Avoiding Manipulation Part 2: Developing Boundaries
In the previous Newsletter we discussed techniques students use to avoid the stress associated with facing the painful impact from stressful, negative consequences that are imposed as a result of their behaviour. As pointed out the continual use of such behaviours can easily become addictive, that is they are the ‘go-to’ response in times of rejection or psychological pain.
There are many types of addictions described in the previous essay, substance, activities and people. That is when we can’t endure the pain of the situation we will habitually access one of these types of protection from the stress. The objective of this work is to focus on ‘people addiction’ as this describes the behaviours used to manipulate the stressor. However, a brief account of ‘substance ‘addiction’ and ‘activities addiction’ will be given.
Substance addiction is probably the most commonly portrayed of these addictions. This is when the individual alters their emotional state with the use of chemicals. The popular media focuses on those illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine but the more common legal substances such as alcohol and the multitude of other substances such as anti-depressants and food, either binge eating or anorexia are used to avoid the pain. Dealing with these addictions is not the occupation of a teacher.
Activity addiction is another way of dismissing stressful situations. This is when you take your mind off the presenting problem by focusing on an alternative behaviour. By doing this you become too busy to deal with the current stressful situation. This works in the short term but like all addictions it never prepares the person in a way that will allow them to address the same or similar situations in the future in a healthy manner.
Types of activities that are used by children to escape the stress are often the latest craze. Things like computer games or collecting cards. Sport is another common distraction, either participation or supporting a particular team. Adults will also access these activities perhaps becoming ‘mad’ football fans. One addiction that is difficult to acknowledge is an addiction to work. The workaholic is not easily identified as an addict, despite the descriptive name pointing that out! In school the student that spends so much time doing their work will most likely be rewarded with complements and good grades. The teaching workaholic will have the same outcome with being recognised as competent and likely being promoted.
It must be remembered that these activities are the walls of protection and although they keep the stress out in the short term these behaviours eliminate the ability to get their nurturing needs met!
The addiction we will focus on in this Newsletter is the people addiction. This deals with dysfunctional responses to the stressful interaction between individuals, specifically the teacher and the student! The underpinning concept behind the model presented below is that, when students are stressed by the behaviour of the teacher they will attempt to manipulate that teacher to change their behaviour. This is a case where, if the presenting environment clashes with the set of beliefs disrupting homeostatic equilibrium, instead of modifying beliefs the student attempts to change the environment!
The model recognises three types of manipulative behaviours, overt and covert control and resistance.
This is a case of when the teacher stresses the student that child will behave in a way that is calculated to stress the teacher so much that they will stop stressing them. They do this by either actively physically or emotionally attacking them. These could be threats of aggression or in extreme cases actual violence. Emotionally, they may attempt to denigrate the teacher by making fun of them or through threatening accusations about their behaviour. The idea is, if you stress me I will stress you even more until you give up!
This is a more passive attempt to avoid being stressed in the first place. These students will do almost anything to eliminate the need for the teachers to actually stress the student. For the teacher, this approach is not threatening, they do what you want. However, when they act this way solely to avoid being challenged they are using a type of ‘walled’ behaviour and walls may stop the stress but they deny the student getting their legitimate needs met.
These students really won’t engage in the classroom. When they are challenged they withdraw. While ever they resist the behaviours of the teacher or others they simply disengage. These students like others use this behaviour as a protective wall and by so they deny themselves the opportunity to grow, getting their needs met! They employ tactics like refusing to intellectually engage in class activities and physically becoming isolated in the room or playground. They generally refuse to participate in the faulty belief that if they don’t they can’t be hurt!
Of course, unless we learn to deal with stress then these addictive behaviours to avoid stress continue throughout life. Unfortunately, there are too many teachers who use these strategies to deal with the stress students impose on them. The following diagram illustrates the ways these occur.
As can be seen, the methods of avoidance are so similar however, the impact on the students is more harmful because children are in the process of developing their belief systems and if you recall a recent Newsletter (Number 204 - The Importance of Personal Presentation - It's not what you do but how you do it – 13 June 2022), the students will adopt the behaviours presented by the teacher, reinforced because of the modelling and the qualities of mirror neurons. A quick summary is as follows:
These teachers are authoritarian bullies and because of their position they most often succeed in getting the students to cease being a threat to their authority. By frightening the students the resulting anxiety detracts from the potential learning that could be available.
These teachers attempt to be ‘friends’ with the students, they are reluctant to challenge them in case they retaliate creating the feared stress in the teacher. These teachers will put-up with low level, dysfunctional behaviours which makes the classroom unpredictable. Perhaps more damaging is that they don’t teach the students responsibility. They will accept substandard work, late submission and even pardon lack of completion. The result is the children do not acquire that self-reliance and the relationship between effort and results.
These teachers will not properly follow the instructions of the department and the school. In secondary schools they will dismiss any whole school approach to welfare with comments such as ‘I teach science, I’m not a social worker’. My pet observation was always in staff meetings, especially those held in the library, these teachers would sit up the back and grab a book to look at while school policies were discussed. Of course their lack of commitment put their students at a distinct disadvantage!
So what to do, as stated in the last Newsletter the use of boundaries will help teachers and students learn to deal with stress rather than protect themselves. We discussed what boundaries are but the following presents techniques that help you create them.
The following are steps that will impose boundaries for you. They may feel ‘artificial’ at first but eventually they will become automatic:
- Stay calm - when you feel yourself becoming anxious stop and try to relax. It is important you stay ‘in the moment’.
- Ask yourself ‘what is really happening’ – too often what you see is a result of what is truly happening; it is not always the first thing you see. You won’t always get this right but never jump to conclusions.
- Then ask who is responsible:
- If it is me then I must change my behaviour – that is I must learn another way to behave
- If its not me, then it’s the student therefore I can’t ignore the problem. I must work out what I want to have happen and learn to make the changes to get that result.
- Take action -you must make an effort if you want to make a change. Learning new behaviours is not easy you have to over-ride existing beliefs.
- Evaluate – after a period of time assess whether or not the stressful problem still exists. If so assess the effectiveness of your application of your solution, perhaps you were not vigilant enough. But if you were thorough in your efforts then go through these steps again.
The approach above does require some cooperation from the students but when dealing with very dysfunctional students the following approach can be used. This consists of a directive and the description of consequences both of compliance and defiance:
- If you … (clearly describe the offending behaviour)
- I will … (outline the consequences)
In some extreme cases the student’s behaviour is beyond the ability of a classroom teacher and a main stream school and in these cases the system should provide assistance!
Interactions in the classroom will always generate some clashes between the teachers’ beliefs and that developing of the student. The use of addictive, walls of behaviours will reduce the resulting stress in the short term however, the same or similar threatening situations will re-emerge. If you take the time to learn how to deal with these issues when they arise, you will have a behaviour that will deal with that problem, you eliminate the stress in future incidents. However, don’t get too comfortable life continually throws-up different problems to face. Using the process of boundaries will help you navigate your way through this changing but always interesting life!