Abigail Miller
Post count: 5

I would explain the concept that “behaviors make sense” as meaning that behaviors can be understood as a kind of communication that gives us a lot of information about what someone is feeling and the way in which their personality has developed so far (their characteristic ways of dealing with life’s problems).

• One sense in which this is true is that behaviors are an attempted solution to a conflict.
• Another sense in which this is true is that people often enact their unconscious emotional experiences. The SPT concept of “the setup” is that the child will unconsciously induce in others what they are feeling (through right to right brain attunement and the mirror neuron system). Paying attention to this “setup,” and the feelings and sensations that arise in us helps us to give us a felt sense of how the other is feeling. In this way, behavior makes sense as a kind of communication.
• Another sense in which this is true is that behavior also makes sense in that they are reactions to a person’s perception of their environment (and as such, they give us information about the person’s perception). Maladaptive behaviors are defenses against a real or imagined danger. Neurobiologically, the task of the brain is largely threat-detection and protection. Stress and dysregulation (hyper and hypo arousal) are protective states. The child who is highly activated, in hyper-arousal, has perceived a threat that it feels it can mobilize against. When we understand this, it may be easier to identify the perception (the “threat”) that the nervous system is trying to defend against, and the behavior makes more sense.
• Another sense in which this is true is that severe unmet emotional needs and disturbances create a narrow window of tolerance with few options and choices, inability to respond adaptively, reduced problem solving ability, and a rigidity in the personality and stereotyped reactions that are often independent of the objective situation and not easily modified by objective circumstances.
• Additionally, Ross Greene’s point that children “do well if they can,” points to another sense in which this is true- children may have lagging social emotional skills that prevent them from meeting the demands of their situation.
• Finally, behaviors often make sense when the relational context is considered. Humans are neurobiologically wired for connection and our nervous system has not evolved solely to survive in life threatening situations, but also to promote social interactions and bonds in safe environments (Porges). The caregiver/teacher’s facial expression, vocal prosody, and face- heart connection helps the child to modulate arousal and regulate. Similarly, whether a child or adult is in a state of security, anxiety, or distress is determined in large part by the accessibility and responsiveness of his principle attachment figure (Bowlby).

Interpreting “behaviors make sense” as “all behaviors are ‘acceptable’ at school or in the classroom” is a “straw man” fallacy, which distorts/misrepresents the therapist’s position. Educators might perceive/represent the statement this way because it is easier to argue against (it is a weaker position- reductio ad absurdum).

In the past, many of the Guidance/Discipline theories and systems taught to educators have been based upon behaviorism. One feature of behaviorism is that it is not necessary to understand the meaning of a behavior (or the feelings of an individual) to extinguish or shape the behavior. In a classroom where behaviorism predominates (a coercive system- rewards, punishments), an educator may not find it very necessary to try to understand the meaning of a behavior, may feel that this is outside the scope of their position, and/or may not have an interest, or feel that they have the time to do so. Hearing that “behaviors make sense,” and the implied consequent that the educator should try to make sense of them, may result in feelings of defensiveness by being asked to consider their role in the emotional climate of the classroom and the child’s behavior, inadequacy and feeling a perceived lack of competence in examining the emotional development of students (educators do not get similar training to therapists), generalized discomfort (anxiety) with the uncomfortable feelings being brought up in the educator (often behaviorism helps the educator to feel powerful and “in control,’ by enforcing compliance and obedience, in situations that might arouse the educator’s feelings of anxiety and helplessness, and the focus on behaviors instead of feelings is an attempt to avoid the messy and uncomfortable feelings being stirred up, and to ignore the presence of feelings in the classroom or work environment), or feelings of overwhelm (that the “case load”- understanding the social emotional development of their students, in combination with their other duties, is overwhelming).

The ”setup,” when an educator is misrepresenting the therapist’s position as “all behaviors are acceptable” is that the therapist is made to seem inadequate, overly permissive and naïve, unknowledgeable about the classroom environment, and unable to help children develop their intelligence by bringing their impulses under the control of the higher mental processes and an integrated value system.