Learning Behaviors

Picture your friend Harry at the beach on the Fourth of July. He's sitting in his favorite beach chair basking in the sun with the appropriate sun screen smeared over his body. He hears voices and laughter, radios and stereos over the sound of the waves rushing in and licking the shore. It's almost 1pm and he hasn't eaten since breakfast. His stomach issues a muffled growl as he gets up and walks to the burger stand. After eating his burger Harry decides to take a nap on his beach towel. His nap was pleasant, but the results were not. He feels like a piece of bacon in a frying pan. To ease the pain Harry decides to take a dip. He's startled by a nip at his feet. Looking through the clear emerald water, Harry sees small fish darting here and there just below his feet. He takes a deep breath and submerges himself to satisfy his curiosity. A few seconds later, his lungs are begging for oxygen and with a swift kick, Harry's back on the surface gasping for air. Back on the beach, he sees some friends playing volleyball. Feeling renewed, he swims to shore and joins the game. An hour later, the game breaks up and he heads to the burger stand to get a drink of water. Harry picks up his beach equipment and heads back to the hotel room to shower and take another nap before the evening's fireworks begin.

When Harry had a need, he did something about it. When he was hungry, he ate. When he was sleepy, he slept. When he needed oxygen, he took a breath. When he was hot, he got cool. When he was thirsty, he drank water. The needs Harry had to satisfy were common biological needs.

Learned needs are similar. They need to be satisfied, too, and we behave in ways we believe will satisfy them. How do we know what behaviors or actions will work? We learn them. So, how do we learn them?

Dr. Timmons followed the Law of Parsimony to explain the whats, hows and whys of learning to satisfy our learned needs. This Law of Parsimony proposes that the simplest explanation is the best explanation. Only when this explanation no longer works do you move to the next, more complex explanation. So here's the simple explanation about what, how and why people learn their behaviors .

Three principles operate simultaneously when we are learning behaviors: The State of Need, the Law of Reinforcement, and Trial and Error.. We'll separate the three and look at them individually, and pull them back together again for purposes of explanation.

The State of Need

The State of Need is a condition in which a person does not have something he requires. In some way he is deprived of resources necessary for him to exist comfortably. When a state of need exists, three components can be found: a drive state, a goal, and a response.

When a need is present, a person experiences an activated condition called a drive state. The drive state provides energy to the person and propels him or her deal with the need. (Sometimes and in fact quite often, people call this motivation. There's more to motivation than this though and we'll talk about this later.) The drive state is like fuel in an engine. Without the fuel, the engine won't operate and without a drive state, a person will not move to action. The needy person's actions, the things he or she says and does, are the response to the need state and it is directed towards an appropriate goal. The goal represents the resource(s) with the qualities that will satisfy the person's need.

The process works like this. A person notices that she does not have something she requires. The drive state kicks in and she moves to action. She responds. A goal is identified and behaviors are used to reach the goal. When the resources are acquired, when the goal is reached, the drive state subsides. The response has done its job and terminates. The need is satisfied and does not arise again until the resources are depleted. Then the process starts again.

We inherited our first needs. We burst onto the scene and drop into the world as a bag of needs that our species has handed down to us through the millennia. Our basic needs for the first year or so are physiological. The organs, tissues, and cells of our bodies place great demands on us from the start. We need food, water, and oxygen to live. To live comfortably, w need to be free from pain and temperature extremes, we need rest, and we need sensual stimuli. If we are deprived of any of the resources that fill these requirements, we experience a need state.

Let's look at Suzy, an infant, go through a need state. Suzy ate three hours ago. The food she consumed back then has been used up, there isn't any more to fuel her activities. This need initiates a drive state in her. She is motivated to do something about this lack of food. The response system built into Suzy and every other healthy baby I've ever seen is cry-like-there-is-no- tomorrow-and-you-are-on-the-verge-of-dying.

(This response seems to be built into genetic codes of all higher order organisms when they are young. It operates as a sort of SOS program that runs something like this:

1. Need is noticed.

2. Engage signaling device

3. Sends the following message,

"Help! Here I am! I'm a pitiful hunk of nothing that deserves attention and can't do anything for myself! I don't know if anyone else exists, but I need you! Something is not right with my world and I'm in pain!"

4. Repeat signal as needed.

I've seen baby birds, little mammals, and infant reptiles do this. The program seems to stay connected throughout their lives, but isn't used as much after the organisms can fend for themselves and/or tell others what they need in more specific terms. I don't know if this is true, but it sure seems like it.)

Anyway, in light of her need, Suzy cries. This response is directed towards the subgoal of getting somebody's attention and the ultimate goal of food. Mom hears her and supplies the resources Suzy requires. The drive state is reduced and the need is satisfied. Suzy's crying stops. This is how the Need State operates.

