Have you ever asked something like, “How could she behave like that?” Or “Why would he do that to me?” We often question behavior that we deem as unacceptable, often something that hurts us. But people don’t just decide to hurt someone today or act stupidly or be mean. Everyone has an underlying issue for why they do what they do, even if you don’t see it.
Today I’m happy to get some input from CEO of Pfeiffer Power Seminars, Janet Pfeiffer. She’s a motivational speaker and author of The Secret Side of Anger. Janet has spoken at the United Nations, Notre Dame University, has served as committee member and keynote speaker for the YWCA National Week Without Violence Campaign, and is a member of the National Police Suicide Foundation and past board member for the World Addiction Foundation. Below she gives added insight into how you should view negative behavior that you don’t understand.
by Janet Pfeiffer
Ten years ago, my Uncle John passed away. Although in his eighty’s, it was hard on his son, Johnny. Three months later, Johnny’s only child, his beautiful fourteen-year old daughter, was in a car that plunged into an icy Ohio River where she tragically drowned. Her mother, Johnny’s wife of more than twenty years, died from grief a mere eighteen months later. An overwhelming series of tragedies pushed my cousin into a deep depression. There was a noticeable change in his attitude and behavior.
As difficult as he could be at times (angry outbursts, sullenness, isolation from family and friends) everyone understood and offered compassion and support. No one judged him. After all, he had every reason to be distraught and angry. It took years for Johnny to sort things out and be himself again.
Many years ago at the shelter, a ten-year old boy named “Tim”, was a participant in the children’s group I facilitated each week. One day, I summoned the children into the resource room for our meeting. Tim defiantly refused to come. I playfully approached him, as I had done many times in the past, coaxing him to join us. He threw himself on the floor shouting “I don’t want to go!” Jokingly, I leaned over him and extended my hands to his. With a clenched fist, Tim swung as hard as he could and delivered a punch to my knee that would have made Joe Frasier proud.
I dropped to the floor in agony as a coworker offered assistance. “What’s wrong with you?” she screamed at Tim. “There was no reason for you to hit Miss Janet! You’re in big trouble!” Although Tim was not always the best behaved child, I knew something was wrong. With a little investigating, I discovered he had been sexually molested at the age of three. Lying prone on the floor with an adult hovering over him most likely triggered a frightening recollection of those horrific events. His reaction most likely was one of self-protection.
We often criticize people for their bad behavior claiming there was “no reason” for them to act in such a manner. Yet behind all behavior is a motive, a reason why we do the things we do. Most often, we are not privy to that information. I may not know why the store clerk was curt with me. Is she going through a personal crisis such as a divorce and dealing with fear and anxiety? While it is never acceptable to mistreat or disrespect another, there is always a reason why people act badly.
Being sympathetic to Johnny was easy: people understood the reasons behind his outbursts and sullenness. They shared in his grief and cared about him. We all have issues that originate someplace. I may not be privy to that information nor do I need to. Then again, I may know their reasons yet feel they are not valid. But that is not for me to determine. We need to apply Johnny’s example in our response to others by refraining from judgment and responding with compassion and resolve. Remember, there is always a reason.
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