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Taking Time-Outs to Avoid Aversive Behavior Chains
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In the last section, we discussed Steps to Solving Stress Problems. These include Identifying Problems that Cause Stress, Clarifying Your Goals, Alternative Strategies and Analyzing the Consequences.
In this section, we will discuss Six Aversive Chains. These include verbal behaviors, nonverbal sounds, voice quality, gestures using hands and arms, facial expressions and body movements.
Understanding the Six Aversive Chains
One scenario involving all of these types of aversive chains involved my marriage counseling clients Claudia, age 43, and her husband Jerome, age 45. You can see the aversive chains at work in an exchange that Claudia and Jerome described to me. Jerome came home silently, with his eyes down. Claudia asked, "What’s the matter now?" Jerome responded, with folded arms, "My boss is an asshole!" Claudia sighed, "Well you’ll just have to stick it out. You should know we can’t afford you quitting your job now."
Jerome suddenly shouted, "Dammit, you give zilch support, you know that!? I can’t take much more of this!" Claudia tried to limit him, saying, "Stop shouting right now! The children will hear you." Jerome retorted, "Yeah, all you think of is the children. You don’t give a damn about me!" Claudia sneered and put her hands on her hips, "Oh yeah! I didn’t know you had feelings.You haven’t talked to me in weeks."
Jerome accused, "You never have time for me anyway. You’re always on the phone to your goddamn mother! I wish she would keep the hell out of our lives!" Claudia threw her wedding ring down, shouting, "Shut up, asshole! Get out of my life!" Jerome threatened, "All right, bitch, I’ve had it from you. I’ll leave, but I’m going to shut you up first!"
♦ Chain #1 - Verbal Behaviors
Claudia and Jerome exhibited aversive chains, which were exchanges in which the two of them, having equal power, attempted to influence each other with punishing communications. For Claudia and Jerome, these aversive chains developed over time. First, let’s discuss Claudia and Jerome’s verbal behaviors.
Giving advice. For example, Claudia stated to Jerome, "Ask your boss for a raise, you know we need more money."
Global labeling. Jerome accuses Claudia of never having time for him and always being on the phone with her mother.
Criticism. In the past, Claudia stated to Jerome, "That was a horrible turn, you almost hit that car."
Blaming. In the past, Jerome had said to Claudia, "If it weren’t for you, we’d be at the airport by now!"
Abrupt limit-setting. In the previous scenario, Claudia orders Jerome to, "Stop shouting right now! The children will hear you!"
Threatening. Jerome threatened Claudia when he said, "I’ll leave, but I’m going to shut you up first!"
Using expletives. Both Jerome and Claudia use expletives, such as when Jerome says, "All right, bitch, I’ve had it from you."
Complaining. Jerome says that Claudia gives him "zilch support."
"Innocent" observations. In the past, Claudia had been known to say things like, "I noticed the laundry hasn’t been done for the past two days."
Humiliating statements. In the past, Jerome had said to Claudia, "You used to look good, now I’m embarrassed to be seen with you."
Dismissing comments. Claudia shouted at Jerome to shut up and get out of her life.
Sarcasm. Claudia is sarcastic with Jerome when she says, "I didn’t know you had feelings. You haven’t talked to me in weeks."
Guilt. Claudia says, "You should know that we can’t afford you quitting your job now."
Ultimatums. In the past, Jerome had said to Claudia, "This is your last chance. If you don’t shape up, I’m leaving."
Do you have a Jerome or a Claudia who builds aversive chains with verbal behaviors? Would he or she benefit from hearing this section?
♦ Chain #2 - Nonverbal Sounds
Second, let’s discuss nonverbal sounds. In the previous scenario, Claudia sighs at Jerome. Other nonverbal sounds include groaning, a clucking sound, possibly suggesting, "Do you have to bring that up right now?" or "Tsk, tsk."
♦ Chain #3- Voice Quality
Third, in addition to verbal behaviors and nonverbal sounds, let’s discuss voice quality. Both Claudia and Jerome escalate their argument into a shouting match. Other voice qualities include whining; flatness, suggesting "I’m not here"; a cold, frosty tone; throaty, constricted tone; a loud, harsh quality; mocking, mumbling, snickering and snarling.
♦ Chain #4 - Gestures Using Hands and Arms
Fourth, let’s look at gestures using hands and arms. Jerome, for example, has his arms folded at the beginning of his dialogue with Claudia. Other hand gestures include pointing a finger, shaking a fist, "flipping the bird," folded arms, waving away and a chopping motion.
♦ Chain #5 - Facial Expressions
Fifth, are facial expressions. Jerome rolls his eyes in his dialogue with Claudia. Other facial expressions include looking away, rolling eyes, narrowing eyes, eyes wide, grimacing, frowning, tightening lips or raising an eyebrow.
♦ Chain #6 - Body Movements
Sixth, let’s consider body movements. Claudia puts her hands on her hips, for example. Other body movements include shaking head, shrugging shoulders, tapping a foot or a finger, moving or leaning toward, moving or leaning away, quick movements or pacing, kicking or throwing objects or pushing or grabbing.
♦ Technique: Time-Out
I asked Claudia to try the Time-Out Technique. When either person in an interaction notices early warning signs, he or she may decide that a time-out is needed. The need for a time-out is communicated simply and efficiently by using the "T" sign made with your hands. Nothing need be said at this point, except perhaps the announcement "Time-out!"
The other person is then obligated to return the gesture and stop talking. The signal means that it is time to separate for a while. This works best if both have discussed ahead of time what will happen next. Ideally, the person who his "beginning to get angry" will take the cue and leave for an agreed period of time. Agreeing ahead of time will prevent any misconception that this is a form of running away or punishing the other person with abandonment.
After using the technique, Jerome reported, "It was really helpful for me to have options with ‘time out.’ I mean, you know that you need to talk out your issues, but knowing that you don’t have to do it right away is a relief." Claudia agreed, "It was nice to be able to say, ‘I need my space right now’ without disrespecting Jerome or fanning the flames of the argument."
Would playing this section for your Claudia and Jerome be beneficial during your next session? If so you might write "play Section 9" in your appointment book now.
In this section, we discussed Aversive Chains. These included verbal behaviors, nonverbal sounds, voice quality, gestures using hands and arms, facial expressions and body movements.
What are six aversive chains?
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