The Laws of Reinforcement

The Laws of Reinforcement are

1. Any behavior which attains a positive state of affairs tends to be repeated in the same or similar circumstances.

2. Any behavior which escapes a negative state of affairs tends to be repeated in the same or similar circumstances.

3. Any behavior which avoids a negative state of affairs tends to be repeated in the same or similar circumstances.

4. Any behavior which terminates a positive state of affairs or produces a negative state of affairs tends to decrease and stop overtime.

5. Any behavior that goes unnoticed or is ignored tends to decrease and stop over time.

As simple and straightforward as they seem, these laws are deceptive in their operation. As we review them individually, keep the following features of these laws in mind.

First, these laws operate simultaneously. Though only one law looks like it is acting in a situation, the other laws are on the stage or in the wings waiting for their cues. These laws, woven together, are very powerful in determining the behaviors we are likely to use again and again to satisfy our zig zags. If they operated one at a time, life would be easier, but they don't.

Another feature to remember has to do with differences between people. The clichés, "one person's heaven is another person's hell" and "one person's trash is another's treasure," seem to hold true in reinforcement. Dramatic differences exist in assessing what is or is not a positive state of affairs; what is or is not a negative state of affairs. Maybe these laws contributed to the saying "different strokes for different folks." We are well-advised to beware of swiftly defining situations as positive, negative, or neutral.

Thirdly, the reinforcements we receive or don't receive can be internal, external or both. Internal reinforcements come from our senses of self or zig zags. It is as if a little guy is sitting there with ice cream cones for when we do "good" and a bull whip for when we do "bad". External reinforcements must come from people and items in our environment. We can't give them to ourselves.

Finally, the state of affairs and situations in which we're interested are the emotional. Physical situations aren't unimportant, but the emotional realm drives many, if not most, of the behaviors that matter when we are interacting with people.

These four features conspire to keep the laws of reinforcement messy and complicated, not neat and simple. We'll try to describe the Laws of Reinforcement in simple terms with simple examples. We encourage you to investigate these fascinating principles further. You might find them useful in analyze and understanding human behaviors.

Any behavior that gains a positive state of affairs tends to be repeated in the same or similar circumstances.

Way back when, when I was a bean-pole of a brat, I drew pictures. Pencils, crayons, and paper were intimate friends of mine. I could spend a whole day sitting at the kitchen table drawing. One positive state of affairs that drawing pictures gave me was internal to me; I loved seeing something I did. I felt like a god, creating my own worlds and characters in those worlds. I got quite a rush from my sense of pride and accomplishment.

In addition to the reinforcement I gave myself, I got very important reinforcements from my parents, grandmother, family, and friends. Even to this day, after I have drawn a picture, I can hardly wait to show it to my wife or anyone else that is handy. I learned that I can get kudos I need by drawing a picture and showing it around. I tend to repeat this behavior, show my work to others, in other situations as well. When I do something I am proud of I like to show others. I do this when I work in the garden, write a proposal, create a piece of music, or take a nifty photograph.

Any behavior that escapes a negative state of affairs tends to be repeated in the same or similar circumstances.

If your hand is in a fire, you take it out. If you are outside and cold, you go inside and try to get warm. These are negative physical states of affairs and the behaviors we learn to terminate them. Because they work, we tend to use them in the same or similar circumstances. The same holds true for psychological or emotional situations that affect us negatively. Again, when I was a kid, I was not noted for having meat and muscles on my bones. This made me an attractive target for bullies. When bullies picked on me, I tried to fight back. But I learned that fighting back was a behavior that did not work very well to terminate this negative state of affairs. I just got hurt more and more. What did work when I was being pummeled was running a way, a very successful behavior. Rather than see myself as a chicken, I saw myself as an intelligent person who knew how to preserve the pitiful piece of flesh God had given me. I never was and am not now in the habit of getting into fights, but you can bet that if I found myself in one, I would use what worked so well so long ago.

Here are some other negative situations in which I have been with the behaviors that help me escape: Arguments: Agree with my opponent; Criticism: Argue my side; Accusations: Try to understand their point of view; Confusion: Get more information. I notice that when I am in these situations I use behaviors that work for me over and over again. They help me escape a negative state of affairs.

Any behavior that avoids a negative state of affairs tends to be repeated in the same or similar circumstances.

Avoidance behaviors are similar to escaping behaviors in that they deal with negative states of affairs. But the similarity ends there. Escaping behaviors terminate negative states of affair that a person is really experiencing. Avoidance behaviors are designed to keep a person out of a possible negative situation that may or may not exist. When you are in the water and water is rushing into your mouth filling your lungs, you get out of the water. This is escaping. Not stepping in the water, not going near the water, staying away from the beach, and moving to Kansas would be avoidance behaviors in response to the prospect of drowning.

