©Arlene R. Taylor PhD
In the main, dysfunctional behaviors are learned, which means you can learn more functional behaviors, if you choose to do so.
—Arlene R. Taylor
Entering the lobby, I strode directly into high drama. The star of the show was a slim young woman fairly vibrating with emotion. “That’s insulting, demeaning, sexist, racist, and you will pay for it!” she screamed, her long pony tail racing in agitated circles.
Noticing me, others in the group began melting away until only the protagonist was left. Hands on her hips, ponytail still swinging, she glared in my direction and fairly spat out the words: “I expect you’re going to put me down, too!” When I remained silent she continued, “Did you hear what that b____ said to me? Did you?”
I shook my head. Negative.
“Well! She told me to get my s ___ together! That’s what!”
I refrained from smiling—with difficulty, based on the performance I’d just witnessed—and waited. Silently.
“If she’d said that to you, what would you have done?” the young woman demanded, staring at me expectantly.
“I don’t know what triggered her comment,” I responded. "At this stage of my growth and development, however, I’d probably try to figure out what I could learn from it before I did anything.”
“You are so-o-o-o pathetic!” was her response, although her posture relaxed ever so slightly and her hands fell from her hips. “What could I possible learn from it?”
“What would have been your response if the comment had been “Grow up,” or “Get your life together?” I countered.
“Easy,” the young woman replied. “I’d just have flipped her the bird and told her that I am grown up!”
“And?” I persisted.
“I suppose I’d have said that I am getting my life together—as soon as I figure out how to do that.”
“She didn’t say either of those things,” I said. “Rather, she gave you a metaphor, which certainly got your attention.” No matter that the language was rather primitive, I thought.
Walking over to a comfortable chair, I removed my coat, sat down, and pointed to a nearby chair. The young woman strolled over nonchalantly and slumped onto the wide, padded arm.
“She got my attention, that’s for sure,” she said. “So, what’s a metaphor?”
“A metaphor is a type of story that can help you better understand a specific situation in life. Here's an example.” The young woman slipped from the arm into the chair and leaned forward slightly.
“The word gambol means to frolic or frisk or caper or cavort or prance around,” I said.
“Gambol is the name of a rather large, somewhat unkempt, and completely untrained hound that lives down the block from me. A rather loveable pooch—or would be if he wasn’t such a complete canine disaster—his owners, for whatever reason, have devoted little if any time and energy to teaching Gambol how to be a valued member of society. Consequently, he runs wild in his corner of the world: flattening freshly planted flowers, scratching paint off fences and doors, peeing on gate posts and tree trunks, digging holes in gardens, leaving muddy paw prints on porches, and pooping anywhere and everywhere without regard to where people walk or sit. He expects others to clean up his messes and generally is regarded as an unmitigated neighborhood nuisance.”
The young woman actually smiled. “I can just picture that,” she said. “Why doesn’t someone just call the pound and have his sorry a____ picked up?”
It was my turn to smile. Her speech was expressively colorful, I’d say that for it. “How might this metaphor apply to your life?” I asked
Rolling her large dark eyes expressively, she said, “I’m sure and certain you’re about to tell me!”
“Only if you want to hear my brain’s perspective,” I replied.
Shrugging, she raised both eyebrows. I took that as a go-ahead.
“Compare yourself to Gambol,” I suggested. “Is there any possibility that you’ve been ‘gamboling around,’ pooping bad behaviors in your corner of the world and expecting others to pick up after you? Any chance your bad behaviors have invaded the boundaries of others and maybe even interfered with their recovery?”
“First, I need to know how you define a ‘bad behavior’,” she said, a quasi-belligerent tone in her voice.
“Any behavior that give you negative outcomes,” I replied immediately. “Better behaviors are those that fairly consistently result in positive outcomes and give you the results you want.”
“Have your behaviors been resulting in positive outcomes for you?”
The young woman was staring at the floor. When she finally looked up, tears glistened in her large dark eyes. “Okay, I get it,” she said, but only because of your meta… meta-thingy.”
“Metaphor,” I repeated.
“But I still don’t like being told to get my...” I held up my hand, signaling that I remembered.
“Whenever another brain shares its opinion, you always have a choice,” I said. “You can choose to exhibit what I call JOT behaviors:
- Jumping to conclusions
- Taking it personally
- And overreacting
You can pick up their opinion and run with it or not, learn from it or not—realizing it is just their brain’s opinion, which typically says more about them that it does about you.”
“Oh, oh,” she said. “That’s exactly what I did: assumed she was intending to put me down.” I nodded. “Then I took it personally and decided she hates me.” I nodded again. “And finally,” she said, sighing, “I might have overreacted—just a tad.” Her face crinkled into a beautiful smile. "Instead of biting her head off I could have…” she paused, “I could have harnessed my own bad behavior and avoided that JOT pothole.”
We both laughed.
“Good on you, as they say down under,” I said, still chuckling. “That’s how you start raising your EQ (Emotional Intelligence). Next time, in a similar situation, you will respond more effectively. At least you will have the option to avoid JOT behaviors in favor of those that are more likely to result in positive outcomes.”
“Gambol is in training,” she said, grimacing, then added after a moment of silence, “Were you serious about my performance being Oscar-winning?”
“If Oscars were awarded for bad behaviors that result in negative consequences, you bet,” I said, thinking to myself, sometimes they may be.
“I’ve always dreamed of being a drama coach,” she said wistfully.
“Then go for it,” I replied. “Harness, as you put it, some of that innate ability and hone it to good use. If your brain can perceive it, you can achieve it!”
Jumping up she pulled me out of the chair, threw her arms around me, and lifted me clear off the floor. Goodness! The woman was strong! Setting me down, she jogged across the lobby and headed down the long corridor, her pony tail making those interesting circles.
Her words drifted back to my ears. “Drama coach. Yes! You can do that!” These words were followed by, “No more pooping bad behaviors. Harness them instead!”
It took me a full two minutes to stop laughing.