Oct 272012

Behavioral modification through reinforcement is something we all learn from our earliest sentient moments. As babies we learn that if we cry, we get attention. As children, we learn that if someone is doing something that hurts us, physically or emotionally, that yelling, screaming, crying, hitting or biting can modify the behavior of those who are inflicting pain. Arguably, most of us become experts at providing ‘negative reinforcement’ and few of us learn to use positive reinforcement.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches that the proper use of positive reinforcement can produce near miraculous results when interfacing with BPD sufferers. In practice, positive reinforcement is far more effective than negative reinforcement when dealing with virtually any creature, be it human, canine, etcetera (Cats are excluded from this generalization as it would appear they just don’t give a crap about anything we say or do).

Positive reinforcement is hard work, at least it is for many of us.  In general, most human beings have pronounced narcissistic tendencies, meaning we focus more on our own wants, desires, vanity and ego than we focus on those feelings in other people.  Many of us who have sadistic tendencies might even enjoy providing others with negative reinforcement. You know if you are one of these people!

Let’s face it, it is far easier to abandon someone, call them names, lock them in an attic or use a cattle prod on them than it is to try and walk in their shoes. Some of you are nodding your heads yes to this approach, admittedly, from time to time it does sound appealing. However, you have to ask yourself, “Just how much success have I had with the negative approach?” when dealing with someone suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder. If you are being honest, the odds are your success rate is abysmal.

Albert Einstein, among his many brilliant revelations, offered our society a pithy definition of insanity:

Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.

The goal for all of us who deal with BPD sufferers is to establish a pattern of rational communication leading to productive results. Having established the value of positive reinforcement, illustrating said technique is our next step.

In the humble opinion of your author, The Big Bang Theory is one of the funniest and most insightful television series ever produced. During one episode, Sheldon, the somewhat eccentric (crazy) theoretical physicist demonstrates the effectiveness of frequent positive reinforcement and even illustrates a somewhat harmless but remedial use of negative reinforcement. I hope you enjoy this clip as much as I do.

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