Disruptive Behavior or an Attempt to Meet a Need?

Often we look at our children and assume that disruptive behavior (yelling, whining, talking back) is our child being disrespectful and defiant. From a Gestalt perspective that child is attempting to meet a need but given their past engagement in the world they have developed a maladaptive way of attempting to meet their need.

When we understand this factor, does it adjust our view of the child? Does it shift how we engage with them? Will we move from punitive consequences to a teachable moment? In my work all interactions are teachable moments.

From a Gestalt perspective we develop our sense of Self and our way of engaging in the world based on a continuum of contact with our environment. What does that mean?

  • Our bodies begin at rest
  • Then, somewhere in our physical body we have a physical sensation. Some of us are able to appropriately interpret that sensation to determine what our need is and some of us are not.
  • If we interpret the need correctly, we then have to determine various ways of getting that need met. If we problem solve appropriately, we may determine what we think is the best course of action towards getting our need met.
  • We then put our body, mind, energy, and spirit into action. We are moved to make contact with our environment. That might be with another person or with some aspect of the world. That contact either leads to our need being met or not being met.
  • In a best case scenario let’s assume the need is met.
  • The individual then has to determine why the need was met, how it was met, and integrate the experience into their consciousness and sense of Self.

In the ideal situation with all aspects of this continuum going smoothly, the individual develops a sense of mastery and a positive sense of self. However, in most instances we all experience a break in this continuum:

  • We might misinterpret the physical sensation.
  • We may choose a way of getting our need met that is maladaptive.
  • We might not have our need met appropriately.
  • We might misunderstand why the need wasn’t met or the need might be  met but we fail to integrate this into our consciousness in an adaptive way.

Then we may develop maladaptive coping skills, a failed sense of mastery, and develop a sense of Self that is negative.

Now imagine that an individual has had multiple experiences of a break in this continuum. Can you better understand why they may be engaging in maladaptive coping skills? Can you understand why they are not fully aware of the consequences of their actions? Can you understand why it is difficult for them to do things differently?  As a therapist who utilizes Gestalt theory in their work, I do. This gives me hope and enables me to assess where on the continuum there is a break. I can then assist them in developing the skills to understand the break and develop more adaptive coping skills which leads to a healthier sense of self. I also work with parents to develop skills to support these changes in their child and understand why they are doing what they are doing without placing judgment or blame on anyone in the family system.

If you have a child struggling with behavior issues, then please give me a call to schedule a free 20 minute consultation at allison@blossomingheartcounseling.com or by calling 503-880-7190.

I am a marriage and family therapist who is passionate about helping individuals become more their authentic self. I received my Master’s of Arts in Counseling Psychology in Marriage and Family Therapy from Pacifica Graduate Institute. I am trained in Gestalt play therapy, PCIT (parent child interactive therapy), expressive arts therapy, and Jungian psychology. I am also a Reiki Master Practitioner.