Why People Behave Badly
This is part of my Blog Post Series: How To Thrive As An Adult
Growing up, I spent many summers with Grandma Shuree in Oroville, California. Whenever my Mom and I would arrive, Grandma would wrap her arms around me and kiss my cheeks multiple times until she was shoved out of the way by Sweets: the lovable German Shepherd. Sweets would bound from person to person, Grandma included, and drench our faces with slobbery kisses. Imagine Tigger, from the Winnie the Pooh stories, as a dog on uppers. That was Sweets. I can only imagine how many caffeine pills Grandma must’ve mixed into Sweets’ morning coffee (Was it two? Or twenty-two?).
Sweets never walked and seldom ran but instead ricocheted from place to place. She followed me everywhere and anywhere I went. I loved the company but had to force her out of the bathroom more than once.
When she sat down, her wagging tail made a rapid thump, thump, thump, sound as it smacked the floor. It sounded like an approaching helicopter.
Sweets was a dedicated companion and guardian, except when I played with my toy helicopter. She hated it. It had a main rotor that spun, emitted machine-gun sounds, and was suspended by a string attached to the main rotor, like a marionette. I ran through the house with my helicopter, waving it wildly, while humming the Airwolf theme (out of tune, of course!).
As for lovable Sweets, she morphed into something unrecognizable. She vacillated between two kinds of creatures. The first was a rabid hound, eager to chew off my leg and bury the bones under the swimming pool. The other was a frenetic greyhound, sprinting down the country road as if Mount Vesuvius had just erupted behind her.
No one appreciated this change in Sweets, and we called her Demon Dog. Her bad behavior was scolded and even punished. But she wasn’t a demon, nor was she bad. She hadn’t changed, but her surroundings had. The helicopter represented a threat to her safety. And she responded accordingly.
Like Sweets, sometimes people behave badly. It’s not because they are evil. It’s not because they have some fatal character flaw. Instead, bad behavior stems from unmet needs. Those needs could be safety, security, or connection.
Unmet needs trigger negative feelings. Negative feelings drive bad behavior.
So, the next time you see someone behaving badly, ask yourself, What does this person need right now? Do they need safety, connection, or something else? Until their unmet needs are met, their bad behavior will persist.