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The Reality of Pain-Based Behaviours - Craving Peace; Seeking Chaos - Understanding Our Children

Photo by Tammy Gann on Unsplash

by Kerry Orchard

As I find myself sidelined by unexpected injury I have had considerable time to reflect. A colleague, mentor, leader, and friend once told me that I spend more time on self-improvement than anyone he knows and that I’ve done enough. But have I? Recent reflection has given me new insight into my journey from the severe traumas of my childhood to the work I do with students and staff.

As I move through this fifth decade of life, I realize that though I am a highly adaptable and resilient person, these skills came with a cost, and though I see that I utilize them well, this also comes with both a physical and emotional toll. So I started really looking at pain based-behaviour, not just in my students and the staff around me, but in myself. I thought that I had left the past well behind and healed but I notice now, with increased age and knowledge, that there are still lingering aspects of that damage.

Craving peace; seeking chaos. I think that this simple statement is common among childhood survivors. We universally seek a peace we never knew but build our lives around the chaos we did know. Some of us manage it in fairly safe, stable ways, hence not truly noticing what is happening while in others, it is clear the path they are on. Often one of destruction. Understanding, however, brings change and further healing.

So, pain-based behaviour, what is it? At one point in my journey I worked at an exclusive school dedicated to supporting and serving students with severe behavioural challenges and of course, trauma. To understand what pain-based behaviour looks like I offer this story. There was an older child in this school who was very hard to reach and one of the places he felt the safest was in my room. One morning he had a melt down and destroyed the school, threatened staff and in the end the police were called and, sadly, he was taken away.

During this rampage he destroyed everything but my room. On returning from stabilization, we found that he had been struggling with some serious further trauma to his already troubled soul but when asked why he did not harm anything in my room, he replied simply and honestly, “Why would I wreck her stuff, she’s a lover not a hater.”

Staff would often bring students to my room and leave them. When they entered my room they would leave much of their pain-based behaviour at the door. Why is that? I didn’t have less expectation or structure but I also didn’t have expectations that they could not meet. My rules were simpler. I understood them and met them where they were currently with no agenda but to support them. I knew that learning could not happen in the face of crisis. They did not need the shell of those behaviour in that space. It’s simple, there was just no need for them.

Trauma children, children living in dysfunctional situations and poverty don’t act out for fun. They don’t do things because their ultimate goal is to wreak havoc, they are simply leaking the pain that has become who they are. They scream for help in the most unlovable, unkind and disrespectful ways and the world takes it personally. We often blame them for their actions without offering alternatives and expect things from them that ar