This is the second part of the Importance of Belonging. Part One discussed the difference between inclusion and belonging. The second half will discuss why the feeling of not belonging can result in problematic behaviors. The following is a brief rundown of behaviors and belonging as told by David Pitonyak, Ph. D.:
People have several strategies, one of which is if they act out, then they are noticed by the rest of the pack. A philosopher said one time, "It's better to have bad breath than no breath at all".
Another strategy that people have is they often mask their own competence. They act like they don't know how to do thing because what that does is it gets people to help them when they have no one.
At any given point in time we are literally reading and picking up all kinds of signals from the people around us. Some of them visual, some of them for processing language, we're hearing inflections in voices and hearing certain choices of words and making all kinds of incredible discriminations about what's taking place in the minds of others from that.
The theory is that whether we're typical in our development or not, whether we are skilled in relationships or not, the data is coming to our bodies being read by our brains. Whether we can pick up the signals and actually use the data that's coming to us is determined by how engaged we are in the prefrontal cortex and that's determined by whether we're afraid or not. So, if I'm afraid, I literally cannot read the data that is coming my way.
So now think about people who have disabilities or are very anxious who have had perhaps experience in their past of failed relationships, who now are meeting people and getting the data, but they can't decipher the data, they can't interpret the data, they can't make determinations about what their next step might be. Not because they didn't get the data; They literally can't interpret it.
It's way more than just visual information, auditory information...and it is so much about our ability to make sense of the data once it gets there and if we're afraid, we can't. The problem is that they're so worried about relationships, perhaps so threatened that it might not work that they literally can't remember what it is we've tried to teach them. (David Pitonyak)
Let's say that every single time a person comes up to you, a signal is unconsciously sent to your brain telling you that this person is a threat. Your brain will send out chemicals to your body: increased heart rate, sweat, dilated pupils, shaking hands, muffled hearing, numbness. The list is almost endless. Your brain doesn't get the data that this particular situation is completely harmless. Those with anxiety or who experience a disability may have behavior problems because their body is in a constant state of fight or flight mode. Think of how you would feel if this were the case to you. Do you think you'd feel like you belonged anywhere?
If your student, client, or child is having behavior problems, try to look further into 'why' they may be acting this way. (See the 10 Things to Remember When Your Child Engages in Difficult Behavior.) Even if you can narrow down the source of anxiety or cause of behavior, it can take a long while for the student to recognize the signal as harmless and react accordingly. You will effectively need to retrain their brain to instinctively make a different decision. This takes time and patience on everyone's part.
Leslie is obviously not a doctor, so if you have any questions about behavior and/or therapy programs, please contact a physician or licensed therapist.