Sarah Blake LaRose (3kitties) wrote,
Sarah Blake LaRose

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thoughts on behavior modification and relationships

I was just reading some comments in Astrid's site
about behavior problems. She talked about hating the word manipulative. Oh how I can relate. Behavior is such a complex issue!

Having studied psychology, I know all about behavior modification techniques--including the fact that they don't always work the way we want them to. There is a time and place for behavior modification. But when a person doesn't know how to behave differently... One of the things I learned while training with my dog guide is that when I'm mad at her I need to give her something to do to be praised for. Otherwise, she will just keep behaving in various ways until I give her some attention.

It isn't bad to want or need attention. In fact, a lot of what people do is done to get attention. When I stop someone to ask directions, I'm asking for attention. When I call a cab, I'm asking for attention. When I go to the doctor, I'm asking for attention. When I call a friend to chat, I'm asking for attention. These are all positive ways of asking for attention. What people seem to have a problem with is the use of perceived negative behaviors to get
attention. But complicating the issue is the fact that sometimes behaviors are almost reflexive. They aren't designed to get attention, but people tend to feel obligated to respond to these behaviors because they indicate distress. So what is the answer to all of this?

For me the answer was learning how to use positive behaviors to get attention when I need it and how to either avoid distress or use methods of coping that don't communicate a need for attention unintentionally. It isn't really about what behaviors are right or wrong--I gave up trying to figure that out because it's very confusing and seems to change from one situation to the next. It's about what works and what doesn't. This is something I'm still working on in many areas. It might be perfectly permissible for me to rant and rave to the friend I'm with about my distress over something, but sometimes there are other factors I need to consider. If there's something I can do to change the situation, it makes sense for me to do it and alleviate the distress altogether, even if I am upset. I won't be upset for long once it's over. If I can't control the situation, then I need distress tolerance skills. But even in considering this, it's still wise for me to consider the impact of whatever I choose to do about my distress on my relationships, especially if I'm in the middle of an interpersonal interaction at the time. Can I use some skill for tolerating the distress so that the interaction can continue uninterrupted--because it is likely that the other person would like to continue the interaction? If not, then "what works" (not what I "should do") is to politely ask for a "time out" in the interaction and to either postpone the rest of it or get my reactions to my distress under control as quickly as possible.

The dilemma for me is the fact that most people don't themselves use effective skills but are perfectly happy to demand that I change the way I behave. I think it's a double standard, but it's also true that I can only change me and hope and pray that other people will see the point of changing themselves. Some are receptive to my requests that we work together toward change, but many aren't.


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