In dealing with bullies or people I thought were similar to bullies, I learned I didn't have to escape a negative state of affairs if I avoided them all together. I paid attention to where they hung out and steered clear of their territory.

Here are a couple of common avoidance behaviors. I don't know anyone who hasn't lied to his or her parents when he or she was a child. It almost seems as if there is a gene in the DNA of homo sapiens which endows kids this ability. Kids lie, some more than others, of course. But why? They lie when they think something bad will happen to them if they tell the truth. They lie to avoid a negative state of affairs. When lying or another behavior works by keeping us from being nailed, jailed or flailed, we tend to use it again in the same or similar circumstances.

Another behavior which seems to work well is finger-pointing, "I confess, he did it." How in the world can you punish me when I am not responsible for what happened? This behavior works in politics, business, religion, foreign policy, and around the house. Its overuse doesn't seem to diminish its effectiveness, so it will be with us for many years to come.

As useful as avoidance behaviors seem to be, they can be pathetic if not dangerous. They can prevent us from experiencing great joys simply because we expect negative results. They can also threaten our lives and kill us if we don't overcome them. See if you recognize some of the joy I may have missed or dangers I could have experienced in the examples below.

I didn't call the girl I liked for a date because I just knew she'd say no. I wouldn't apply for a job because I knew the interviewer would consider me unqualified. I didn't try out for the football team because I knew the coach would think I was too skinny. I didn't enroll in art school because I wasn't as good as Norman Rockwell and never would be? I didn't go to the doctor because I knew he'd tell me he needed to do a biopsy.

These are just a few situations I avoided. I may have missed out on joy because I avoided unseen terrors. I may not have realized my potential because I ducked unknown distress. Perhaps I lost out on some fun because I hid from fictitious pains. Some of my dreams never had a chance to come true because I dodged imagined disappointments. Sure, there was the possibility of terrors, distress, pains, and disappointments, but now I'll never know the good, the bad, or the ugly.

Avoidance behaviors stifle and strangle people on the emotional level. Consider Frankie who wants his dad's attention. Dad comes home tired and beat from a hard day's work. He's not in the mood to pay attention to anything except his beer, lounge chair and television news. Frankie tugs on his pop's leg and nothing. He whispers "Daddy" over and over again and nothing. He screams, "Daddy." A whistling sound, a rush of air, a blinding light, and sharp pain in the head follow. Frankie got attention, but not the kind he bargained for. After this happens a few days, Frankie doesn't even try anymore. In fact when Dad enters a room where Frankie is, Frankie flinches, doesn't talk and slinks out. Dad is bad news as often as he is good news. Frankie enters school and carries his view of male authority figures with him. He declines an invitation to play little league because coaches are similar to Dad. He sits silently in college history class and doesn't participate because Professor Firebreath, though a nice guy, could turn into a troll without notice, just like Dad. On the job, he stays away from projects that require him to work with Mr. Smith, his supervisor. And when he has children, he never seems to find the time to bring the kids to Grandpa's house. Avoidance behaviors are sad, indeed.

Any behavior that terminates a positive state of affairs or produces a negative state of affairs tends to decrease and stop over time.

We have a washer and dryer to do our laundry. My wife and I like clean, dry clothes. This is a positive state of affairs we wish to maintain. But I have experienced one of life's baffling mysteries. Why is it that when I wash our clothes together that my clothes end up with some of her colors on them? Washing her clothes with mine terminated my positive state of affairs and this behavior has discontinued.

If you had adults around you when you were a kid, you've had a brush with the second half of this law. In your checkered past, you were probably grounded, sent to your room, told to clean the garage, or denied your allowance. Behaviors that are consistently punished tend to decrease. You may have bitten your little playmates when you were a toddler which resulted in a negative state of affairs. Do you bite people at work when you get frustrated? Probably not. You may have thrown a fit and gone to bed without supper when Mom tried to make you eat something new. Do you carry on at a friend's dinner party featuring exotic fare? I would doubt it.

Any behavior that goes unnoticed or is ignored tends to decrease and stop over time.

Have you ever done something you were proud of and no one noticed? Did you try again and people still ignored you? When people engage in behaviors that don't seem to matter to anyone, not even themselves, they might themselves, "What's the use?"

Once I met a young lady from Mexico and exchanged addresses with the goal of being pen pals. I wrote her a letter and waited for the mailman everyday for a month. I wrote another letter, figuring the other one got lost in the mail. I waited again and still got no response. I kept this up for a few more months and eventually stopped. What was the point of wasting all that paper, ink, and postage?

