Maladaptive Behaviour

In Carl Jung’s model of psychology, the human psyche is a self-regulating adaptive system. In his view, it is when we fail to adapt to changes and challenges that our lives become more complicated.

If someone is avoiding adapting to new and changed circumstances, this results in psychic energy becoming inhibited. From this position, other problems are likely to develop, which can manifest in neurotic symptoms.

Neurosis (distortions in how we look at the world) can, in turn, result in emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, and personality disorders. Neurotic solutions make our lives more complex.

A symptom such as; a sleep problem, or an obsessional problem, or intolerance of other people’s behaviour, or a food disorder, can be all understood as signs that some kind of psychological maladaptation is active, and healthy adaptation is being restricted.

Food disorders and maladaptive choices

When we try to understand the motivations behind a food disorder, we are trying to understand something that is a complicated and obscure psychological maladaptation. The decision to manage weight and food isn’t necessarily a behavioural issue, it is a complicated and maladaptive response to a problem the food disordered mind is grappling with.

  • Counselling and psychotherapy can help us try to face and adapt to the problems and challenges we are struggling with.
  • Finding a way to adapt can help us to live better and break the cycle of maladaption.

We all adapt to change in different ways and at different speeds 

  • One of the key issues we have faced as we respond to the threat of the coronavirus covid-19, is how to adapt to the changes that have been imposed on our lives. 

For some of us adapting to new tasks and problems comes more naturally than it does to others.  We may all be seeing this in our homes, in our friendship groups.  We all respond to change in our own way.

Our background, our past, not just our distant childhood past, but our experiences in adolescence and later, are all factors and indicators of how we tend to adapt or turn to maladaptive solutions. The past has an impact on us.  Some of us will tend to bury our heads in the sand, rather than try to look at situations more directly.

The coronavirus covid 19 crisis, with the particular demands it is placing on us may, for some people, stimulate maladaptive responses.

We can’t change the past, or our circumstances, but we may be able to find ways to live with it more constructively, we may find ways to adapt

  • Problems can arise when we haven’t acknowledged the adaptations that we are required to make, or worked through the impact of past events
  • We may have tried to live as though events had no effect upon us, as though no adaptation is required.  That may work well during settled times but fail to be the case during times of stress and crisis.
  • Equally a poor adaptive decision that we made in the past may yet come back to haunt us now or in the future.

When we avoid a necessary adaptation we often create further problems for ourselves. We might see this in a family, where one person avoiding a problem leads to all of the group being compromised.

Shakespeare built plays around such issues. Succession and inheritance in King Lear, traumatic bereavement and betrayal in Hamlet. The opening setup involves maladaptive solutions that need to be resolved into constructive positions.

For us it might not be too late to adapt and avoid tragedy.

Client example – adapting to life after parental divorce

“When I was a teenager my life changed overnight when my father announced he was leaving my mother. I don’t think any of my siblings saw it coming. After he left he became very distant. I missed him and needed to talk it over with him. I needed to understand what has changed. He wasn’t prepared to discuss it and I think this had a bad effect on me. I went off the rails, my education failed. I think it must have been obvious that I needed some help and attention but no one got involved. I think if we had been able to speak about it, it would have changed everything for me. I would still have been sad about it, but I think I would have been able to adapt. Without talking it over I wasn’t able to do that.


Old self-destructive solutions and maladaptations

Finding a way to confront our problems may enable us to avoid self-destructive behaviours and responses.  

Generally, our emotional issues can be worked with and managed. Failing to do so can, maladaptive solutions can lead to more of our energy being taken away from the task of adapting.

Instead of finding healthy ways to adapt we do something less helpful; something that creates further complications for us.

Current trends to understand psychological issues from a behavioural perspective have led to a glut of advice on creating behaviours and thinking exercises that are meant to help us manage and adapt. They may be sufficient for you.  But you may need more help. 

You may find that talking about what you have gone through helps you to adapt

This is one of the interesting things about the psyche; when we make the effort to pay attention to our problems, when we stop digging ourselves further into a maladaptive position, then we find our lives start to become simpler and more constructive. We start to adapt.

You may find that having the chance to speak confidentially about your concerns lifts a weight from your mind, and without that weight, you instinctively know what adaptations are needed.

Our past, with its particular history of adaptations is always part of us.  The only way we stop maladaptive solutions exerting too much control over us is to become more aware of them.

I have twenty years experience of working with people who are trying to find new and healthier ways to adapt and live well.

Contact me

Having the chance to speak in a confidential setting can be the start of a new successful adaptation. It may allow you to see what constructive choices you are free to make now.

Out of this, you may be able to develop a clearer understanding of how your problems have developed, and of what you can do to change things.

I have been working with people on issues such as this for twenty years. 

Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.

Mobile: +44 7980 750376