The Function of Problem Behaviors

I read a story today about the efforts of environmentalists in Russia to protect a freshwater lake from pollutants.  The fate of this lake, unique because of its ecosystem and rare species, has been disputed for decades.  Environmentalists described the governmental forces they are up against as not “playing by the rules” and indicated that in the face of governmental power, their cause is hopeless.  The government officials, they believe, will protect their business interests at any cost.

Experience can teach us that problems are insurmountable.  Repeatedly encountering unsolvable problems and situations in which individual needs are subverted for the convenience of others, leads to a belief that you are helpless in the face of problems.  Growing up in a controlling environment, recurrent trauma or abuse can create unavoidable averse conditions, which can result in feelings of powerlessness.  Those who have had no control over negative circumstances often learn to respond to problems passively regardless of their ability to solve the problem later in life.

When effective problem solving is impossible, some turn to such problem behaviours as suicidality, drug use or aggression which only a few people are able to come out of using professional addiction services. These behaviors may at one time have been effective in eliciting help from others or reducing painful emotion. However, in the long term they cease to solve problems and become the problem themselves.

To begin to gain insight into the cause and maintenance of problem behavior, ask yourself a few questions.

  • What is the actual behavior?
  • When does it happen, how frequently, how long does it last, how intense is it?
  • Under what circumstances does it occur?
  • What might be the function of the behavior?
  • What problem does the behavior solve?
  • What are your hypothesis’ about variables that influence the behavior in question?

Effective problem solving depends on clearly identifying the problem behavior and correctly determining what is causing and maintaining it.  A first step to changing behavior is to understand and accept the behavior and the function that it has served for you.

In future blogs I will continue the topic focused on how to generate, evaluate, and implement alternate solutions to be used in the future.

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