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Living Well News – Understanding and Changing Problem Behavior

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Understanding Behavior: All Behavior is Purposeful

All behavior is purposeful. Whether or not a behavior is considered “appropriate” or “productive,” the behavior has a purpose. Essentially, something is trying to be accomplished with it. For instance, a person may have a hard time saying “no,” to a significant person in their life – seems like a simple situation, right? Whether or not they are consciously aware, they may be afraid of an angry response or hurting the person, or may be concerned about retaliation. Self- protection against threat – real or imagined – becomes a survival priority.

Our behavior originates from deep programming within our organism that is focused on the short-term – simply to stay alive. It generally does not consider the long-term – that is a higher order thought process involving awareness and skill.

Sometimes we, ourselves don’t know what we need or want, let alone trying to understand someone else’s! When we are trying to understand behavior, both ours and others’ looking at the actual function behind the behavior is often more helpful. Essentially, “What am I trying to accomplish here?” or “What does this person need?” or “What is this sensation that I feel in my body?” – When we ask these questions, we can get to the root of behavioral challenges more quickly. There’s less opportunity to get caught up in over-thinking, analyzing and judging. We go directly into our bodies for the information; finding out how we respond to our needs and wants, as well as our responses to emotions that may feel threatening, scary or unsafe.

Stress and Behavior

Stress impacts people in different ways. Some of us are more adaptive and able to flex with presenting circumstances and some less so. Our ability to adapt is innate; the way that we are structured. Regardless, when we don’t have the tools, skills, and conditions that we need to navigate and cope, our lives can come to a screeching halt – it can be stressful and lead to distress. It is important to know what is really happening – and why – in order to take action towards getting on track and finding what is going to work for us to be healthy and effective.

This is important to bear in mind as there is something different needed for each person. People with ADD, mood disorders, Asperger’s Syndrome or personality disorders are generally less adaptive and require habilitation. This involves putting skills in place for the first time versus assuming that skills exist and need freshening.

Top Problem Behaviors:

Sometimes the problems that we are having involve long-standing habits of thought and emotion that make things more difficult. As human beings, we may not always be aware of the intertwining issues. It is often the many “habits” that fuel some of the most difficult and destructive behaviors.

Some of the most problem behaviors involve:

  • Lying. Everyone lies to some degree. University of Massachusetts psychologist Robert Feldman conducted research and found that people lie frequently, with 60 percent lying at least once during a 10-minute conversation.
  • Stressing Out. Stress can be deadly, raising the risk for many health problems – many of which are deadly, including heart problems and cancer. Stress can lead to depression, which can lead to burnout, suicidal thinking, and behavior.
  • Self-Mutilation. People have been altering their appearance for thousands of years. Tattoos, cosmetic surgery, piercing, etc. done to excess can be considered self- mutilation much like cutting and burning oneself.
  • Rage and Violence. Anger is a way of setting a boundary. It says, “No!” According to evolutionary psychologists the most aggressive humans, animals, and tribes are the ones that survive – not the smartest or most socially skilled. Aggression is hard-wired.
  • Gossip. Talking with one another and sharing information is a way that we bond. Gossip can serve as a way to establish group boundaries and norms. However, bonds that are formed with others as a result of gossip are often harmful to the third party and result in negative-fallout in the longer term.
  • Substance Abuse and Addictive Behavior. It is natural to want to feel “good” and to sidestep pain or discomfort. Addictive behavior prolongs “good” and avoids what is considered “bad.”
  • Clinging to Unproductive Habits. We tend to cling to what we know, whether it is helpful or not. We are also comfort seeking, pain avoidant, and pleasure seeking as living organisms.
  • Not Paying Attention. It is the mind’s nature to drift and to become distracted. But, if we have a habit of not paying attention then we cannot learn, grow, and trust ourselves and our experience. Not paying attention lends itself to confusion and problems with decision making.


Do you identify with one or more of these behaviors? If so, how is the behavior impacting your life? – Your relationships, career, health, finances and ultimately, your self-esteem? Have you considered how your life could be improved if you changed the behavior? Where does one start?

Unraveling the Behavioral Equation – Emotions

Most times we consider behavior to be what can be observed with the human eye. However, that is only the tip of the behavioral “iceberg” what matters most is what is happening deep below the surface.

Behavior includes thought, feeling / emotion, and observable behavior. We tend to respond to emotions with a behavior to resolve them. Emotions are sensations inside of our bodies. Emotions can be tough to describe with language as they are dynamic as well as unique to each person. For instance, “butterflies in the stomach” can be experienced quite differently person to person. The same “butterflies” can be interpreted as excitement for one person, and anxiety and fear to another.

Our unique temperaments, health, personal histories, personality traits, and life skills need to be taken into account when decoding behavior. It is important to identify what is being moved away from or towards in order to understand the motive of the behavior and the need underneath of it. We can then decide on more helpful strategies to self-manage.

Tips and Tools

Just as each season, autumn brings with it its unique gifts. The crisp air, colors, smells, and foods can be restorative and healthy. And, at the same time, we lose daytime hours and sunlight. The change of season may be felt more strongly by people with mood disorders and other health concerns.

To minimize “change of season” related issues:

  • Maintain a healthy daily structure.
  • Get to bed at a regular time each night.
  • Build in a half hour extra of sleep.
  • Eat healthy and take your supplements (especially Vitamin D3).
  • Exercise and move your body.
  • Get outside and take in the sunlight each day.
  • Spend time with family and friends.


We have the option of looking at seasonal change as a teacher, noting how each season gradually shifts into the next. Autumn is generally a time of deeper reflection, as it is a time of “letting go” and release of the lush abundance of summer, preparing for the descent into winter bringing forth solitude. We can invite more awareness of how we change, too and are connected to nature’s change of season. We will feel it; often in our own unique and personal way.

New Services

Managing Life: An Adaptive Skill Building Program
People on the autism spectrum and their relatives face many day-to-day challenges. Most people on the spectrum find it hard finding or keeping a job, living by themselves, or establishing and maintaining relationships.

Integrated Treatment Solutions provides skill building programs for adolescents, young adults, and adults with developmental disabilities – including autism spectrum disorders. The program is focused on educating participants how to identify and work through difficulties impacting their ability to function more productively. Programming focuses on teaching skills in four areas, including: self-soothing and self-management, verbal communication, establishing relationships, and transitioning into the workforce. Group family sessions are part of the program and aimed at reviewing material with the opportunity to practice skills learned.

We also work in collaboration with neighboring psychiatrists and other specialists, in the interest of our clients, addressing physical and mental health concerns: depression and anxiety sleep problems, sensory issues, and gastrointestinal problems which are commonalities among people on the autism spectrum.


Integrated Treatment Solutions is pleased to announce the opening of an additional location in the Chestnut Hill area of Philadelphia, effective October 1, 2013. Contact us today to schedule an appointment (Thursdays only).

8612 Germantown Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19118

About the Author
Paula Tropiano is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Addictions Specialist providing holistic – skills based counseling and therapy to adults in West Chester, PA. (610) 692-4995.