Go Ahead, Be Bad, It's Good for You
by Bill Harris <>http://www.centerpointe.com>

     For some of you, this article is going to be a stretch.  For
others, it will be a gift of freedom.  Those of you for whom it is a
stretch probably need the gift of freedom the most.  Life is ironic at

     I just met a very interesting man.  His name is Dr.  Al Seibert,
and he has spent his life researching the subject of resiliency.  He
often talks about what he calls "the survivor personality."

     We had a very electric, idea-packed lunch a few weeks ago,
because we found we had been coming at the same topic from different
directions and had much insight to offer each other.

     As you may know, almost everything Centerpointe does is based on
the work of Ilya Prigogine regarding how complex systems (like human
beings) reorganize at higher levels of functioning.  When this
happens, you indeed do become more resilient, more able to deal with
whatever comes up in your environment.  Another way to put it is that
you gain a greater flexibility, where fewer things can throw you
off-course, off balance.  You become a survivor, to use Dr.  Seibert's

     Dr.  Seibert has identified a very interesting aspect of this
idea of resiliency -- a group of people who have little flexibility,
who have trouble dealing with change, and who are often (quite
frankly) a pain in the ass to be around.

     Who are these people?  You'll never guess.

     They are people who were brought up to be...


     Dr.  Seibert calls it "the good child handicap." Most parents
want their children to grow up to be decent, well-liked, and
responsible.  They don't want their children to turn out "bad." But
efforts to create a "good child" unfortunately (according to Dr.
Seibert's lifetime of research), often produce an adult who is not
able to cope well with life.  Such a person is, in fact, very often an
energy draining "pain" for others to live and work with.

     Are YOU good?

     Most people who are survivors, who have this quality of
resiliency, of flexibility, have a paradoxical "two-sides-of-the-same
coin" collection of traits: selfish-unselfish, pessimist-optimist,
sensitive-tough, strong-gentle, distant-friendly, and so on.  They
have emotional flexibility.  In a given situation they have a much
bigger repertoire of possible coping skills.  They can flow with what
is happening much more easily.  They have fewer rules -- they make up
their own rules as they go along, to fit the situation.

     Part of the problem is that most "good child" messages come in
the form of prohibitions -- what the parents want the child to NOT
become or NOT do.  They use "bad" people as anti-models of how to
behave, and think they must eliminate and prohibit all traces of bad
ways of thinking, feeling, and acting.

     A good child is one who is:

     * not negative * not angry * not selfish * not dishonest * not
self-centered or prideful * not rebellious

     What the child hears is:

     * Don't talk back * Be polite * Be good * Stop pouting * Hang up
your clothes * Don't whine * Don't hit * Don't fight * Share with
others * Tell the truth * Stop complaining * Smile * Don't cry * Stop
asking questions * Don't be stuck-up * Don't be angry * Don't be
selfish * Don't chew with your mouth open * Don't pick your nose

     And so on.

     Many are "don'ts," others are "shoulds." All are rules, and the
message is "live life by these rules."

     Unfortunately, being a good, rule-bound child prevents most
people from coping with rapid change, unexpected difficulties, and
extreme crises.

     Here is part of a letter Dr.  Seibert received from Bill Garleb,
an ex-prisoner-of-war, after Garleb had read his description of the
"good-child" pattern:

     "My need to comment is so strong I could not pass it up.  When I
went to parochial school, as a child, if you changed your mind and
could see the other side of something, they accused you of being
inconsistent, or "thinking like a woman." In other words, they
programmed you to be polarized and one-sided, the opposite of what a
survivor personality needs to be to cope.  I am overjoyed that I have
learned that being biphasic is good.  I like myself better now.  It is
important to note that, although I was trained and programmed as a
child not to use biphasic traits, when my survival was threatened, I
relied on basic, inborn traits and ignored conditioning."

     To survive as an adult, Garleb had to go against how he was
raised.  His experience is not unusual among survivors.  But many
people spend their entire life trying to behave like a good child.
And just as Prohibition created serious societal problems in the
1920s, children raised with inner prohibitions cause many problems for

     Some typical actions of a "good" child trying to function in an
adult body are as follows.  They:

     * Smile when upset * Rarely let you know they are angry at you *
Seldom make selfish requests * Point out your faults, saying "I'm only
telling you for your own good." * Give "should" instructions to others
* Get upset with you and then say "You really hurt me." * Smile and
compliment people to their faces but say critical things behind their
backs * Alert and warn others about "bad" people * Cannot accept
compliments easily or agree they are good at something * When
confronted about something hurtful they said, they emphasize their
good intentions by saying, "But I meant well." * Fear being regarded
as hurtful, tough, selfish, insensitive, or uncaring

     The irony is they were raised from childhood to be emotional
liars.  They had to lie about their emotions -- it was what their
parents demanded of them.  Rather than being emotionally honest, they
had to learn to present the "right" emotions and suppress the "wrong"

     The result is they come across as two-faced.  They smile and
agree, then criticize in private.  When asked to express a contrary
opinion, they are unable to do so -- until they are in private.

