Behavioral Psychology

No More Threats

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If you want to improve a relationship that has become dysfunctional a concrete way to go about doing it right now is to firmly decide that you’re not going to make any more threats.

We all use threats from time to time to get what we want in our lives without realizing the deleterious psychological effects they have on the people we care about, especially if these people were victims of abuse in their families of origin. Threats are negative reinforcements, they cause psychological distress regardless of whether or not they are ever carried out, because they create uncertainty and uncertainty creates existential anxiety. Although the threat is ephemeral the emotional state engendered in the other is very real.

Solid relationships are built on the foundations of trust and confidence. Both are eroded by threats. You can’t hope to see the best sides of others when they constantly feel off-balance, wondering if and when the other shoe is going to drop.

Every threat is basically “You’re going to do this or else..” We don’t necessarily want to enact the ‘or else’, we just want the ‘do this’, but even if we get that behavior it comes at the price of planting seeds of distrust and hostility in the other. The goal should always be figuring out ways to use positive reinforcements to get the behaviors we want while avoiding those harmful negative reinforcements that might work in a specific instance in the short-term but always end up causing damage to the relationship as a whole in the long-term.