The 'Modified Puzzle Piece Pattern' in Relationships - Teal Swan Articles - Teal Swan Jump to content

The 'Modified Puzzle Piece Pattern' in Relationships

Connection and belonging with that connection is the strongest need for a physical human.  We are after all a relationally dependent species. Some of us feel that belonging with the families we were born into.  This allows for more room when it comes to selecting compatible friends and a compatible mate for ourselves. But some of us never felt it and some of us lost it.  Even if our family is technically alive, this dynamic creates a kind of orphan complex. It creates a desperate sense of urgency to belong, regardless of whether compatibility actually exists or not.  This allows for much less room to select a compatible situation and compatible people for ourselves, which is a recipe for suffering.  

If we have this pattern, we are on the lookout for similarities with others.  Once we see these similarities, we do not go slowly in order to see if we are in fact a fit to them.  We decide they are a fit. The beginning of the relationship usually feels like heaven. We finally have our deepest need met and we feel deep satiation.  But what we don’t see is that our sense of belonging is in fact an overlay. An overlay is a pretend reality that sits over actual reality like an overlay.  Overlays make it so we commit to something that isn’t real, especially in relationships.  And eventually, when that overlay begins to corrode and we notice some of the incompatibilities that exist, we end up in a reality that is the opposite of what we would choose.  To understand overlays in depth, watch my video titled: Overlay (What Prevents You from Having a Real Relationship).

    Some of us move on to another situation or another relationship and then another and then another and repeat this cycle again and again and again until one day, we have healed enough to find or create belonging.  Others fall into what I call the “modified puzzle piece pattern”. When they recognize the incompatibilities that exist and the ways they don’t belong, they begin to try to modify themselves so that they are a fit.  The best way to imagine this is to imagine a little puzzle piece realizing that it doesn’t actually fit in the spot in the puzzle that it thought it did and so it finds a pocketknife and begins cutting away at itself in the hope that it can make the shape out of itself that will enable it to fit perfectly.  It’s heartbreaking to watch.

The problem with this pattern is, it isn’t possible for a puzzle piece to modify itself in this way and be ok at the same time.  It is always obvious that it is not a real fit. It had to cut away parts of itself that are intrinsic to it, which crates severe pain that does not go away.  It got the message that it had to be different to belong, which destroys its self-esteem. Switching back to the human experience, I’m going to give you some real-life examples of people with this pattern and how it does not work.

A woman with this pattern has a deep need to be the priority in a relationship.  She also has a deep need to live a ‘big life’, with lots of success and financial abundance and a man who takes care of her financially.  She meets a nice man who is there for her emotionally, which is another need of hers. But this man has a child from another relationship and it becomes obvious to her that his child is the priority for him.  Also, he is a simple man who loves a simple life and who has no ambition to ‘make it big’ or be rich. It causes her intense pain every time his child is around. She suffers realizing that she is on her own to make money and create success and that it will be her carrying him financially in the end, which makes her stressed out and lose respect for him.  But she is so unwilling to face the fact that she does not actually fit with him that she begins to try to alter her truth.  She attends seminars about simple living to try to talk herself into seeing her desire for a big life as ego dysfunction. She tries to find and heal the trauma creating her need to be prioritized.  Her truth of “I need to be the priority” changes to “I need to be the priority when your child isn’t around”. But this modified truth isn’t the actual truth because she still gets hurt and there is still a conflict every time the man prioritizes his child’s need when she has a need.  Her truth of “I want a man who will financially take care of me” turns to “I can be the financial success if he supports me emotionally.”  But this modified truth isn’t the actual truth because every time she has to pay for something, and every time she sees him prioritize playing sports or watching movies instead of trying to improve their financial position, she resents him.

A man with this pattern really wants to be in a certain job.  He clearly sees the needs that the company has for someone in that position.  Instead of really examining his authentic talents and personal desires, he simply dresses and acts the part and sells himself so well that he gets hired.  He has to change and hide and deny all kinds of things about himself in order to fit in that position. In time, this not only leads to zero job satisfaction, he also isn’t doing a good job in his position and does not seem motivated, which makes HR feel duped.        

