[CN: relational abuse]
One of the biggest revelations about my work, before I even fully understood the concepts I had somehow brought through and organized, came from ideas put forth by Daniel Schmachtenberger of Civilization Emerging and The Consilience Project – specifically regarding the difference between open loop and closed loop systems.
The best way I can think of to explain open loop and closed loop systems, the way I first came to understand them from Daniel, was to picture a forest ecosystem vs. a manmade manufacturing system. In a forest, there is no waste – any and all excess biomaterial gets reabsorbed into the environment and reused. You can picture this in your mind as a closed loop, like a recycling symbol, or just a circle, because of how the components in the system get reincorporated back into the system. Because there is no depletion of resources and no waste, we can call such a system sustainable, which means it can continue in perpetuity without becoming fragile.
With most (if not all) contemporary industrial systems, on the other hand, that loop never closes. Instead there is depletion of resources at the beginning (think natural resource extraction) and an accumulation of waste at the end (think pollution). These systems are not sustainable – as resources deplete and as waste accumulates, the system heads toward collapse.
At this time our planet is ruled by many open loop systems. Contemporary industrialism is only one of them. Capitalism is another (and for the purpose of this context, I define capitalism as the prioritization of acquisition of capital as a societal value). Because it takes money to make money, and because acquisition of capital is socially incentivized, the wealth gap between the upper and lower classes has widened drastically over the last century and shows no signs of stopping – in 1965, the average ratio of CEO to worker pay was 20:1, but as of 2020, it hovers around 350:1 (that’s a 1,750% increase in disparity!), because CEOs can decide to how much to pay themselves vs their employees, and as the numbers show, they are largely keeping their companies’ profits to increase their personal wealth while paying their average worker about as little as they can get away with. Add to this the fact that inflation has caused a debasement of currency (a worker needs a 7.5% raise per year just to keep up with current inflation rates, so even what would appear as a 5% raise is actually not even enough to sustain the value of the pay in terms of the cost of living), and it’s easy to see how if this pattern continues, there is and will continue to be massive social collapse simply due to the fact that the average person won’t be able to afford to live. This is another open loop system – while I’m sure the CEOs don’t think of their money as “accumulated waste,” we still see depletion of resources (worker pay) at the start of the chain, and accumulation and stagnation (big fat CEO bank accounts) at its end.
So that’s open loop vs. closed loop systems.
And what I perceived through my own work is that the human mind-body system, if left unchecked and especially if there is early trauma, also runs an open loop system. But we can turn it around.
The first time I met Daniel it was 3:00am and I was staying over after a night out with his partner and another friend. It was 2018, and I had just taught the first beta round of The Re-Patterning Project. He wandered into the kitchen to greet us, and I told him how much his work had illuminated the greater purpose of my own.
“I think what you’re calling attention to on the level of the global system, I’m attempting to help people fix in their own individual, personal systems,” I said to him. “I’m grateful for the frameworks you’ve provided, because they’ve helped me see my own work in a larger context.”
It turns out that trauma can create an open loop system in the human individual. At the one end we have depletion of resources, which in this system is caused by trauma splitting, a response to trauma in which we edit down our full expression and learn that certain behaviors, feelings, or choices are unsafe for us to make. And at the other end of this open loop we have an accumulation of trauma in the body, which can express itself as triggers, flashbacks, anxiety/depression, PTSD, and various learned responses and behaviors that typically don’t serve our peace and happiness.
For example, in taking myself through my own repatterning process, I learned that there were three formative relationships that had caused me to feel that my full expression was unsafe, and to split off certain behaviors from the range of what I allowed myself. The first one was with my father – or more precisely, with the family court system that denied my petition for emancipation based on his abuse. When I failed in that, my mind-body system “learned” that it was unsafe for me to attempt to draw boundaries around my safety or extract myself from harmful situations with authority figures, that it was easier to simply allow abuse to happen and to dissociate myself from it, since I had evidence that attempting to fight it would result in further abuse and humiliation. In my first formative romantic relationship in my 20s, my mind-body system learned that it was unsafe for me to express negative emotions such as anger or sadness, as my partner would respond to any behavior from me that he deemed inconvenient with abuse and gaslighting (this pattern was also an open loop, as the more I learned to calmly and rationally express myself, the less it would take to anger him, or the more he would ignore or argue with my needs in order to get me to lose composure and dysregulate so that he could frame me as the “crazy” one) – and since I had already learned that it was unsafe for me to attempt to leave abusive situations, I stayed in the relationship long past the point where I noticed I was unhappy. And in my second formative romantic relationship, I was subtly punished or outright abandoned for expressing my power or wisdom – I could tell that my partner was uncomfortable with any beliefs, knowledge, or intuition of mine that confronted his limited worldview, even when I didn’t say anything to argue it (I’m autistic, and sometimes me just perceiving something and unintentionally making a face about it has been, historically, confronting to some folks), and so I learned that any wisdom or insight I had to share was a potential danger to the safety of my relationship.
As a result, by the time I was in my 30s I had edited down my behavior to the last few shreds of expression that I had learned were okay, and most of those involved being pleasing. I walked around like a Stepford bot, hoping to earn love through my perfect behavior. Meanwhile, the trauma in my body, in the form of intense feelings of anxiety and depression, was accumulating, and my mental health was growing worse with each passing year. No small wonder when you’ve learned that nearly any action you take can and will be met with abuse or abandonment!