I've always smiled at the statement, "Love me, hate me, but don't ignore me." In light of this law of reinforcement, I would add, "And if you ignore me, I'll quit doing whatever it is I'm doing to get you to love me or hate me. I'll show you."

These laws are so powerful. They operate without us having to think about them and are critical in learning which behaviors work and which do not.

Let's visit Suzy again. At her young age she inherited the behavior crying. Crying works for almost all of the physiological need states she could experience. If she bumps her head, she cries, and Mom comes running. If she wets herself and a rash plays havoc on her rear-end, she cries, and Dad comes running. If her blanket covers her head and she gets hot, she cries, and someone comes running. Crying works well. It gives her a positive state of affairs and helps her escape a negative state of affairs and it works consistently. She always gets attention.

Then, voila! The day comes when Suzy realizes she is no longer THE universe...heck, she isn't even the center of the universe. In her way of looking at herself, she isn't sure what she is. To get some point of reference, she and her little brain figure out a complex strategy.

It is as if she says to herself, "When I cried, others attended to me and took care of my physiological needs. Now my physiological needs are getting handled pretty regularly, but I'm beginning to get the feeling there's more to this life game than I originally thought. Perhaps these big entities who respond so well to my crying could also give me some clue as to what I should be up to. Maybe if I cry, these others will come to me whether I have a physiological need or not. And when they come, I'll just pay attention to them and see what I can find out."

Suzy tries out her strategy and it works well. When she needs attention, all she has to do is cry. No longer is crying a built in response to a physiological need state. It is now a learned behavior to satisfy a psychological need.

In terms of the law of reinforcement, she finds that crying is a behavior that attains a positive state of affairs when she needs a hug. She finds crying helps her escape a negative state of affairs when she is alone in her crib and the room is dark. She also finds crying to be very effective to avoid a negative state of affairs, namely bedtime. Indeed, the law of reinforcement has worked its magic on Suzy.

Trial and Error

One day, Suzy needs some attention. She cries, but no one comes. If a little crying worked, then more and louder crying should work even better, right? So Suzy cuts loose with a high volume flood of tears. But still no one comes. Suzy wonders what is going on? Something's changed. Suddenly, something is getting in the way of her getting the immediate responses to which she has become so accustomed. What used to work doesn't seem to work anymore. What's happened?

Suzy hasn't figured it out yet, but baby brother has happened. Now Suzy's big people aren't hers anymore. Now they have someone else to give their attention to. At her ripe age, Suzy is thrust into learning new ways of getting attention. She has to find better responses when her drive state kicks in. She has to discover other clever behaviors to reach her goals.

Baby brother frustrates Suzy's attempts. She decides that crying by itself won't do the job. She tries one action and if that doesn't work, if it doesn't overcome this baby brother barrier, she tries something else. She tries and fails. She tries and fails. She tries and fails.

Then she tries and it works. She finds that if she uses a more sophisticated form of bawling incorporating thrashing about, holding her breath, and banging her head on the floor, she gets the attention she needs. This new behavior which proves very successful is known in the parenting trade as a tantrum. Garden variety crying still works at times, but the added dramatics and theatrical displays appear to be a sure-fire weapon to add to her beginner's arsenal. (How does she know it works? Answer: It is reinforced.)

If you could sit Suzy down and ask her what she was up to, she'd say, "I am employing a heuristic behavioral approach called trial and error to find responses that will help me get what I need."

The trial and error approach is the process of trying a behavior to reach a goal or get around a barrier to a goal. Then, if it fails, trying other behaviors until one reaches the goal.

Dr. Timmons explained the trial and error approach vividly. He called it fish-flopping. You've seen fish taken off the hook, swirting through the angler's hands, and hitting the deck. What does the fish do? What does any fish do? Here's a new way of looking at that fish to appreciate human behavior. The fish, deprived of oxygen, is thrust into need. The fish doesn't ponder his situation and consider all the possible alternative behaviors in which he could engage. He doesn't say to himself, "Gee, this is awful. I really ought to do something about this. Let's see. My primary objective is to get water flowing over and through my gills. Okay, now that I have defined the problem, what would be the best way to solve it?"

Our little fish friend goes into over-drive with the goal of getting to some water, any water. He becomes the picture of the highly motivated organism. He converts this motivation into behavior. He whips his tail against the deck, arches his body sideways, and lands on his other side on the deck. At this point, he doesn't say, "Hell, this didn't work. I just as soon quit." On the contrary, if he didn't land in oxygenated water, he repeats the behavior. He repeats the response over and over and over again, until he lands in the water or exhausts himself.

People fish-flop, too. Suzy fish-flopped until something worked for her.

