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Monday, July 23 2018

Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder

Continuing on with the sequence of dysfunctional behaviours faced by teachers in the classroom we come to perhaps the most frustrating, the students with a Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder (PAPD).  PAPD is the condition where the student on the surface seems to comply with your directions but actually resists them.  This apparent compliance hides the real drive that is to express anger at the situation.  The drive is to be accepted rather than to protect but instead of attention seeking and the consequential behaviours described in the last Newsletter this is a case where the student wants to display their anger but has been taught that this would be too dangerous.  Instead through their behaviour they evoke anger in the other person.

This way of behaving is learned in the early years in families where it is unsafe to express their anger and in many cases never being allowed to express any emotions. These children have aggressive parents who severely punish the child if he/she displays anger.  The anger that they are forced to swallow must be expressed and so is projected on to others. 

A more subtle way PAPD is developed in an environment where the parents

place excessive guilt or shame on their children when they fail to present as sociable and acceptable in the parents’ social circles.  For example when a child appropriately attempts to get their needs met by asserting their rights over other children their parents reject the behaviour as well as the child for the sake of appearing sociably ‘nice’ in the eyes of others.   The child is rejected, devalued and never taught effective behaviours for the sake of the parent’s image.

Another cause of PAPD behaviour can occur if the child is falsely overvalued.  In this scenario the child, typically male, bright is raised in a passive aggressive family.  They have an aggressive father and a mother who is submissive.  In the family the mother is unable to confront the father, get her needs met and so enmeshes the son.  As this occurs when the child is so dependent on the mother he will learn to carry her anger without learning how to express that anger.

Remembering the motivation of these children is to make you angry but without you being able to ‘blame them’.  They do things like ‘accidentally’ spilling ink onto another person’s project, walking to the door very slowly, give one word answers to your questions, they slam doors ‘too hard’ and when you confront them they insist they are ‘doing the right thing’ or it was a genuine mistake.  They take away what they think is any real evidence.

The student is passively resisting the fulfillment of work set for them putting the work off with no consideration of deadlines.  They are reluctantly joins in ‘group work’ but if forced to, they make sure the other students know he doesn’t want to be there. 

When you confront them they protest about the unreasonable demands placed on them, and resent any suggestions of help from the teacher or classmates.

There has been a long dispute as to whether or not PAPD is a developmental disability.  It has been dropped from the DSMV but whether or not it is a classified illness these kids are certainly present in many of our classrooms.

These students can be amongst the most challenging a teacher will face.  The whole motivation behind their behaviour is for you to become angry and these students soon develop a sense of which of your buttons they need to press to achieve this.  They are particularly effective in identifying areas where the teacher has a heavy personal investment.  If they take pride in the presentation of their room the PADD kid will ‘accidentally’ make a significant mess.  Or if you struggle with your weight these kids will be full of suggestions for you to deal with your ‘obvious problem’ after all they are just trying to help.   It is in these areas the PAPD student thrives. 

However there are techniques that will allow the teacher to confront the PAPD student.  These are outlined below:

  • Calmly address the behaviour without rejecting the individual.
  • Get the students to explain why they choose to act the way they have.  Ask them what they wanted to have happen.
  • Establish, for them, that you understand what is going on, what they are doing.
  • Give them a choice in what they need to do next but explain the consequences that will follow will be attached to each action.  It is fine to let them know what you would prefer but they need to know the choice is theirs and the following consequence is their responsibility.
  • Explain to them that anger is a natural process and that people must learn to deal with it.  It may be that the whole class can address the issue of anger and its appropriate management.

When dealing with these kids never impose consequences that have a negative effect on the rest of the class.  You may feel these ‘whole class’ consequences may evoke peer pressure on this student; the risk of rejection should force them to comply.  However, as the aim of the PAPD student’s behaviour, is to annoy others, by punishing the class, they all get angry so you are in fact rewarding the behaviour. 

Remember PAPD is a behaviour the student uses not to avoid the responsibility of dealing with their own anger but because they don’t have the skills to do so.  By approaching them with the belief that they can be taught to take responsibility for themselves, own their anger and express it appropriately they can become productive members of the class.  The teacher needs to be aware of the tactics these students implement and used a systematic approach to deal with them.

Posted by: AT 01:47 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, July 09 2018

Attention Seeking

In our previous Newsletter we spoke about addictive dysfunctional behaviours that children and adults use to protect themselves from attacks on their sense of self.  If you have followed these Newsletters you understand that stress is the result of finding our self in a state of homeostatic disequilibrium, that is we feel uncomfortable.  Of course this occurs when we are threatened from outside forces but it also occurs when we are denied access to our immediate community.  The sense of personal rejection is the motivation for so much of our behaviour and the following describe just how this rejection can be manifested in our classrooms.  For children from abused backgrounds they are likely to find themselves excluded and their dysfunctional reaction will have unwanted long term consequences.

