Is Correcting a behaviour sufficient?
The pervading view in the approach to a person with an unhealthy mood or behavior, including addiction, is to recognize the condition as an anomaly and work to remove or suppress it. That view is held whether we are trying to manage, heal, direct, judge, or help another person, or if we are the person who is looking for assistance or direction.
This approach is based on the assumption that normalcy is the natural development of the healthy human being. We believe from this that a person should be able to display behaviors that are consistent with his age and presumed experience. This is true physically. But in mental development, there appears to be a need for proactive stimulation. Yet, we presume that physical growth should confer mental maturity. So, though we do not always say it, we simply act out the expectation. Then, when emotional/mental immaturity is revealed, we conclude that it is because of disease or a corrupted evolution of natural growth. In order, therefore, to remove the condition that is presumed to be the abnormality and whose existence is seen to inhibit the expected normal attitudes and behaviours from emerging, this line of thought leads us to look for a physical disease, or use some chemical to attenuate the undisclosed problem. Alternately, especially in the correctional system, we try to force the person to remove or change the unacceptable condition himself by imposing negative consequences while the person remains mentally or cognitively insufficient. This is what society and, from that, many authorities seem to espouse. We presume that, by stopping the unwanted behaviour, we will get normal behaviour or near normal behaviour. What we discover is that the person either holds tenaciously to the behaviour we want them to stop or they suppress it and show either nothing or the insecurities that lie beneath.
An Alternative Proposition
Let us look at it another way. Let us suppose that the human being is naturally flawed, mentally and psychologically. By being flawed, I mean that we start life without the mental strengths that give rise to healthy moods and behaviors. Until we develop the understanding appropriate to the task, we will function inappropriately or without true comprehension. This is not so far-fetched. All babies are deficient in cognitive skills. Thus, all babies are behaviorally immature. That is how we start life. Despite the presumption that there is a natural growth of mental maturity with physical maturity, we know that cannot be so. Why? It is because we know that a child left to its own devices will not know how to develop itself beyond simple reactive responses that may be appropriate at one age but wrong and inappropriate at another. We know this, so we take great pains teaching children how to develop mentally (to the degree we can with different parents offering different levels of guidance). We have to teach our children to see our physical world and understand its machinations. We teach them how to extend their body to its limits and discover what those limits are. We know that, if we do not direct the child that way, the child will never know its capabilities and will function below its potential. We also have to teach the child how to explore and know the vast array of social conditions it will face. We know that. Yet, when we see a child who did not develop the capabilities to understand and face his challenges appropriately, we consider him flawed, not inexperienced or inadequately prepared, but flawed. We look for the disease that may have caused it and give labels that refer to disorders we often do not understand ourselves. If we are doting parents or over-enthusiastic care-givers, we may shore up their weakness by helping them with their task. Then they may appear capable but cannot feel that sense of capability without our support or intervention. As counsellors, we must stay aware of this limitation.
We cannot see the limitations in another person`s development. We see only the maturity of the body. We see the limitations or incongruities in the behaviour they project. They may reveal the fear and concern in their moods. Or, we may ourselves be the adults who experience these fears, insecurities, incongruities, failures, or inconsistencies and do not understand what is going on within us. In other words, we may be the observers, or we may be the person being observed. The person, the soul that is the essence of the human being, actually feels the stress, insecurities, self-doubts, rejection, or criticism. What we show is not what we feel. Then, we are the ones whose moods are painful, or whose behaviour shows unacceptability as we resort to anger, conciliation, indifference, or when we hide behind the spurious protection of drugs, alcohol, or other distractions.
A Logical Deduction
As the observer, we may see the person who demonstrates what is considered to be unhealthy behaviour as flawed in character, and we do not naturally realize that neither the person who offends us nor ourselves who offend others without meaning to do so, is flawed. We are simply insufficiently prepared for that event, challenge, or expectation. What we do not know is that, in a world of pervasive and continuous change, every event will have new features or new twists to old features that make part of it different and unfamiliar. This includes the conditions that affect our bodies and the thoughts and allegiances of another person that can be presented as an opinion or expectation. For example, we cannot presume the affection of a lover, the normalcy of our health, or the stability of our job. Thus, any one of us may appear flawed, but we are not, and neither is the other person. The expression of anger, conciliation, indifference, or the pursuit of indulgence is not a flaw; it is the revelation of an inappropriate way of protecting ourselves when we cannot do it rationally.
Therefore, when a child becomes an adult who seems flawed or unhealthy in mood or behavior, that flaw does not exist because of an imposition; it exists because of an insufficiency, an insufficiency that exists only because it was not filled. It was always there; it only had to be filled and was not, because of a lack of opportunity, encouragement, or the discipline to apply these experiences. If we can see this, we can also see how easy it is to correct an unhealthy mood or behavior. The deficiency was always there. Some people have had the privilege of filling it. Some may have had that privilege only in some areas. Others may have had very little of those three assists of opportunity, encouragement and discipline.
You see, if this conclusion is correct, and if we succeed in suppressing the flaw through treatment, assistance, or punishment, isn`t it obvious that what will result is a person who still does not know how to feel or act healthily? The behaviour may change or be suppressed, but that person will only know how not to feel or act inappropriately. The problem still exists deep inside! Of course, the person will then still be inappropriate, but in a different way or to a different degree.
Yet, if this conclusion is correct and we discover what is lacking in that person`s experience and stimulate the person to build it (not give it to him), we will have someone whose unhealthy mood or behavior will be less often experienced and thus less often used. This is because every human being has the innate desire to be capable, successful, and healthy. We have to believe that. Or we are simply relegating some human beings to be lower primates, incapable of managing except within a narrow range of conditions. We have to believe that all humans are capable of growing to be mentally competent or we will never have babies or care for them.
But such acceptance is not based on belief. It is based on a real understanding of the nature of man as an existent that is capable of thought, knowledge and emotions. It is an understanding that cannot effectively be derived from religious beliefs, metaphysical presumptions, or psychological observations. It can only be derived from a thorough understanding of what we can measure, our physical reality – how it exists, what it does, what are its limitations, and from that, deduce how the human mind differs from what we have only now begun to understand of these forces.
To effect this we must believe and accept that all people are born equal. They all have the capability to be good and do good; it must only be developed. Therefore, we must
• show them that they have the capability
• know how to discover and prove to them why it was insufficiently developed in them;
• show them that they still have the time and capability to develop what they lacked;
• help them focus on that development and assist them in building the discipline to reach it;
• provide the ingredients for that development or direct them into procuring it; finally,
• transfer that authority to them so that they will continue to take mature responsibility, not from fear of repercussions, but because they and you understand the true purpose of existence – not to form or shape a world that defies our best efforts, but to use the challenges of life to build ourselves as thinking minds or souls with the mandate to be the best we can be.
KNOW HOW TO MOTIVATE YOUR CHARGES TO BE SUCCESSFUL, OR TO REVERSE A PERSONAL WEAKNESS. IT WILL FREE YOU FROM HAVING TO CARRY THEM TOO MUCH AND FREE THEM TO TAKE THEIR PLACE IN THE WORLD WITH SELF-GENERATED COURAGE, WISDOM, AND CONFIDENCE.