Suzy flip-flopped into a major discovery. Finding tantrums was a gigantic leap forward in her learning career. It is also a giant step in Mom and Dad's learning career as parents, too. In Mom and Dad's view of the world, Suzy's tantrums got to be annoying and disruptive. Tantrums wake baby brother for one thing. This Mom and Dad will not abide.

One day, instead of positively reinforcing the tantrum by giving Suzy the strokes she seeks, Mom and Dad douse her with cold water and send her to her room. A shocked Suzy didn't expect this kind of attention. What happened to tantrums? They certainly are not attaining a positive state of affairs any longer. Suzy tries them a few more times, but finds tantrums to be very unreliable. Sometimes they even result in a negative states of affairs.

So Suzy flip-flops. Shes got to try something else. She attempts hanging on Mom's leg, but gets rebuffed. She bites her Dad on the arm and finds that that dog won't hunt. She tries hugging her little brother like everyone else does, but people yell, "Don't hurt him!" Finally, she stumbles onto manners. By conducting herself like a little lady, people pat her on the head. By saying "Yes sir" and "No sir", they tell her what a good little girl she is. By sitting still at the dinner table, her parents show her how proud they are. Yep. This manners thing works.


Onion Skins

The State of Need, The Laws of Reinforcement, and the Trial and Error Approach work together to build a system of behaviors for each of us. When we find behaviors that work to satisfy our needs, we store them. As we collect new behaviors, we layer them over our earlier ones. We continue layering behaviors one on top another as we learn that they are more effective and sophisticated in meeting our requirements. In Suzy's case, she learns and collects other ways of acting that help her get what she needs. Each successive behavior wraps it self over and around crying, tantrums, and manners like skins of an onion.

Dr. Timmons uses the analogy of onion skins to describe our behavior systems. If you cut an onion to make onion rings, you see what looks like concentric circles, layers of onion. Imagine that a person and his behavior structure is an onion. We slice through it and see concentric circle of onion skins, his behaviors. The outer skins of the onion are the most sophisticated, most adult-like, and most recently learned behaviors. As we move toward the core of the onion, each skin represents less sophisticated and more childlike behaviors learned earlier in the person's life. From now on, when we mention onion skins, we'll be referring to behaviors.

Back to Suzy and her onion skins. She reaches her early teens and starts rubbing elbows with kids her own age. Into this new situation, she carries onion skins that worked and still work for her at home. Throwing tantrums, projecting blame, nagging, apologizing, pouting, helping, obeying, and be scholarly are Suzy's earliest behaviors. However, these behaviors aren't as successful as she tries to make her mark and establish a role with her peers. Their demands are different. Her needs are different.

She begins her search for onion skins that will work. She learns that revolting against authority yields praise from her peers. She finds that teasing others who aren't in her group gives her the attention she needs. Flattering the teachers, showing-off in front of the boys, and telling off-color jokes also work in some situations. These actions get added to her set of onion skins.

As she grows older and faces a greater variety of situations, she learns more and more behaviors. The behaviors which work time and again, she retains. Those that aren't as successful, tend not to be repeated.

Some Onion Skins

To satisfy most of our needs, both physiological and psychological, other people are involved. People play many roles in this needs game. They could have the resources we need to meet our needs, and therefore, become the goal of our efforts. Sometimes they can help us with our responses to our needs by teaching us what to do. Of course, people could also be the reason that we have a need. Some people withdraw resources we were using or block us from our goals. Yes, people often play many roles with regard to our needs.

This means we have to interact with people. We have to build relationships with them to meet our needs or get them out of our way. We have many onion skins we use to do these jobs. In fact, the number of possible behaviors we have available to us or that we are capable of using is infinite; remember 8 billion factorial.

But wouldn't you know it, we have a way to categorize onion skins into two categories: defensive mechanisms and coping mechanisms. Defensive mechanisms are behaviors that tend to drive people away from us because they threaten to violate our sense of self or keep us from the resources that will satisfy our needs. Coping behaviors are onion skins we can employ that tend to bring people towards us to help us meet our needs.

Here are some onion skins with brief explanations that could be found in a person's repertoire of behaviors. Some of them are defense mechanisms, some coping mechanisms, and some can function both ways depending upon the situation and how they are used.

Tantrum- the bane of parents who have never experienced them before. To the uninitiated, a tantrum can look like a seizure. May work well as a coping mechanism in the short run., but probably less effective and downright embarrassing in later life.

Manners- often a coping mechanism that suggests to other people that you are well behaved and polite.

Projection of blame- "I confess, its your fault." A definite defense mechanism useful in deflecting punishment onto unsuspecting younger siblings. An only child cannot appreciate the joy of this onion skin.