The Austrian psychiatrist Rudolf Dreikurs presented a model of how children react to a feeling of not belonging in a classroom.  Dreikurs suggested that when a child feels ostracised they would act in four different ways to rectify this.  Although not stated these styles of behaviour escalate from attention seeking to a challenge of power, then on to seeking revenge and finally withdrawal or avoidance.

Attention Seekers

When children feel left out they behave in such a way as to draw attention to themselves.  This is not a problem if the behaviour is functional but for children who lack the training in ‘level-headed’ behaviour their techniques range from showing-off, the class clown, being forgetful, tapping pencils, the list well known to all teachers goes on and on.  These children do attract your attention but for the wrong reasons and you become annoyed and irritated.

With these kids never acknowledge low-level inappropriate behaviour by referring to it, don’t validate it, don’t nag or appeal to them because this conveys the message you did notice and that is their goal. Attempt to redirect the child by refocusing on the task at hand.  Eventually you may have to deliver consequences for this behaviour.

But remember the purpose is to seek your attention and whenever it is appropriate give them lots of praise and attention.  Attention seeking is a low level attempt by the student to gain attention and is relatively easy to recognise and provide.

Power Seekers

These children react to their rejection by challenging your own boundaries.  They will argue, sulk, refuse to comply and sneer at others.  When pushed they will throw tantrums anything to challenge you to place them ‘at a disadvantage’.

These children react to their rejection by challenging you.

The effect on you is to feel threatened, angry and powerless.  You get a sense of inadequacy and can become defeated.

If you understand the strategy being used by these children you can deal with them by refusing to get trapped in their power struggle.  Just remain calm and deliver the consequences for their behaviour avoiding making comments about their personality.  Remember these kids still crave recognition so catch their good behaviours and praise their positive qualities.  Acknowledge their worth.

Revenge Seekers

These children will try to hurt you as a payback for their perceived rejection of them.  They appear sullen, vicious, and violent, they destroy property, trash or scratch cars or other public buildings.  They will insult you personally, etc. but do this without the need for you to know that it was they who did it.  They have almost given up on being accepted and now want to tear down the community that has rejected them.

You will feel under threat and their behaviour will evoke feelings of outrage or wounded and it is easy to develop a dislike for these children.  In a perverse sense they have your attention.

Remain calm and don’t react in a way that lets them know they have hurt you.  Explain the consequences of their behaviour and deliver them without emotion.  Although challenging, try to hang in with these students, try to convince them of their worth.  This is not so hard to do when you understand the motivation of this behaviour.

Withdrawn Student

These children appear not to care.  They will deliberately fail or make no effort to finish work despite your encouragement.  They are often absent from school and when they do attend they do not bring their equipment.  They appear withdrawn, ‘dead’, making no effort.  They answer the teacher’s encouragement with ‘don’t know’, ‘don’t care’ their behaviour frustrates the teacher leaving them with feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness and a failure.  This can lead to making you feel like giving up on these students.

When you challenge them they will not take responsibility for their actions.

These are the most difficult kids to salvage but can still be reached.  When confronted with these behaviours ignore their failures.  Set easy or errorless learning tasks.  Don’t judge or criticise them and hang in with them longer then they or anyone else expects you to. 

When confronted with these kids remember they are using dysfunctional behaviours to meet valid needs.  Act to provide that sense of belonging through praising any appropriate efforts and never forget the power of inclusion in ‘group work’ with other students.

These kids will provide you with a significant challenge but knowing how to deal with them is what distinguishes professional teachers from others.

Posted by: AT 07:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, July 02 2018

Dysfunctional Behaviour to Deal with Stress

In a previous Newsletter (Different Expressions from an Abused History 25th June 2018) we discussed how children who are abused in a predictable way develop some form of control over their behaviour.  In disputes between individuals, times of undesired border intrusion we all need to develop behaviours that protect us from this aggression while maintaining our sense of security.  The following describes three methods that are often developed that may protect us from the abuse but they prevent learning new, effective behaviours that will easily deal with comparable attacks in the future.  They may protect us but they will only work in the short term.

The following describes how students make such attempts to protect themselves from the painful feelings that are aroused when their boundaries are threatened.  The primary goal of this behaviour is to make the pain go away.  This ‘acting to protect,’ is to eliminate the pain that is at the seat of all addictions.

Any time addiction is discussed the most common interpretation is about the addiction to some type of substance, things like alcohol, marijuana etc.  The use of a chemical or substance is used to make the pain ‘go away’; you can’t feel it. But this only lasts until the effect of the substance wears off.       

