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Threat principle


Principles > Threat principle

Principle | How it works | So what?



If my deep needs are threatened, I will act to protect them.

How it works

A threat works by attacking a deep needs. Needs are so fundamental that, when they are threatened, we forget our higher aspirations and quickly act to protect ourselves.

Threats may include that of physical punishment, but more usually they are cognitive and social in nature. One of the biggest such threats is that of social exclusion, which affects our belonging needs.

In particular, threats act on our sense of control, as the person doing the threatening is effectively taking control of our lives and preventing us from controlling our own destiny.

Behavioral change

Threats do not change minds, but they are often very effective at changing how people act, at least in the short term.

Threats are used at least by the criminal classes and those who lack the finer subtleties, as an effective method of coercion. If your or your family may be harmed, then you will go to great lengths to protect them.

Threats are also surprisingly common in such as family situations. Parents who are tired or stressed and want children to 'behave' will use many variants on the threat. Children of course learn this behavior and use it back with parents and also with peers and other people. And so it goes on.

The backlash

The problems with threats is that is can cause a tremendous backlash in terms of the anger and other negative emotions that are aroused. Where a trust is betrayed, such as when a confidence is used against a person, their anger and hate can be very significant.

So what?

You can use threats to cause short-term behavioral change, but be very aware that it can have a significant negative effect, including a long-term need for vengeance and subtle acts of revenge.

See also

Hurt and Rescue, Needs, Control

Theories about how we handle discomfort

Theories about power

Theories about resistance

Theories about being contrary

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