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12. Dangerous Behaviour - Not Why but What

When faced with immediately dangerous behaviour it is natural to try to understand that behaviour in order that we might find an appropriate way of responding. So we might ask of ourselves “what’s going on” “why are they behaving like this” “what do they want of me” “what should I do” “how can I help” and so on. We could ask these questions of the aggressor except that everything is happening too fast and they are unlikely to be in a reflective state of mind.


Even if they were able and willing to answer our questions, just knowing why they are so hostile doesn’t necessarily help us. Consider this brief interaction:


Angry person rushes towards you screaming “you’re xxxxing useless, you’re amateurs, you haven’t got a clue, I’ve had enough of you lot, I’m gonna mess you up proper!”

You: “Why are you behaving like this?”

They: “Cos, I’m xxxing furious!”

You: “Calm down.”

They: Don’t you tell me to calm down!” and the situation escalates.


These interactions do not operate according to the same rules that apply in our everyday interactions. Here we are talking, mostly, about fast moving, high risk interpersonal crises where thought gets left behind and our physical and emotional reactions often dominate. Following on from my previous posting, here we need to know how to “thin-slice” dangerous behaviour accurately and safely.


Normally when we think about dangerous behaviour we might consider factors such as a person’s past history of violent behaviour, their reactivity, their automaticity, their attachment style, ability to self-regulate, their stress levels , problem-solving skills, inhibitory factors and so on (e.g . The General Aggression Model, Anderson & Bushman, 2002, 2011).  Unfortunately, these factors (if they are even known) are entirely the wrong thin-slices for making snap assessments of immediately dangerous behaviour and send us in entirely the wrong direction.


The “correct” thin slice is not why the aggressor is behaving the way that they do (which may, forever, remain a mystery) but what is driving that behaviour. This may, of course, change moment by moment (The Instant Aggression Model, Bourne, 2013) but if we know what the driver of the behaviour is, then if we change the driver we also change the behaviour.


So how can we know, in the blink of an eye, what is driving the behaviour? Well that is the subject of my next post!


Stay Safe


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