Pouting- the extension of your lower lip while furrowing the brow and crossing your arms across your chest. This onion skin comes in handy when you need to let someone know that you aren't happy with them and you want them to do it your way. Sometimes when it is ignored, it passes.

"I've been sick"- probably learned when one has to go to school without the homework he or she was supposed to do. Good ploy for getting sympathy. If it is overused, people will think you are crying wolf.

Po' Mouthing- the woe-is-me approach, designed to draw people to you because you are such a pitiful piece of plunder. Can be effective for a while, but if you use it too much, people will begin to avoid you because you complain too much.

Frankness- (honesty and candor) when in doubt, tell the truth. Some people use this quite effectively. They are known as persons of integrity, people you can depend upon to tell the truth. But some people have not developed the skill for telling the truth. For instance, when your mom's dinner tastes like garbage, telling the truth could be disastrous.

Silence- dummying up can be an infuriating behavior when others want your response. On the other hand, being quiet can be a sign of not knowing what to say or an attempt to hide one's wealth of ignorance.

"The cools"- playing as if you don't care (when you really do). Teenagers are great at this behavior as well as people who are a little embarrassed by praises lavished upon them.

Modesty- acting with decency and unpretentiousness; being free from vanity or conceit.

Verbalization- when in doubt, keep talking. If you keep talking, no one else can talk and say things that might threaten you.

Being cute- acting like a child to gain the attention of others.

Follow the Rules - a submission to authority and strict adherence to the rules to avoid punishment. You remember the kid that tattled on everyone else? This is his onion skin.

Scholarship- throwing oneself into the books and getting good grades for the attention of others, instead of learning for learning's sake.

Revolt- the teenage approach to establishing one's independence. Often witnessed in business in the form of sabotage.

Teasing- having fun at the expense of others. This was a behavior my dad loathed. Sometimes we paid attention to him, but with all those brothers and sisters, the temptation was to great.

Flattery- giving compliments and praise even when they are not warranted to gain a positive state of affairs with that person. In adulthood, flattery is also known as brown-nosing and kissing-up.

Nagging- repeat what you want over and over again until someone pays attention to you attains a positive states of affairs.

Helping- giving Mom and Dad any assistance they require gains a positive state of affairs.

Showing Off- useful to distinguish yourself from others in your group.

Tough and Ugly- to keep people from messing with you by giving them the impression that you are the biggest, baddest human being to walk the face of the earth. You can hear a person using this behavior say, "Don't get me angry. I can be dangerous."

Humor- a contortion of the real world that amuses others. People who are entertaining and funny generally draw people towards them, especially if their humor is non- threatening and self-deprecating. Bill Cosby's a great example of this.

Sarcasm- this sort of humor tends to push people away by putting them down. Sometimes it can be humorous, but often times it is very painful.

Intellectualization- often used to avoid the real issues at hand by conversing on a higher plane than is appropriate. For instance, when a young man says to his girl friend in a serious tone, "I love you" and the girl responds by saying, "That reminds me of a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning...", the young woman is deflecting a perceived threat by talking about love in intellectual terms.

Intellectualization: Ex: Mother dies; "Had long life, better off, no pain. Usually uses "cultural relativitiy" of right and wrong. Cynicism.

Rationalization- this one gets a bad rap. It's used to explain and explain away other behaviors and is probably the most common onion skin in use.

Undoing- making up for past wrongs, atonement. I used this one when I realized I had six pieces of bubble gum when I only paid for five. I went back to the store and left a penny on the counter hoping they'd find it. This way they wouldn't think I was a thief.

Reaction Formation- Preventing dangerous desires from being expressed by exaggerating opposed attitudes and types of behavior and using them as "barriers." Ex. The "Censor Syndrome" where a person publicly cannot tolerate pornography while at the same time privately collects nude magazines.

Displacement- Discharging pent-up feelings, usually of hostility, on objects less dangerous than those which initially aroused the emotions. Ex: Nazi vs. Jews; Correlation between price of cotton in the South and the number of lynchings.

Sublimation- Gratification of frustrated sexual (mainly) desires in substitutive non sexual activities. Ex: girl without sex outlets becoming nurse or masseuse; gets physical closeness, yet within realm of "useful" as well as acceptable morally. Sadistic boy becomes surgeon.

Regression- Retreating to earlier developmental level involving less mature responses, usually at lower level of aspiration. Backwards to "what once worked." Ex: New baby, 6 year-old asks for bottle, wets bed, whines.

Isolation- Cutting off affective charge from hurtful situations or separating incompatible attitudes by logic-tight compartments.

Dissociation: Ex: Person believes in democracy and segregation at the same time. Ruthless business man also pillar of church and fond father.

