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Why People Behave As They Do

By Peter Shepherd

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In this lesson I'm going to describe the way the mind works, so as to understand why people behave the way they do. If we understand that, then we can look at our own motives and start to see where we are coming from. Actions felt to be wrong and the need to withhold knowledge of them from others, is the source of both guilt and hostility. If one has been unable to resolve a problem satisfactorily one may feel 'forced' to commit an action one feels badly about. We can become quite disturbed if we feel we have done something cruel or unfair to another, particularly if this is something we then have to hide, and even more so if someone nearly finds out about it. We are then likely to rationalize our action, to justify it and find reasons why the act was deserved and indeed not wrong after all.

We are being judgmental of ourselves (rather than learning the lessons of our experience) and then we project that, anticipating that others will be equally judgmental.

A satisfying relationship with another person requires good communication, mutual understanding and empathy. If there is a significant drop in one of these factors, e.g. we disagree and have an argument, then an upset ensues - we aren't speaking to one another anymore. An upset occurs when there is a sudden departure from what is wanted or expected - an unwanted change or break in the relationship. Such upsets inevitably have emotional consequences; a poorer relationship causes a drop in emotional tone. People can equally have upsets with objects or situations if there is a reduction of control or understanding, e.g. I can get upset if my car breaks down or if I suddenly get ill.

Your feeling of control over situations may be disturbed if someone evaluates the circumstances differently from you, and particularly if they enforce their understanding upon you, saying what you should or must do or not do. A criticism of what you have done or of your capability, may equally cause disturbance.

Accompanying these factors are the decisions that have been made in the face of stressful situations and anxiety, and that have become fixed ideas and serve as defense mechanisms, to keep you safe from the same situations possibly occurring again. It is emotional pain, or the threat of such pain, which holds such distorted ideas in place, even when they are no longer rational. It is at times of upset or disturbance that we particularly grasp hold of certain ideas and beliefs in order to protect ourselves, to justify our actions (even if we secretly feel bad about them), and to make ourselves feel OK. We may feel the need to make another wrong - to manipulate, or give our own evaluations and criticisms of the other person - in order to feel more right ourselves.

When a person does something he feels to be wrong, he can either take responsibility or - and this is the norm unfortunately - he can make himself right in the situation, rationalize to justify his action so that he begins to believe it wasn't actually wrong but justified. Self right, the other wrong. It's a human need 'to be right' but not a very aware one (the aware view is not to make right or wrong, yourself or another). This justification provides a motive for the action and is expressed most commonly as criticism of the one who was originally wronged. It is a 'child-like' viewpoint as opposed to a responsible 'adult' one.

Any person is of the opinion that he is 'right' in what he believes - otherwise he wouldn't believe it. But he can have all sort of misconceptions, misinterpretations, false information and delusions, and be holding fast onto them in order to be right. The fundamental elements of his belief system, the things that have made sense of past confusions for him, are not changeable by reasoning alone because they are held in place by force - by an unwillingness or inability to face up...
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