"'I wonder; if I keep my head down and stay quiet, will the trouble go away?'
I cannot count the number of times I have seen this thought float across the face of a dog or cat who knows they have done wrong. Alas. it is often harder to identify by look in a human, but is more easily recognised in their overall pattern of behaviour.
Then I started to think about all manner of 'avoiders.' Twenty five years as a Probation Officer taught me very early on that only those people who are prepared to open their eyes, face life head on and acknowledge their situation and behaviour, are capable of making positive change. For the past forty years I have studied human behaviour, and for twenty five of them I researched the three response patterns we each predominantly display; non-assertive, aggressive or appropriately assertive.
There is within each of us a bodily electro-chemical mechanism which involuntarily produces the response of fight or flight. This is designed to preserve the safety of the body by making it automatically select the form of action to engage in during the presence of danger that will keep us safe. For example, if we see a runaway truck heading straight towards us, without thinking, our body takes flight and automatically jumps out of the way to avoid a collision and remain safe. Or, if a mad man with a knife approaches us and seems determined to harm us and we cannot get away and avoid the threat, we automatically fight for our life.
There is however one type of person whose behaviour has led them to always seek to take the easier way out of trouble; the avoider. They do this by never getting into it; by avoiding all possibility of experiencing trouble and unpleasantness at every opportunity! Through constant repetition of this unnatural and unhealthy behaviour pattern which they reinforce over the years, they simply stop fighting their corner, they give way to the opinions and sway of the other person and forever feel unworthy as a consequence!They become one of the non-assertive people in society; the quiet ones who never say boo to a goose and who remain lacking in confidence, self respect and the ability to express their anger outside their own person.
Just who are these 'avoiders' and what are the ultimate consequences they face as the result of not expressing their true feelings, particularly those aspects of life that angers them?
In the continuum from the more harmless to grave, this is how they are best recognised. The non-assertive person learns to avoid all risk of unpleasantness early on and because of their constant need to please others at the expense of themselves, they present no threat to anyone and are liked by all; that is everyone except themselves! They hate to argue and rarely disagree, even when they do!
They always express liking the gifts of others which in reality they may dislike intensely, so as to avoid offence being caused. They are the spouse who is too fearful to tell their partner that they would prefer to eat Christmas dinner at home this year instead of mother-in-laws, but dare not say so. They avoid honestly expressing their anger and reduce such feelings to the rating of disappointment at best. They lack self confidence and constantly seek the love and reassurance of others. They give others copious compliments while at the same time putting themselves down.
As their avoidance behaviour becomes more entrenched in their overall response pattern, it becomes more automatic, until the time comes when they find that they cannot respond otherwise. Everything in their world is fake; their responses in social situations, their compliments, their pretend happiness. The sad truth is that while others may have been led to believe 'this' about them, the reality is 'that.'
They become more prone towards depression, are more likely to take pills or turn to the bottle of evening wine and are less likely to feel like socialising. They often bury their heads in the sand and busy themselves by overinvesting their time in their work or the lives of others (often a family member or close friend), instead of their own!
Unfortunately, all avoiders, though they may attempt to keep the truth from others, they cannot avoid knowing it themselves. Whereas others perceive their pretend happiness with life, only they know their real sadness. In the most extreme case of the non-assertiveness response, the person is more likely to self harm, kill self or even others, if their mind becomes unhinged!
The reason for this is that all the hurt they naturally feel and never expressed over the years is repressed deep within. Over time it builds up and up inside them and because the non-assertive person doesn't display the safety valve of expressing of their anger, their anger implodes first and then involuntarily explodes onto the outside world from which it has so long hidden. At the point of implosion, the subject becomes emotionally distraught and often psychiatrically disturbed.
Occasionally, our television screens may report a man who calmly arrived home from work, washed his face, cleaned the dishes and then after going into his garage and loading a shotgun, he returned to the house and shot dead his wife, child and pet dog before turning the gun on himself! When asked about their neighbour who'd committed such offences by the television presenters, the neighbour's responses would reveal the behaviour to be totally out of character with the lovely man they always knew ( thought they knew).
They would describe their neighbour as having been the kindest of neighbours, polite, courteous and generous to the core, a good family man who loved his wife and child to bits; a man who cleaned his car regularly, was never once heard to raised his voice to man or beast and who went to church every Sunday and kept his lawn meticulously tidy.
It might later be revealed that the man had been made redundant from his work that day after twenty eight years as a loyal employee of the firm. He just could not face the prospect of being unemployed, of telling his wife that he'd lost his job and that they'd have to move house as well as cancelling next year's booked holiday! Far better to avoid all the future hurt and unpleasantness to come by ensuring that he and his family were not at home when the bailiffs arrive to take his car, furniture and home.
My group work with such response types proved very successful. In order to break their pattern of avoidance behavior, this essentially involved encouraging them to express their anger when they felt it, to honestly express all their feelings, to learn to give compliments to self, to learn to refuse requests without explanation and to learn to relax.
Are you the non-assertive response pattern type? Would you like to change?
It's not too late you know. It's never too late!" William Forde:January 30th, 2016.