January 20, 2015
Written by Maximus Peperkamp, M.S. Verbal Engineer
Noxious Verbal Behavior (NVB), the way of communicating which causes and maintains all our problems, is negatively reinforced, that is, by acting out and by misbehaving, we presumably get what we want. Since everybody is doing pretty much the same thing, we are almost constantly reinforced for our NVB. The instantly gratifying effects of NVB have kept it going since time memorial and from childhood to adulthood to old age. It is no coincidence that old people are often as demanding as children. As a caregiver, this writer once witnessed the helplessness and frustration of family members at the forceful NVB of a husband/father, who depended on his daughter and his wife.
This writer was at the bedside of this dying man, whose daughter had let him live his last days at her house. His legs could no longer carry him and the only way to get around was in a wheel chair. He would scream and curse at his wife and his daughter and he would demand their help to get him to stand up, which would make him fall to the ground immediately. His wife, who was also temporarily living with the daughter, told me he had always had his way. Although he had been unable to walk for a couple of years, he didn’t believe he was unable to walk and he blamed everyone for imprisoning him his bed. As it was so hard to go against him, everyone gave in and so he actually believed his legs were still good. He was supposedly demented, but when he was feeling at ease, he was conscious, talkative and quite enjoyable. Even till the very end, his wife and his daughter never told him he couldn’t walk. They tried to placate him and calm him down.
It was astounding to see how these two women had been extensions of this man. They also instructed this writer not to tell him that he couldn’t walk and they kept talking with him in a way as if he was still going to get better. The man, however, often opened up to this writer and told him how hard he had worked his whole life to make money to raise his big family. He would often cry and he went back and forth between glorifying the days that he was still on top of things and when he could no longer walk. One moment, he would laugh and talk and recall his happy life, but at another, he would shut down and scream and curse uncontrollably, swing his arms wildly and say the most horrible things about his wife and his children. He refused to take anti-anxiety medication and scolded the nurse, who was trying to make him see the benefits of it.
Upon entering his room, this writer asked how things were going and he’d say “Hit me over the head with a baseball bat and get this damn thing over with” and burst out laughing. The daughter and his wife would hear this and get upset with him for saying that and they would again get into another ugly argument him. One day the daughter tried to tell her father what she really felt about his abusive behavior, but when she did, she was screaming at him while he was lying still in his bed. It was terrible. When she was done, he he sat up in his bed and told her that he was getting up. Afraid that her father might fall out of bed, the daughter pushed him back and he hit her hard and told her not to stop him. This writer stepped in and the old man made it seem as if he was swinging his fist at him, but he was only jokingly gesturing. He said he was proud he had made his daughter back off.
This dying old man is a good metaphor for NVB. He had been nasty and bossy and demanding his entire life and so had his wife. This didn’t mean, however, that there was no love, no Sound Verbal Behavior (SVB). The only few moments of SVB was when other family members were around, just sitting there and letting him be the center of attention. Only then was there enough comfort for this old man to enjoy himself and be at peace. This exactly describes what is needed for us to have SVB. If all the family members would have been able to let him have SVB more often, they would have had it more often as well, but since they didn’t know about SVB, they kept on going with NVB to the very end.
In every seminar this writer has given there were individuals who demand more attention than others. By giving attention to those who asked the most attention, this writer was able to discover that SVB always generalizes from those who need the most attention, to those who need it less.
Back in the days, in the family in which he grew up, this writer's demanding father also always needed to be the center of the attention. His inability to give his father what he wanted led to disapproval, rejection and abandonment. Similarly to the situation with the dying man and his wife and daughter, this writer failed to please his father. His failure was his father’s success. His father’s NVB could only continue because his wife tried to please him with SVB. As the oldest son, this writer tried the hardest to gain his approval and consequently he failed. Other family members failed as well, but not as bad as he did. It is probably because of his failure that he discovered SVB.
While reading the book "Running out of Time" this author understood that SVB is explained by the conditioning effects of the "backward chaining procedure" (Ledoux, 2014, p. 321). Various “explicit and directly accessible behaviors” can be viewed as a chain of preceding behaviors which ends with SVB. In backward chaining, we link stimuli and responses into a chain, but, unlike the forward chaining procedure, we start at the end of the chain and work our way forward towards the beginning of the chain. Our final SVB response comes about due to “evocation training” in which Voice II, which at first is an unconditioned stimulus, later becomes a conditioned stimulus. We produce Voice II without learning, when we are feeling safe, calm, at ease and happy. Each time an aspect of an earlier SVB response is reinforced in the presence of this Voice II-stimulus, this stimulus becomes an evocative stimulus for the SVB response. We describe this as “the dual functioning of a stimulus”, that is, Voice II functions as a reinforcing stimulus, but also an evocative stimulus. Thus, the Voice II-stimulus “becomes a conditioned reinforcing stimulus that can condition another response by following the other response.” (Ledoux, 2014, p.322). Moreover, “When it follows the other [SVB] response, which it reinforces, it also evokes the orgininal [SVB] response.” (Ledoux, 2014, p.322) (text and italics added). So, SVB starts with the reinforcing effects of a Voice II-stimulus, which is produced by the one who is teaching SVB. The reinforcing effects of Voice II are experienced by the verbalizer as well as by the mediator. The longer the chain, the more reinforcing opportunities we have and the more pronounced the evocative effect of the Voice II-stimulus, which is also produced by others, will be.
So, initially, there is only the Voice II-stimulus of the teacher, who is the verbalizer. The mediator, who becomes the verbalizer, will then recognize his or her own voice as a Voice II-stimulus. This generalization process can be enhanced if more mediators become verbalizers and experience their voice as a Voice II-stimulus. However, the SVB that will begin to occur is limited to the extent that new SVB verbalizers don’t have enough ways of describing it to keep it going. Each time the new verbalizer describes it or hears others describe it, it becomes easier for everyone to continue it. This is why toward the end of each seminar all the participants fluidly express SVB. What was rehearsed was enhanced and enhanced, until it went by itself. After enough backward chaining, SVB happens effortlessly.
When this writer stumbled on SVB, he was surprised how easy it was to lose it. One moment it was there and the next it was gone. At that time in his life this writer was often by himself and so he was able to go back into his room where he would re-establish the voice which, according to him, sounded good. After he had done that, he would again go to others and try to have conversation with them with that voice only to lose it again. Again, he would go back to his room to listen to his self-talk and he let himself know what happened. Also, while talking with others and while developing early versions of SVB, he would receive agreeable feedback from others about what had happened with him. So, it was both the feedback he was able to give to himself, but which didn’t occur when he was with others, but it was also the feedback which did occur when he was with others with whom he was discovering the beginnings of SVB.