A psychologist at the prison where I did some volunteer counseling recommended that I read a book in preparation for my work with prison inmates. The book by Robert Hare (1993) titled, Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, is about people with little or no conscience. This book was supposed to prepare me for many of the people I would be working with in prison.
Hare tells the story of convicted murderer Gary Gilmore who was executed in 1977. In an interview, Gilmore was asked why he killed two people: “I wasn’t thinkin’, I wasn’t plannin’, I was just doin.’” He said later about the murders: “I’m just saying that murder vents rage. Rage is not reason. The murders were without reason” (58).
Gilmore’s belief about why he did things is typical of those who behave in harmful and self-destructive ways. Psychopaths live day-to-day without regard for the future or the negative consequences of their actions.
This kind of thinking is also characteristic of many people who give themselves over to addiction. I once counseled with a woman about her addiction who told me, “I do drugs for the same reason I do sex—I like it.” My goal in counseling was to help her see that it was not in her own best interest to continue her drug habit. At the time, her behavior had brought her poor health, poverty, misery, and prison, but she made no connection between her behavior and her condition. This woman did not like her miserable condition, but she was proud that she never bothered with thinking and planning. Her focus was on doing rather than thinking.
I have also worked with people who understand that their behavior is harmful, but they have no idea why they continue to behave the way they do. I counseled with a young lady in her early twenties who had been in and out of jail all her young life. It seems that once she was around certain people she would behave in self-destructive ways. She was puzzled about this and was wondering if perhaps her behavior was some kind of automatic response to being around her friends. Her opening statement to me was, “I want to know why I do what I do because I am tired of going to jail.”
Her question is the key to solving her problems, and this question is a significant first step toward a solution. Her problem is that she does not recognize that it is her belief about herself and her friends and not her friends that is causing her problems. She falsely believed she was just doing and not thinking, but in this instance, her behavior was connected to her belief about herself. Until she learns to view herself differently, she will continue to behave in harmful ways when she is around certain people. She will continue to have problems until she recognizes that her beliefs are connected to her problems.
In the above examples, there are two major flaws taking place concerning behavior. First, all of the individuals were operating their lives under the mistaken belief that behavior is an automatic response to the events of life. They believe they are helpless to control their behavior because they think it occurs automatically, but the truth is, there are no automatic or predetermined responses to life events.
Notice how this contrasts with present day beliefs about addiction. When people get around alcohol and drugs, or walk into a casino, or see pornography, they believe they suddenly start behaving automatically to their environment. For example, Bob was a man I worked with who came to me because he was discouraged that he had recently gambled away his paycheck at a local casino in Las Vegas. It seems that he just happened to go in a casino right after he got paid and two hours later he was broke. Bob said, “I can’t explain it, something just happened when I walked into that casino, and by the time I realized what was happening, I was broke.” According to him, he was doing rather than thinking, but is this really true?
Actually, his behavior was based on a long history of decision-making over many years. These decisions were choices he made based on certain beliefs at the time, and over the years the behavior that seemed to him to be automatic was really based on his prior beliefs about himself and his environment. Gambling was a way for Bob to escape some of the disappointments he had with his life as well as give him hope that he could find an easy way to become rich and important. The few times he did win reinforced his dream of becoming rich but he always lost his winnings and more as he continued to gamble. Instead of finding a more realistic way of building his self-esteem, he longed for a quick and easy way through gambling. Bob’s faulty thinking allowed him to fall victim to the myth that if you just gamble enough, you will win. The reality is that if you gamble at the slot machines long enough you will always lose everything. In other words, if you win ten million dollars on your first play, you will lose it all back if you continue to gamble. In addition, if you play long enough you win, but you will never win as much as you lose. The good feeling people get when they occasionally win keeps them playing.
The second flaw in thinking in the above examples is the lack of spiritual insight (see chapter 2). These individuals have a very worldly focus that prevents them from standing outside of themselves and viewing things differently. The focus is on immediate gratification without any consideration of future benefits or negative consequences. Never once do these individuals ask, “Is this really in my own best interest?” or “Will this help me reach my future goals of happiness?” Gilmore kills out of rage and Bob gambles to be somebody, but Gilmore does not think about why he is angry and Bob does not consider more realistic ways of building up his self-esteem; instead, both believe they are just doing and not thinking.
People falsely believe they cannot control their behavior because their focus is on the immediate gratification of doing. The more they live like this, the harder it is to see anything outside of the immediate context of their behavior. Concerning people like this, the Bible says, “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (Ephesians 4:19).
J B Myers