This is how an open loop system gets formed in the human person – the “resources” of our full expression become depleted while the imprints of trauma accumulate in our body as “waste.”
Part of what I teach my clients now is to recognize when they are maintaining a relationship to a person, group, situation, environment, or job that is costing them more energy than it is returning to them. A great example of this would be a draining job that doesn’t pay someone well enough to afford the cost of living – the drain on the energy in the body from the work being done is not commensurate with the energy returned by the pay rate. Another example is a friendship or relationship where we keep giving and giving to a person only for them to take from us or stress us out. These loops are not good returns on the investment of our energy, and a person can be caught in several of them at once, feeling exhausted, and not knowing why – because to their mind-body systems, they may be doing the only thing they have learned is safe, such as “working hard” in the first example or being pleasing in the second.
Adding to the acceleration of this open loop system is our confirmation bias, especially if the beliefs and patterns we formed early on are detrimental to us. That is, the more evidence we acquire of people behaving terribly toward us in the world, the more familiar it will become to us, and the more we will notice it in our reality – sometimes even to the exclusion of the “good” things in life we say we want for ourselves – and the more of this we see, the more it confirms our worldview, and then the more it confirms our worldview, the more of it we see. The more poor treatment we suffer, the more we are confirmed in our belief that people are horrible, and the fewer positive opportunities we’re able to see – there’s an ongoing increase in the amount of harm or triggers, and a decrease in our ability to receive love and care. I say this, as an abuse survivor, not to downplay the realities of harm in the world, but to illustrate how easily we can fall prey to the hopeless belief that the world is a terrible place full of horrible people – instead of understanding that it is a wide buffet of experiences we get to choose from via where we focus our energy (even if the larger systems themselves are vastly unjust, and even if there is an uneven distribution of resources that often limits the ability of many people to choose).
The process of repatterning is essentially the closing of these open loop systems in the individual person.
We look at the faulty internal algorithms we unconsciously established that are essentially the generator functions of these patterns, and we rewire them. My most predominant faulty internal algorithm, for example, was “if I am valuable to people, then they will treat me well.” (Internal algorithms almost always follow an “if X, then Y” format based on our learning experiences – “if I touch the hot stove, I will get burned,” e.g.) This internal belief is what caused me to overextend myself past the point of diminishing returns in order to make myself valuable to people who were not treating me well, which naturally caused a great degree of hurt, stress, confusion, and dysregulation for me. I actually felt fairly confident in my own value on paper, but I couldn’t understand why a person would choke out – sometimes literally, in my case! – the goose who was laying them golden eggs on a regular basis. And I kept trying to solve this problem by becoming better, because I still somehow believed my value would determine the way I was treated.
In 2016 I managed to make this underlying belief conscious and saw the error in my thinking, with a single sentence that popped into my head from seemingly out of nowhere: “Arden, people destroy beautiful things all the time.” When I came to understand this, and subsequently replaced my previous function with “If I select for friendships and relationships with people who value me and treat me well, then I will be treated well,” about 90% of my mental health issues resolved. It wasn’t instantaneous, but it is not an exaggeration.
I also left a series of unsustainable work environments that had been draining my energy and wreaking havoc on my nervous system. With the creation of The Re-Patterning Project, I got to begin earning a living doing something that actually GIVES me energy – explaining things. Teaching, coaching, writing, and helping people identify and process around their own internal systems is work I find immensely rewarding, and even more miraculously, other than a website, a pro Zoom account, and eventually hiring a teaching assistant, I have practically zero overhead. (Unless you count the hard-earned way I had to figure out the information for myself in the first place so I could go on to share it with others, which was quite costly in ways other than money! And of course the certifications for my NLP and Time Line Therapy practices, which I actually earned recreationally over a decade ago and only recently began to put to use professionally when I created my business.)
In both instances, I took an open loop pattern where my own energy was being drained, and I put that energy instead into an equation that brought my investment back to me at a greater rate than before – friendships that provide me as much benefit as I give, and work that both sustains and nourishes me.
Identifying our myriad internal algorithms, keeping the ones that spark joy a la Marie Kondo, and rewiring the others to bring our energy back to us in a closed loop rather than leaking it out at the end of an open loop is the very crux of the process of repatterning.
I shared this recently on a call with my magick teacher, Grant Morrison, and how learning about Daniel Schmachtenberger’s model for a global transition into sustainability had better helped me understand the work I had done on myself, which is work I now help others to do. Grant suggested that what I was doing was essentially sympathetic magick, which is the act of effecting change on a larger element by representing that change on a smaller model – that is, in healing myself, I was doing magick using myself as a representative model to intend for the sustainable repatterning of the world at large. I thought that was an extraordinarily beautiful sentiment.
And truly, when we repattern and begin to bring back just as much or more energy as we expend, we then have excess energy, resources, and attention that we can give to the world. As David Hrostoski writes in The Ascension Manual for Planet Earth, “With peace comes bandwidth.” And with that bandwidth, having exited survival mode, we can begin to help tackle the greater problems that face our communities, all the way up to our global systems. Perhaps most importantly, we can achieve an everyday default state of nervous system regulation, meaning it is easier for us to be in the vibrations of peace, patience, and kindness – and since our nervous systems connect with one another like WiFi, we can often effect positive change on those we encounter just by being in a happy place ourselves.
Now that’s magick.