Behavioural obstacles are those behaviours or actions that people perform that are intended to help to solve problems but paradoxically often result in problems getting worse!
We all want to feel safe and secure in our day-to-day lives and so most of us will develop a range of behaviours that are designed to minimise our exposure to threats.
At the most fundamental level we have an instinct for self-preservation designed to give rise to swift action in the face of such threats.
People tend to use one of three kinds of behavioural response when faced with threats and these are linked to the ‘hard-wired’ human responses of Freeze, Flight or Fight.
When it comes to choosing how to respond to a threat, the behavioural options can also be though of as types of;
- Surrendering (freezing – giving up and accepting whatever is going to happen)
- Avoidance (flight – running away from the problem)
- Overcompensating (fight – try to overcome the threat)
So, when faced with a physical threat, such as a Tiger, these behavioural responses make a lot of sense.
However, many of the threats that we face in contemporary times tend to be psychological in nature rather than physical.
Psychological threats are those dangers which are not physical (such as a hungry Tiger or a man pointing a gun at you) but rather represent danger to psychological wellbeing.
These includes things such as;
- Fear of being rejected by a potential lover
- Worrying about being evaluated negatively
- Feelings that people are out to get you
- Ideas of not being good enough
- Thinking you might be going mad
and in fact anything that could be considered as dangerous or threatening to the self.
Unfortunately, adopting the same behavioural responses to psychological threats such as these may not improve safety or security for the individual, particularly given that psychological threats tend to exist in the mind of the person rather than in the external environment.
The Problem with Psychological Threat Responses
Using the same strategies that are employed to deal with physical threats against psychological threats can be highly un-productive and this is why we consider them to be obstacles to mental wellbeing.
Surrender-type behaviours represent giving up and feeling helpless about solving problems.
Adopting these can lead to a long and fairly unproductive life trajectory in which one’s ambitions and hopes for the future are low.
People utilising surrender strategies frequently choose over-controlling partners (due to their low level of self-efficacy) who reinforce the helplessness of the sufferer.
Avoidance-type behaviours represent running away from the problem rather than fighting or dealing with them.
The paradox of employing avoidance strategies is that the problems never really go away and many of the coping strategies do more harm than good (drug and alcohol usage for coping with sadness for example).
As an additional problem, avoidance strategies usually end up making everything a lot worse and invariably lead to the creation and deployment of more and more avoidance behaviours leaving very little time to live a full and meaningful life.
Overcompensation-type behaviours represent fighting against the problems and frequently involve tactics of control and the manipulation of others.
The underlying concept here is to solve the problem before it occurs or before others get a chance to ‘attack’ and so often involves trying to predict and control future outcomes.
In many cases they are attempts to control how other people think and behave about the protagonist and so tend to be quite negative for people intimately involved with overcompensators.