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Part 2

How does understanding the human survival response people’s values and their link to human behaviour


I will come to that……..


Lets first discuss the drivers of human behaviour a little further. Humans are complex beings we know – however the fundamentals of our behaviours are well known, we share a similarity - we all have values. These values play an enormous role in directing what we feel, think and how we behave.


Once we appreciate the fundamentals of behaviour, and have taken the time to get to know someone’s priorities in life, and their values – we can pretty predict much of their behaviour under many circumstances (those with psychopathology aside).

Fundamentally it works like this:


1. Our values shape our emotional response to events

2. The emotions we feel generate thoughts

3. Our thoughts then lead us to behave in certain ways - there is no behaviour without underlying emotion/s.


We can train ourselves (often with therapist assistance) to “do” certain behaviours to generate positive thoughts and emotions – when we do things we enjoy, we will have positive thoughts, which will generate positive emotions, which in turn makes it more likely we will generate further positive behaviours (ie if something ‘feels’ good we are more likely to do it again). We can also generate negative emotions and thoughts from negative behaviours, so practising positive behaviours is better for our mental health.


Negative behaviours are also 'triggered' in us from external events, so understanding what is a negative trigger to someone can assist us in our communication and interactions with people. Doing something that 'breaches'someones values is often a trigger to a strong negative emotional response.

The diagram below provides an overview to demonstrate this interplay.

Have you ever considered why you are so significantly impacted emotionally by what may be an ostensibly minor infraction by someone such as ……….


1. The driver of the car that pushes in front of you in the car park

2. The person that takes your idea as their own

3. The retail assistant that serves another customer, even though you were there first?


Each one of these acts breaches a value you hold – possibly respect, fairness, or integrity?

Values provide a much stronger driver of behaviour than we may be conscious of

The more strongly a value is held by a person, the stronger the negative emotional response to its breach, (and also the stronger the positive response is to the value being positively rewarded). Values are laid down in us through culture, upbringing, religion, extended family and friends. As a result, our values can be extremely deeply entrenched and our emotional and behavioural response to their breach can be very strong. Our values are incorporated into our decision making on a daily basis.


Some values are so deeply entrenched that they effectively become laid down in our limbic system and form part of our survival response to a threat.


This brings us back to John and why he didn’t run in the face of being assaulted.......


In John’s case – he had a very strong value of work, and in his mind that shop was his sole responsibility to protect. His values from his upbringing (deeply entrenched in his memories) could not conceive of leaving the shop, just as the “Captain goes down with his ship” his brain could not choose running from the threat and abandoning his responsibility. (John was physically fit and could have physically fled if he had needed to). Hence, in the face of the intense threat, Johns survival brain was not able to choose fight (as discussed in part 1) or flight, so John froze.


Another person may have not had the same work value as John and their survival brain may have made a different choice in the face of the same threat. So personal values are critical in the behaviour our survival brain will choose when under threat, and critical to the variation in choice of response we will observe between people.

We can never assume someone’s behaviour is driven by the same values as our own – doesn’t make one person right and the other wrong – it just makes them different.
Understanding a person's values can assist us to comprehend their behaviour when it is vastly to different to ours.

So – if we can connect with people – and understand their VALUES and personal needs, we can positively reinforce these values and manage our behaviour towards them to limit the potential for inadvertently breaching their values. We can also drive more positive behaviours by positively reinforcing their values. This connection enables us to develop rapport with people, connect with them and drive the behaviours that are helpful to their recovery.


However, understanding a persons values takes time and enquiry, and can only be achieved through individualised investigation and program development that provides the time to connect with them.


If we want to maximally benefit our clients ability to understand the impact of their trauma, and their response so we can promote their recovery to health and work, we must take the time to understand what values drive them. It’s an integral piece of the RTW imperative.


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