(Note: A downloadable PDF copy of this lesson is available on the last page.)
Another “mental mechanism,” or means of getting your own way, is regression. To regress is simply to revert to childish ways of reacting to unpleasant situations.
How does a child get his own way? A couple in church were trying to keep their two-year-old quiet. The little fellow insisted on standing up in the pew, but his father wanted him to sit down. The boy slipped from the seat and started to crawl into the aisle. The father picked him up and forcibly held him on his lap. The child then let out a shriek; despite both parents’ frantic efforts to quiet him he continued crying loudly. There was nothing to do but for the father to hurry out of the church with the boy.
The youngster won the round, even if it meant he would get a spanking. He wanted to get free from the confinement of the pew, and he did.
A child will resort to tears, screams, temper tantrums, or sulking to get his way. He will break things, fight, throw up, refuse to eat, or become generally hard to manage. He finds that such methods work amazingly well in getting what he wants. Because of past successes, he is reluctant to give up his tried and proven means to an end.
But, as he grows, he learns that his childish techniques must be abandoned or at least restrained; he learns that other people have rights that must be respected. He discovers that to live happily, he must accept the fact that he cannot always satisfy his wants and desires. He learns, for example, that honor, respect, praise, and love come not from demand or by force, but because they are earned by work, honest effort, and continuous adjustment to changing circumstances.
Childish Behavior by “Grown-ups”
The person who progresses steadily from childhood into adulthood shifts gradually and quite normally with the situations of life. Sometimes, however, a person will meet rebuffs, disappointments, failure, or tragedy with regressive behavior.
Janet Dean keeps an immaculate house–-but her method is to “clam up” if someone walks across her carpet with dusty shoes. Her husband, who is not so fussy about how the house looks, has learned that he is better off if he spends his spare time tinkering with his tools in the basement instead of sitting in the living room. He doesn’t want to run the risk of upsetting his wife.
Mrs. Dean rules the roost; she controls a big, strong, rugged man by the simple device of resorting to a childish form of behavior–-pouting.
Jim Carver appears to be a placid man. But those who know him intimately are fully aware that if things go against his liking, he will lose his temper. As his associates give in to his demands, it may appear that they agree with him. But all they are doing is preventing a nasty storm from developing. Hence, he controls a situation by merely threatening to regress to childish behavior.
A business executive came running down one of the long corridors of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Breathlessly he approached the agent at the gate, presented his ticket, and inquired if his plane had departed. The agent shook his head; the executive was too late.
“That’s my plane out there, isn’t it?” he demanded, pointing to a jet on the concrete apron. Yes, it was his plane. But all preparations had been made for departure and the jet was beginning to taxi away from the boarding site.
“Maybe you don’t know who I am,” said the man. He was an important officer in a large corporation. The agent said he was sorry, but there was nothing he could do. Then, with perhaps 100 persons looking on, the executive exploded.
“I warn you, if you don’t get me on that plane, I’ll personally see that your airline suffers where it hurts–right in the pocketbook! And I’ll see that you’re the first to suffer.”
The executive worked himself into a frenzy, embarrassing himself in front of the agent and spectators. But his blustering behavior did nothing for him–-except to chip away at his own self-respect.
Sometimes regressive behavior works; sometimes it doesn’t. But even when it succeeds in achieving an objective, it leaves the one who uses it with at least a vague disappointment in himself.
Many of the unhappy people who seek the help of a counselor are getting all they want; but they wake up to the fact that they are out on a limb alone thanks to their childish behavior. Other people avoid or ignore them. Some put up with them for the sake of politeness, or because they have something to gain for their tolerance.
Getting your own way by hysteria, by bullying, by vengeful silence, by cleverness and scheming does not give you contentment. Yet how often we attempt to get our own way by any means we think will work.