    A couple of points that might be useful:
    – these patterns arise out of safety strategies, what we do when distressed to try to feel safer. So to discern which patterns you do, the place to look is what you do in distress, not at your talents or personality traits. A person can have the talents and gifts of a pattern, but not actually be caught in it.
    – also, most people do two of these patterns, not just one. When first distressed, they go into their primary pattern/safety strategy to try to feel safer. If that’s working for them, they stay there. If not, they switch into their secondary pattern/safety strategy. Some people even use a third strategy, though that’s rare.

    Hope that’s helpful!

    • Thank you, Steven, for adding these additional points. So useful! Your book has been so significant in my life. I’m extremely grateful to you.

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