To the Editor:
After practicing psychotherapy for 50 years, including running a correctional institution for delinquent youth, I have had a lot of experience with clients diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. To qualify for this diagnosis, the defiant behavior has to be displayed in many areas of the person’s life and lead to problems in their relationships, employment, etc.
Everyone shows occasional oppositional or defiant behavior in their life. Most often this behavior pops up when a person feels threatened, scared or out of control and the most frequent response is anger. We gravitate toward anger because it is a stronger emotion than fear, crying or intimidation.
Adolescents show this behavior most often because the sophistication of expressing other emotions and the ability to talk about them is limited. If other skills are not developed, then anything that is experienced as a threat to one’s control, is met with defiance and opposition. This creates an illusion of control, but severely limits the ability to consider other options or even consider that you may be wrong. A phrase used by such a person is “I won’t ……., even if it kills me.”
What is amazing to me is the fact that at an unconscious level, the person knows they are being self-destructive, but can’t back down from the defiant position. In counseling, this behavior is modified only when the person wants something more or is fearful of losing something.
If a high school student wants to graduate, he must learn to manage his fighting behaviors. If an alcoholic wants to stay married, he has to change is defiant behavior to his wife’s nagging him about his drinking. Much of the misinformation about the COVID virus revolves around the terrible things that could happen to you, if you take the shot. One way to handle that fear is to be oppositional and defiant to those who push you to get a shot. That defiance is coined in the phrase, “I want my freedom to choose.”
This defiance will continue until there is something else more important that the person wants. We now see unvaccinated people pleading for a shot while in the hospital fighting for life, but it is too late. The defiance may change when their behavior causes a family members sickness, they lose their job because they won’t’ get vaccinated or they can’t go to concerts or restaurants. In some instances, they are charged more for health insurance.
Unfortunately some politicians see this defiance as a base for their political future. It is easier to stir up people’s defiance, than their empathy. When oppositional defiant feelings are driving behavior, facts don’t matter.