Fantasy- Gratification of frustrated desires by imaginary activities. Not just deny--go further and construct better, more satisfactory world. Ex: Conquering hero-- ; suffering hero--martyr fantasies. Also dreams are common method of gratification in fantasy.

Compensation- Covering up weaknesses by emphasizing desirable trait or making up for frustration in one area by over-gratification in another. Ex: Negroe athletes, only way to achieve status; small man becomes pugnacious, weak, nonathletic by excelling in studies (or dull boy in athletics).

Identification- Increasing feelings of worth by identifying self with persons or institutions of illustrious standing. Ex: "We" won the world series; "I am an American"; kid wearing Roy Rogers boots and hat.

Introjection- (Really primitive identification) Incorporation of external values and standards into ego structure as individual is not at mercy of external threats. Ex: Son takes values and prejudices of father to "be like" and thus "side" with him. Cultural taboos.

Projection- Placing blame for difficulties upon or attributing one's own weakness and unethical desires to others. Ex: greedy, grasping person sees others as potential thieves; sexually desirous female who considers sex wrong and sees all men as potential rapists.

Rationalization- Attempting to prove that one's behavior is "rational" and justifiable and thus worthy of self and social approval. Ex: Sour grapes; sweet lemons; lose girl, "Would get fat anyway, talked too much anyway."

Repression- Preventing painful or dangerous thoughts from entering consciousness without awareness on part of person involved. Repression is selective. Not inhibitive of impulses, which is conscious. Not suppression ("put out of mind") which is preconscious and can be recalled though "forgotten." Ex: Freudians claim incestuous desires are universal, yet repressed and thus never reach consciousness. Hatred or "death-wish" for siblings also said repressed.

Undoing- Atoning for and thus counteracting immoral desires and acts. Do by apology, restitution, getting punished. Culture teaches wrong brings punishment (evil if only death). Ex: Unethical business man -- charity; rejecting mother-- toys for children; erring husband-- flowers and candy.

Acting-out- Reduction of anxiety aroused by hidden desires by permitting their expression. Frustration and anxiety at so high level, "Get over with." Ex: Delinquent against frustrating society; frustrated child crying and hitting Daddy.

Sympatheism- Striving to gain sympathy from others, thus bolstering feelings of self-worth despite failures. Better known as "Po' mouthing". Ex: I've been ill a lot; lot of tough breaks; etc.

Denial- Refusal to perceive or face unpleasant reality by "blanking out" data or "escapist" activities. Ex: All die but us; mother with defective son believing he is late bloomer, therefore potential genius; amnesia; religious concepts of afterlife.

Compulsivity- The "ordering" of the environment to render it controllable. Usually a series of repetitive acts (e.g., filling in "O", stepping over cracks, counting one's steps, etc.) which serves as sort of magic charm or ritual to ward off anxiety.

Zig zags and Onion Skins

Continuing with the onion analogy, where do our learned needs, selfs, and zig-zags fit? The learned needs, the "self", or the zig-zag resides at the core of the onion. Again, around this core are layers upon layers of behaviors or onion skins in service to the learned needs.

Each of us have a different and unique set of onion skins we have accumulated since we were children. Just as each of us develop his or her own unique learned needs structure, we accumulate a unique set of behaviors. Just as we are unaware of our learned needs for the most part, we are generally unaware of our onion skins. They are as automatic as our heart beats and breathing.

Old Pro Onion Skins

All of us have a few onion skins we use more frequently than others because they work over and over again. Dr. Timmons calls these the "old pro" behaviors. These "old pro" onion skins are the most common behaviors we whip out when we are threatened or violated or feel we need to enhance our sense of self. I believe one of my old pro onion skins is humor. In many different situations, I find myself resorting to humor to serve my zig zag. If I'm in an uncomfortable situation, I use humor to make myself feel more comfortable. Other times when I feel on the outside of a group of people, I whip my humor out to feel like I'm part of the crowd. Sometimes, when I am speaking before groups, I try to use humor to make a point. In some instances, I just want to entertain people. My humor is not always appropriate. My humor can be distractive at times. My humor can keep me from satisfying my learned needs. But I know about this old pro and I can be aware of situations when I am likely to use it. I don't have to chart and plan my every move, but I can control my behavior only because I am aware of some of my old pro onion skins.

Identifying Onion Skins

Identifying our onion skins is much easier than finding out what our zig zags are. For one thing, if we pay attention to ourselves, we can readily notice our most recently acquired onion skins. We simply have to observe what it is we do and say and how we do it and say it. Of course, we can ask other people with whom we interact to pay attention to us as well. Then we can ask them for feedback, where they tell us what onion skins they notice us using.

When it comes to meeting our learned needs, we need to remember three points.

