Friday, August 20, 2010

Final Destination: The Net Effect of Behavior

Continuing some of the themes of two of my previous blog posts, (Mad, Bad, Blind or Stupid from 7/27, and Is It Live or Is It Memorex: the Actor’s Paradox from 8/7 about the repetition compulsion, I would now like to discuss two other concepts. I refer to them as the Net Effect of Behavior and the Principle of Opposite Behaviors.

In the previous post, I brought up the question of why people would continue with the same disastrous behavior patterns over and over again with the exact same disastrous results if they are not mad, bad, blind or stupid. To answer this, we first must figure out exactly what the self-destructive or self-defeating behavior patterns are designed to accomplish. I previously used the example of narcissists who continues to make most other people think they are assholes. They seem to feel entitled and superior to everyone, but that may be a manifestation of just how good actors they are, because of the Actor’s Paradox.

To answer the question, one must look at the end result of their repetitive behavior. It is usually something that is absolutely obvious to everyone but them and the people who form intimate, romantic relationships with them. The spouses, lovers, etc are, I submit, co-conspirators, who continually make lame excuses for the seemingly nonsensical behavior of their partner. This idea is analogous to the AA concept of the co-dependent.

The fact that their excuses are so obviously lame – again to everyone outside of the couple – tells me that the co-conspirators are also engaged in the repetition compulsion, because I believe that they too are neither mad, bad, blind, or stupid.

The upshot, if you will, of seemingly irrational behavior is what I refer to as the behavior’s net effect. If the net effect of the narcissists' behavior is that most everyone thinks they are assholes, and if they are not mad, bad or stupid, then that must be what they are trying to accomplish. They must want, at some level, to be thought of that way.

Actually, in therapy we always find that they are in fact ambivalent about the net effect of their behavior. They seem to compulsively act in ways that produce the desired final result, but at the same time the results make them miserable, and they are well aware of that as well!

So why would anyone want to be thought of that way? Are such people masochistic? Actually, I do not really believe in masochism either, and would add masochism to the list of things that people are not, in addition to mad, bad, etc. Pain is meant to be a warning device that should in most circumstances lead to a decrease in the behavior that caused it. For pain to be pleasure in some people is not only Orwellian doublespeak, it makes no sense from the standpoint of evolution.

In order to answer the question of why compulsive repeaters act in seemingly masochistic ways, I would have to discuss the whole concept of kin selection, which I do in my books but will have to save until some later post to discuss in this blog.

First, a little more about the counterintuitive conclusions one must draw if one follows this line of thinking. In western cultures where other options are available, if a woman stays in an abusive relationship, or moves from one to another to another, at some level she is aiming to produce this result. OOH, how non politically correct of me! This does not mean, however, that it is all her fault that she is being abused, or that the abuser should get a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. It just means that it is also not true that she has nothing at all to do with her plight. Yes, of course the abuser may stalk and even kill her if she leaves, but he may also kill her if she stays. The longer she stays in the abusive relationship, the higher the risk.

I recommend listening to the lyrics of the Eminem/Rihanna song I Love the Way You Lie, a link to which is posted on my Facebook fan page.

A corollary to the Net Effect of Behavior is something I refer to as the Principle of Opposite Behaviors. One can accomplish the net effect of behavior using a wide variety of different strategies. There is always more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. Some of these strategies may on the surface appear to be completely opposite or contradictory. For instance, if you are trying to make sure that other people never give you what you need from them – the mark of counter-dependency – you can accomplish this by never asking anyone for anything. That way no one really knows what you need from them, so you never get it.

You can also accomplish the exact same net effect or end result by asking for way too much, way too often. If you are a bottomless pit who is constantly demanding the moon from others, they get angry with you. When they are angry like that, they will run from you, unless they are prone to being co-conspirators. That way, you never get what you need from these people. The exact opposite behavior produces the exact same net effect.

Well, what about the co-conspirators? Does the counter-dependent get what he or she needs from them? A third strategy to not get what you need from others is to ask for what you want from people who are unable to provide it for you: alcoholics, deadbeats, sociopaths etc. Oh, and narcissists! These people do not end up giving you what you need either; hence, once again you have accomplished what you have set out to do: not get what you need from others.

This dynamic may be what is behind a common type of couple seen by couples therapists, the narcissistic male married to the female with borderline personality disorder. But that too is a subject for another post. Watch this space.

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