There is a second form of addiction where people eliminate the pain by immersing themselves into some activity.  By concentrating on the activity you can ignore the problem.  Again the relief only endures while distraction lasts.  Typical of these addicts are the gamblers addict, or the work-a-holics.

There is a lot more that can be said about these problems but this Newsletter focuses on what I call people addiction.  This describes behaviours the students, and teachers use to deal with the source of the stress; that is the person or people who are causing the discomfort.  Unlike numbing the stress with substances or distracting attention from the stressor with an activity, this form of addiction attempts to control the source of the stress.  This takes three forms, overt control, covert control and resistance.

The first of these is to take the challenge head on.  That is if you stress me I will stress you back much more aggressively so that you will stop causing me problems.  The techniques to do this take the form of actual physical or psychological attack, threat to attack or use of any form of aggression against the boundary of the other person.  So for example, if the teacher wants the student to change seats, that child will adopt a behaviour like making fun of, abusing, discounting the worth of,  or any other technique that makes the teacher feel uncomfortable.  The student is overtly expressing their feelings, needs and ideas at the expense of others including the teacher and ignoring their rights. 

If this works and the teacher backs down to avoid the conflict then the student has protected them self but only until a similar situation reappears.  This use of abuse will only work if the other person backs off.  If they don’t then you have no-where to go to protect yourself.

The thing is, by being aggressive towards others they distance themselves from others and the resulting isolation will leave them frustrated and bitter.  As well they have not learned to deal with this type of attack in an effective way and so will rely on this behaviour every time they are threatened.  These are the ‘in your face’ type of kids that can intimidate all but the must skillful teacher.

The other method of control is through being ‘so nice’ to the other person they have no reason to attack you.  These sort of people will comply with what the other person wants, always trying to predict potential threats and position themselves to avoid such confrontation.  A classic statement these people might make is ‘I don’t care, what do you want to do’?  They suppress their own needs to avoid challenging others. 

This is a covert approach that, like the overt aggressive pattern may work but will leave you addicted to this form of behaviour and you will not develop the healthy boundaries needed to really get your life under control in a long term, healthy manner.

Students who use of this ‘passive’ approach to handle attacks deny their access to the things they need to develop.  They may avoid unpleasant situations but they will be prone to develop anger and a low self-worth. 

These students are hard to recognize particularly in a class with a number of difficult, acting out behaviour problems.  They remain quiet and cooperative as some sort of insurance against being picked on.  Teachers like these kids and its hard to distinguish the tactic of avoiding any conflict with those other nice kids who are well equipped to get their needs met so they are ignored by all but the most astute teacher.  But this is dysfunctional behaviour and should be treated that way.

Individuals will have a tendency to adopt one style, depending on their history of abuse but the overt or covert techniques can be used by the same person depending on their relative social power in the particular conflict to gain control.  That is, in one situation they will attack the source of their stress and the other they will placate that person.  This will in a general sense depend on things like that’s person’s gender, the position in the family and other issues like their social class, the influence of their relatives and the school attended.  However, in all social groups there is an understood pecking order and members have a sense of their position in that group.

Another technique to deal with the stress generated in relationships is to deliberately ignore the source.  These people refuse to engage in any situation that causes them stress.  It is common for teachers to have some students who just refuse to get involved in the lesson.  There could be a range of reasons for this disengagement but one that is not easily recognized is that the lesson is threatening the child’s sense of self and they are choosing to ignore the lesson and therefore ignore the stress.  It may not be the content of the lesson; it may be the fear of being called for an answer or being placed in a certain seating plan.

These people appear to not respect social ‘rules’; withdraw from interactions with others and by doing this they try to communicate that ‘they are not responsible’ for any potential conflict.  If they are ‘not there’ they are not involved and so they avoid the stress that indicates that they are not in homeostatic equilibrium and will remain off-balance in their life.

Take the time and learn to recognize these types of behaviour and while you are at it analyse the behaviour of your colleagues.  You will find those who use an overt approach are those authoritarian teachers who are demanding and inflexible.  Those who are submissive, using covert techniques never hold the kids responsible for their actions, will let them hand work in late without penalty.  Their students are never shown how to be responsible for their actions. 

The final type of teacher, the resistive one will ‘fail’ to impose school rules, never participate in staff meetings and generally criticize all efforts to improve the school’s performance.  They cut themselves off but in doing so lose the opportunity to enjoy the benefit that participation brings.

Understanding these dysfunctional behaviours will allow you to recognize the motive behind the behaviour and treat it appropriately by providing the structure and inclusion these kids need.

Posted by: AT 12:40 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance

ABN 64 372 518 772


The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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