     Instead of making open requests (which might be seen as being
selfish), they hint at what they want.  Appeals to get them to ask for
what they want, or admit (normal) selfish desires, will have little
effect.  Though they act in selfish ways, they cannot allow awareness
of their selfishness into their consciousness.

     They must make sure you do not have the wrong impression of them.
To admit normal selfish or angry feelings would be to act like their
anti-model: bad.

     Here is why these "good" people drain energy our of others and
are such a pain to live and work with:

     * They do not give you useful feedback.  Even if they are
obviously upset or angry, they can't admit it and talk about it.  If
they do admit it, they have a victim reaction (whiny or angry).  They
blame you.

     * They are deceptive.  they can act in ways that are harmful to
you but convince themselves it is for your own good.

     * Their efforts to have others have only good feelings about them
often causes the opposite reaction to occur.  If they get a negative
reaction, they work even harder to get the positive reaction they want
-- by doing more of what caused the negative reaction in the first
place.  their efforts then cause even stronger negative reactions,
which leads them to try even harder -- and so on.  They do not have
the flexibility to try something else, but instead persist with their
initial behavior.

     * There is a hidden threat under their efforts to make you see
them as good.  If you react negatively to their ways of trying to
control what others (or you) think and feel about them, they may
decide you are a bad person and punish you.

     * They avoid empathy.  They become slippery when you try to
discuss an upsetting incident with them.  They may send you reeling
with a sudden accusation.  Later, they may say "I don't remember
saying that," or give themselves a quick excuse.

     * They have mastered the art of being emotionally fragile.  No
matter how carefully you try to find a way to get them to listen, have
empathy, or observe themselves, they will find a way to become upset.
Then they try to make you feel guilty for upsetting them.

     * The "good" person cannot distinguish between constructive and
destructive criticism.  they react to unpleasant feedback as though it
is destructive and has a harmful effect.  They believe if you really
care for them you will not confront them about their upsetting
actions.  (This is much different from the flexible, survivor
personality who believes that if you care for them you will confront
them about their upsetting action so they can learn from the
experience.) This is why a "good" person remains at the emotional
level of a child throughout life.

     * They feel unloved and unappreciated.  Even though you give them
lots of love and attention, they experience very little.  They can't
take it in.

     * They are self-made martyrs.  They blame you for the suffering
you have caused them, then forgive you so they can feel emotionally
superior to you.

     * Confronting them makes things worse.  They cannot handle a
confrontation about what they do because the victim style is the best
they can manage.  They have almost no capacity for self-observation or
for conscious choices about thinking, feeling, or acting in different

     The challenge for someone raised to be "good" is to develop new,
additional ways of thinking, feeling and acting.  This requires
courage because it requires stepping outside the artificial shell of
"goodness" into risky, even frightening territory.

     Anyone trying to act like a good child is vulnerable to being
overwhelmed when faced with challenges beyond the capacities of the
"act" they were trained to perform and the rules they were trained to
follow.  This is why "good" middle class young people, when faced with
real world problems, are so vulnerable to cults.  After years of being
praised for good conduct in school, it feels familiar to again sit
passively and listen to an authoritative person tell them how to
think, feel, and act in order to be a new kind of "good" person.

     Having a flexible, resilient personality, on the other hand, is
not a way of being that can be learned from someone else.  It is not
an act designed to replace the old one.  It is, rather, the emergence
of innate abilities made possible by learning from experience and
flexibly responding to whatever is happening.


     It would be a good exercise to consider to what degree you fit
this profile.  How rule-bound are you?

     I will be sharing more about this topic in the future, as I learn
more.  For now, though, it's good to know that to whatever degree you
were trained to be "good" and to follow the rules, there is hope!

Bill Harris 

Homer Wilson Smith   Clear Air, Clear Water,  Art Matrix - Lightlink
(607) 277-0959       A Green Earth and Peace. Internet Access, Ithaca NY
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