Why Do We Behave the Way We Do?


In the mid 80’s, I met Pam Levin, a therapist who was to become one of my mentors. One of the tools I learned from her is called the Think Structure. I have used it in my personal life and with the clients in my therapy practice.  I have found it to be a helpful way for myself and others to gain insight into why we behave the way we do.

Here are the components of the Think Structure:

I feel ___________________________                           (mad, sad or scared)

Because I think that if I ____________                            (your healthy behavior)

I will be _________________________                          (undesired response from parents/others)

Instead of _______________________                          (desired response from parents/others)

So I ____________________________                          (your self-defeating present day behaviors)

When filling out the first part of the Think Structure, it is important to identify the core feeling: mad, sad or scared. Glad is also considered a core feeling but it is unlikely we would be using the Think Structure if glad was what we were feeling.

People often cover their anger with fear or vice versa. We may feel afraid because fear was an acceptable feeling in our family-of-origin and anger was not; or if anger was more acceptable than fear, we may feel angry when we are actually afraid. So it is important to look for the deepest feeling.

Sad is often a learned response that occurs when our anger and fear are not recognized and attended to.  If that happens often enough, we may become discouraged or give up hope. In that case, mad or scared may be the core feeling and sadness/depression may fit best in the last line of the Think Structure.

(Mad, Sad, Scared, and Glad are used for the core feelings in the Think Structure because they are kid words and it is usually a young part of us that is experiencing those feelings.  Having awareness of our “inner child’s” feelings and thoughts can be helpful in completing the Think Structure. )

In filling out the third line of the Think Structure, it is best to use the undesired parental response. There will be times, however, when it was someone other than a parent who responded to us in a way that initiated our self-defeating patterns of living. In those instances, use that person’s actions as the undesired response.)

Some sample think structures:

I feel scared

Because I think that if I say NO

I will be slapped and criticized

Instead of being heard, validated and loved

So I say Yes instead of No, am evasive, lie, and over-do.


I feel scared

Because think that if I put my needs first

I will be accused of being selfish, thoughtless or lazy

Instead of being seen and respected

So I discount my own needs and wants and focus on pleasing others


I feel mad

Because I think that if I share my feelings

I will be ignored or punished

Instead of listened to, comforted, and helped

So I stuff my feelings, get sick, and suffer/pout


You can use the second and fourth line of the Think Structure to create affirmations for yourself.  The affirmations that come from these examples are.

I do say No
I am heard, validated and loved.

I do put my needs first
I am seen and respected

I do share my feelings
I am listened to, comforted and helped

Consider using the Think Structure to see how the self-defeating attitudes and behaviors you have today may have stemmed from childhood experiences. Create an affirmation from any Think Structures you complete.

I’d love to hear about insights you had as the result of doing this process.


Written for: Challenges for Growth Prompt #4: Think Before Saying Yes or No

16 thoughts on “Why Do We Behave the Way We Do?

  1. This is brilliant! I work with clients in a similar way during Hypnotherapy but this is such a useful tool to use on your own. Thank you so much for sharing this!

    Liked by 1 person

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