A woman with this pattern has been in several relationships.  Each time she gets into one, her entire personality and the way she dresses and the interests she has changes.  Once, she was with a Harley Davidson biker and suddenly she was wearing black leather and cut off all her hair so it would fit in a helmet and bought a motorbike with money she didn’t have to spare and put her daughter in afterschool care and dropped all her other interests so she could fit in with him and his other biker friends every day.  She did the same thing when she started dating a Christian. Suddenly, she stopped drinking alcohol and started dressing in conservative dresses and sending her family religious pamphlets and spending more time doing “good mom” things with her daughter. She did the same thing with a man who loved dogs. She got one and acted like she loved them but when the relationship ended, she left it in a pen in the yard with no attention for the next 5 years.

Sometimes both people in a couple have this pattern.  This is where things get super confusing. They both modify their truth to try to fit to each other in different scenarios and imagine it to be a good thing because it is compromise, which they imagine is the way to make a relationship work.  But compromise does not work because it is very different than finding a third option that genuinely works to meet the needs of two compatible people. Compromise is ‘I’ll take a little pain and you take a little pain”. If you do that over and over in a relationship, you will both simply end up in lots of pain in the relationship.  Compromise is a form of ‘self-sacrifice’ and your being will not thank you for it.                              

Hopefully by this point, you get how this pattern works and maybe even have someone from your own life (maybe it’s you) that you can clearly see is caught in this pattern.  The modified puzzle piece pattern makes you violate your own boundaries (including personal truth) for the sake of the relationship. To understand about boundaries, it would benefit you to watch my video titled: Personal Boundaries vs. Oneness (How to Create Healthy Boundaries).  Part of your personal truth, which is part of what defines you and is therefore a boundary of yours, is desire. If you have this ‘modified puzzle piece pattern’ in relationships, you will try to modify your desires by changing or trying to get rid of them, which cannot be done. To understand this deeper, watch my video titled: You Can’t Heal Yourself Out of a Desire.

This pattern also really, really hurts other people too because they will feel duped and misled.  We will sell them on the idea that we are compatible to them and say we are ok with things. But then, it will turn out that we are different, maybe even the opposite of what we said we were and it will turn out that we really aren’t ok with what we agreed to.    

We are conditioned to believe that love triumphs over all.  We have been conditioned to believe that if we are genuinely a good person, we should be able to have a feel-good relationship with anyone and everyone.  There is a big difference between loving something and being compatible with something. To understand incompatibility, watch my video titled: Incompatibility, a Harsh Reality In Relationships.  The modified puzzle piece pattern is a refusal to acknowledge and accept incompatibility because doing so, means losing connection and belonging. For people who do not have belonging elsewhere, they would rather modify themselves to fit than acknowledge incompatibility because they think doing so would mean having no belonging and having nowhere to connect and fit as opposed to having the tiny bit of connection and belonging they are getting with the incompatible situation.  It is a starvation and desperation pattern. Most people would rather have scraps and be malnourished for their entire life rather than risk starvation, which is what people with this pattern genuinely feel they are facing.

If you have this pattern, know that it makes perfect sense.   Anyone who had truly felt the starvation for belonging would do the same thing.  The pain of not belonging is ineffable. But if you have to modify yourself out of alignment with your personal truth (and especially desires) in order to fit somewhere, it isn’t an actual fit.  It means belonging did not actually exist. You cannot call it belonging if only your pinkie toe fits or if only half of you fits, any more than a puzzle piece fits if only one or half of its tabs or slots fit.  Your real fear is that you do not belong anywhere. This is actually impossible universally speaking. This means in the physical dimension, your belonging exists and you can either find that belonging or you can create it by starting a puzzle of your own where people will come to belong with you.  The only way to do this, is to be completely authentic instead of to try to modify yourself so you fit where you do not fit. For this reason, you would benefit by watching three of my videos. The first is: How To Be Authentic. The second is Belonging and How to Belong. And the third is The Zebra and The Watering Hole.                                      

You can only be authentic to the degree that you currently know yourself.  Better said, you can only be authentic to the degree that you are currently aware of yourself.  And because so much of people is denied, rejected, disowned and suppressed into the subconscious, most people are not aware of very much of themselves at all.  This means, the most important work you have ahead of you is to re-own and accept and admit to and express the parts of yourself that you pushed away long ago. You have to be brave to be authentic and brave to be willing to see yourself and admit the truth of yourself to others.  But that bravery is worth it. It is worth it because the day will come that you can honestly say “This is where I belong. I am exactly where I am supposed to be”.


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