Dealing with difficult behaviour

We all have moments (sometimes days or even weeks) in our lives where we seem to be dealing with people who trigger us in some way through their behaviour.

Can you think of a time recently where you had to deal with someone’s challenging behaviour? I sure can!

Some days (not very often luckily), I come home from a day of being faced with some seriously challenging behaviour that has triggered a negative feeling in me and honestly, I feel like I just want to quit and work with animals.

But we can ALL be difficult sometimes, can’t we?

The trick is to understand the unmet needs that drive this difficult behaviour.

Difficult behaviours are just “messages” which tell us important things about the person including their thinking, beliefs and needs.

For example, imagine a baby who has a limited way to communicate their needs. They demonstrate to us that they’re hungry, tired, happy, sad or hurt through a range of different screams, cries and other babbling noises, until they grow up and learn new ways to communicate.

Some of us have experienced such a great deal of trauma that we don’t learn positive ways to communicate our needs and so to the world, we seem to be “acting out.”

Imagine a woman who has been through so much trauma in her life that she is fearful a lot of the time and does what she needs to do to feel safe. She is living in a hostel, surrounded by other residents and workers. When the workers try to talk to her about her behaviour, this often results in her biting them. This could very easily lead to her being evicted from the hostel, but one worker decides to unpack why she might be lashing out. It turns out that the resident gets scared and feels backed into a corner, and the only way she knows how to get some space is to do something to make people back off – in her case, biting. When the worker realises that her unmet need is needing space, the workers learn how to work with this with the resident and give her the space she needs before any biting happens.

This is a real example from a hostel in Perth, and working with the “message” of the behaviour of concern resulted in the resident being given her space when she needed it, so the behaviour of biting stopped.

Think about a time when you have been triggered by somebody’s challenging behaviour and this brought up a negative reaction in you. What was the situation? Can you guess what was happening in the other person’s mind? What were three things that stood out about them and their behaviour? What do you think they were thinking/believing/feeling? What was it you think they were needing? How did you react to them and what were your thoughts/beliefs/feelings and needs that were underlying your reaction?

With my coaching clients I like to give the very basic example (which everyone can relate to), of coming home to a messy kitchen, dirty dishes piled up in the sink. Imagine that you had agreed with your partner or housemate that they were going to do the dishes before you got home that day so you could get on with cooking dinner. You come home to3 nothing having been done and you straight away feel extremely angry and resentful about it, and bitterly get on with doing the dishes yourself.

You’re feeling p*ssed off. You’re thinking “they ALWAYS do this to me. They NEVER listen to me. Why can’t they just do what we agreed? They’re so selfish.”

If it had been a one off thing, it probably wouldn’t have bothered you. But because you had a negative reaction, something has been triggered within you.

Here’s a clue – it’s NEVER about the dishes.

When we unpack what you make it mean, we get to the real nitty gritty.

We discover that actually, what makes you angry about that situation is that you feel like they never listen to you, that they don’t do what they say they’ll do, that you feel disrespected in the relationship and ultimately it feeds in to your own limiting beliefs about not feeling good enough, and not feeling loved enough.

The trick is to RESPOND and not REACT. We tend to react based on our own triggers. But when we allow ourselves to process our negative feelings and get to an understanding as to why we are triggered, we can then respond to the situation in a more adult way.

Difficult behaviours are ALWAYS a result of unmet needs. The wife yelling at the husband when he gets home late from the pub is often needing quality time together because she wants to feel loved. The husband who works late and is yelled at when he gets home so yells back in return usually wants to hear from his wife that he’s doing a great job at providing for their family and she is really grateful for that.

We need to recognise the behaviour as a message and not shoot the messenger, but find a way to resolve the unmet need.

Some things that can influence behaviour are:

  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Thirst or hunger (hangry!)
  • Hormones
  • Overwhelm, stress, pressure
  • Chemicals (drugs, alcohol, prescription medication)
  • Past experiences
  • Internal environment (thoughts, beliefs, feelings, needs, expectations)
  • Difficulty with communication
  • Unable to self-soothe or regulate own emotions

What difficult behaviour are you faced with at the moment, and what kind of need do you think is driving that? How can you respond differently to the situation?

If you’re finding it difficult to meet your own, or someone else’s needs right now, get in touch for a chat about how I may be able to help you.

Catcha on the flip side,


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