Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior: A Classroom-Based Crisis Prevention (Part 2)

by Fernando Perfas

| Photo courtesy of Steelcase.com

(Second of 2 parts) This brings us back to our discussion on addiction. Individuals who suffer from problems with emotional regulation are prone to substance abuse and other risky and self-destructive behaviors not necessarily for the psychoactive high they offer but as a means of emotional regulation. They find negative and even positive emotions difficult to manage without help from drugs or brain-chemical-inducing behaviors. Unfortunately, over reliance on these strategies bring their own unintended consequences, such as addiction or delinquency, if not death. If we look at behavioral patterns involve in addiction and criminality they don’t differ much. They spawn a vicious cycle that is difficult to break. Individuals caught in this web are compelled to keep spinning the same self-destructive behavior.

To sum up, substance use and similar self-defeating behaviors are symptoms of the individual’s difficulties in emotional regulations. In this context, substance use is an attempt to cope or manage difficult emotions or situations. Our ability to adapt to the demands of our social environment and maintain a healthy level of functioning throughout life is determined early in life by how secure the attachment we develop towards our caregiver. Adequate attachment to the mother or caregiver as infant teaches us how to self-regulate and sets the blueprint of our future social relationships. Barring critical adverse life experiences, and with a healthy dose of resilience and supportive relationships, many of us are able to weather the vicissitudes of life. Some are not so lucky.

“Our ability to adapt to the demands of our social environment and maintain a healthy level of functioning throughout life is determined early in life by how secure the attachment we develop towards our caregiver.”

Human evolution has equipped both mother and newborn with “instincts” to make mother and child attachment inevitable. However, natural and human events can interfere with this process. Wars or civil unrests have torn children from their mothers. Domestic violence has wrecked havoc on many homes and left both mothers and children traumatized. Poverty has caused families to break up or has left parents unable to adequately provide for children. These are tragedies often beyond the victims’ control. Those endowed with resilience may prevail and beat the odds, but then again, only a few have the gift.

From the inter-disciplinary insights that have been provided, there is little doubt that psychosocial conditions are powerful causal factors of substance use, traumatization, and delinquent behavior. Although easy access to drugs contributes to the problem, it is worth our time to look deeper into the factors that influence human choice. What drives some to engage in self-defeating behaviors at a great cost? The answers will guide our decision to come up with a reasonable focal point of interventions. In a country like the Philippines, where currently a brutal war on drugs is being waged, conditions are rife for an epidemic level of drug abuse and criminality to evolve. For better employment a significant number of families have at least one parent spending several years overseas to support families back home. What are the unintended consequences for this?

Imagine the emotional toll this takes on the children and the mother who is single-handedly raising a family. How about children left under the care of relatives? They grow up barely knowing their parents. How many broken marriages have resulted from this arrangement? Among the countless poor, parents often spend considerable amount of time trying to scratch a living and leaving their children alone to fend for themselves. Conversely, there are many out-of-school young children trying to make a living to support their sickly and elderly parents. Consider the road traffic in most big cities where the commute to work takes up half of the day. The average homes with both parents working have very little time left after work to spend with children or have dinner together most of the week. How can families raise healthy and happy children when most live to work and children grow up spending more time with social media?

“Given that students spend considerable time in school next to home, teachers technically become second parents or shall we say surrogate parents. Schools are tasked not only to nurture the mind but also to educate the heart. Unfortunately, it is the academic part of teaching that is disproportionately emphasized and less on character building.”

When homes and families fail to provide adequate parenting the psychosocial causal factors of drug use, traumatization, and juvenile delinquency increase. When homes fail, the second line of defense is the school as the bastion of moral education. Given that students spend considerable time in school next to home, teachers technically become second parents or shall we say surrogate parents. Schools are tasked not only to nurture the mind but also to educate the heart. Unfortunately, it is the academic part of teaching that is disproportionately emphasized and less on character building.

A more balanced approached is needed. To change this, an adequate learning environment must be organized where teachers are engaged fully with their students as caring adult role-models and resource persons. The task of the teachers is to facilitate the emergence of a safe, caring learning environment in the classroom where students are active participants in the process. True learning occurs in a positive relationship-based context where students are intellectually and emotionally engaged within a safe and supportive classroom and school community.

“My proposal for a school-based drug, trauma, and delinquency prevention is not a far-fetched idea. What it requires is simply a paradigm shift in the role and attitude of educators.”

For the alienated students who do not get enough attention at home, the school or the streets is often the last place where they hope to get some recognition. If we examined the lives of students who committed suicide or those involved in school mass shootings we would find souls craving for attention and whose lives were devoid of deep social connection. Their gory way of asking for help is also their final solution to an unbearable loneliness. It is a form of suicide with a macabre social undertone: If I cannot join you, you join me.

My proposal for a school-based drug, trauma, and delinquency prevention is not a far-fetched idea. What it requires is simply a paradigm shift in the role and attitude of educators.

Related article: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior: A Classroom-Based Crisis Prevention (Part 1)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at fbperfas@gmail.com.

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