Reinforcement is a term used in operant conditioning to refer to anything that increases the likelihood that a response will occur. If every time you stay home on Sunday night your child performs better on the tests on Monday, and you are more likely to stay home because of that, then your child performing well on Monday tests reinforces your staying home the night before. When other people reinforce you for being with them, you want to socialize more.
There are many reinforcers for behavior. Among the naturally occurring reinforcers, social reinforcement is one of the most commonly occurring. Social reinforcers come from other people and include smiles, hugs, praise and attention. Social reinforcers are powerful. Acceptance and approval of others means you are part of the group/family and communicate that you are a lovable person.
For emotionally sensitive children, it’s not so easy to get that acceptance and approval. Your parents likely did not understand that you were an emotionally sensitive. When you showed emotional responses that were more intense than those of other children, your family probably did not know how to respond. They may have said, “Stop being so sensitive,” or “You’re being a baby,” or “It wasn’t that bad.” That’s invalidation of your internal experience.
If invalidation of your internal experience happened repeatedly, you learned that there was something wrong with you and that you didn’t fit in with other people. Being social wasn’t reinforced. Instead it was a negative experience.
As an adult, you may avoid social gatherings because of the experience you had as a child. You believe that you don’t fit in or that something is wrong with you. You fear relationships because you expect that others will judge you and perhaps reject you. You may not be aware that your thoughts come from your early experience when others didn’t understand your emotional sensitivity.
You can’t change history, but you can change your self-invalidation and your self-judgments. While others still may not understand your sensitivity, you can be understanding of yourself. When you accept yourself, you can help others understand too.
Starting May 1 at www.dbtskillscoaching.com, I’m focusing on how to find the life you want to live and then how to get there from where you are. In June I have a webinar I’m excited about called, “Help! I Hate Conflict.” You can sign up by clicking on Special Topics at www.dbtskillscoaching.com. Join us!
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