1. The number one job of every human being is the protection and enhancement of his or her sense of self.

2. a. When we violate our of sense of self, we react with guilt and or anxiety; and

b. When someone else violates our sense of self, we respond in ways to defend our sense of self.

3. Everybody's gotta feel like somebody.

These points are critical to understanding how our learned needs produce a drive state that moves us to respond in ways that will help us reach our goals.

How do we know that our learned needs are not getting met? How do we know we are in a state of need? Most of us don't know. Unless we are aware of our zig zags and have some idea of what they might be, we won't consciously know that we are in a state of need. But whether or not we are aware of them, unmet learned needs will produce a drive state in us. We will feel guilt, anxiety, or a driving desire to defend ourselves. We can also recognize learned needs which need to be satisfied because we feel like less than the somebody we have got to feel like. Since most of us are not aware of our real needs or confuse our ought needs with our real needs, we never consciously know that our needs are not being met.

If we are not aware of our learned needs, what do we do when our learned needs are not being met? How can we possibly satisfy needs we don't know about? In effect, our autopilot, Captain Zig Zag, takes control of our behavior and selects an onion skin from those we have handy. His ultimate goal is equivalent to our number one job, the protection and enhancement of our sense of self. If the onion skin he selects does not help us feel like somebody again, he tries another onion skin. He continues his attempts, using successively less sophisticated behaviors to reach the goal. Captain Zig Zag stays on the job until the learned needs are met.

Typically, our learned needs drive our behaviors. Our learned needs do not care whether or not the onion skins they select are effective. All they care about is whether or not they get themselves satisfied. Captain Zig Zag does not concern himself with long-term results. His focus is on expedient methods to meet his requirements. The results of letting our learned needs take control of our behaviors can be disappointing.

Once upon a time...

I didn't know I had a Captain Zig Zag grabbing my steering wheel and piloting behaviors for me whenever he felt the urge. I did notice I did things I couldn't always explain very well. You may have had the same feeling. You did something and someone asked you, "Why in the world did you do that?" You think hard about it and you can't really give a reason, so you resort to rationalization and fabricate a reason out of thin air. The other guy looks at you incredulously, not believing a word you said.

Mostly in the past, but even after I learned about these people stuff principles, my little captain did his thing and flew me off into harm's way. Once I dated a wonderful young lady . Everything between us was going very well until I heard a rumor that she was interested in someone else. After I had gotten the apparent goods on her, I treated her very badly. I was rude and uncooperative. I would ignore her and fly off at the slightest criticism. I wanted her to give me her total, undivided attention. I wanted no one else to command her thoughts. But lo and behold it looked like we had lost that loving feeling...ohhh...ohhh... that loving feeling. I ran her off with my childish onion skins. When my stupidity subsided and my ignorance was relieved, I tried to make up with her. But she would have nothing to do with me. I tried to explain my foolishness and jealousy and everything else, but she knocked me out with her punchy logic, "If you loved me, you wouldn't have treated me so shabbily." I couldn't argue with that. Why would I do things that would get me stuff exactly opposite from what I wanted? Now a days, I can literally see this little guy in a flight suit sitting in a cockpit with my zig zag insignia on the side of a little plane. He's giving me the thumbs up and revs his engine as he prepares to fly off to fight another battle I don't want him to. Back then, I had no idea how I could be so rotten. I had no excuse.

Looking back on what happened in this and other situations and using the information about zig zags and onion skins, I came to realize I would often react by pouting, lashing out, ignoring others, and trying to make others as miserable as me. After all, not only does misery love company, it loves miserable company. Why would misery want to hang out with happy people? They just remind you how miserable you really are. That was and is one of my old pro onions skins. I don't like myself when I do that. I know others don't like to be around me when I act like that, but I still do it from time to time. Thankfully, I know about it and can do something about it. I don't have to let my captain, my captain run my misery and select my onion skins. Sometimes he still does, but not as often as in the past.

Taking Control

An awareness of our zig zags and onion skins allows us to take control of our behaviors. This awareness and knowledge lets us choose which onion skins we will or will not use to meet our learned needs. Otherwise, our zig zags will choose onion skins for us. When we realize we really can choose our behaviors, we are better able to find onion skins which are more effective in dealing with other people. And just think how much more effective we can be with our family and friends and coworkers and associates if we appreciate their zig zags and onion skins, too.

Dr. Timmons often says, "If we could cut a person in half like an onion, if we could look at his zig zags and onion skins, if we could look into his childhood and see how he collected his worthies and learned his behaviors, we probably could never hate him and we could fully appreciate the old adage despise the sin, but love the sinner." Maybe so. I wish we could.
Next Page: How We Operate-Part 1 Data-Inference-Prophecy