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Handling Bargaining Behavior

Chapter 4: Handling Bargaining Behavior

Tools for Handling Loss

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


What is bargaining when a loss is involved?

Bargaining is:

  • Negotiating with God, others, and self to do or to stop doing a series of things in order to prevent a loss, hurt, failure, or uncomfortable circumstance.
  • Making resolutions to change a way of living in order to avoid the consequences of the current life-style.
  • Shopping for the guru, doctor, or belief system with the "answer'' for our life or the “means" to do away with our troubles.
  • Minimizing problems and the positing of quick solutions for them.
  • The unending quest for “helping'' methods to change or improve our lives.
  • Chronic mistrust in established answers or methods of change required to help or to heal.
  • Resistance to trusting and to working closely with the helping agents in our lives who are willing to assist us in changing or improving our situation.
  • Loss of faith in the answers we are being given on how to treat or address our problems.
  • Lack of taking personal responsibility in addressing our problems.
  • “Looking good'' for helpers but ignoring and not cooperating with them in reality.
  • Convincing ourselves that “others'' don't know what they are talking about and that we have the answers to our problems.
  • Ignoring those who confront us with our problems by explaining away our behavior and offering a variety of intellectual explanations for our motives and actions.
  • “Giving time" and waiting for our problems to solve themselves with no direct intervention taking place.
  • Believing in the myth that “more is better" and involving ourselves in a variety of different intervention and treatment modalities in order to make the problem go away "as soon as possible."
  • Handing over to others (e.g., therapists, counselors, doctors, friends) the responsibility for resolving our problems.
  • Exempting ourselves from any direct responsibility for the resolution or remediation of our problems.
  • Ignoring the advice of the professionals from whom we have requested help for our problems.
  • Second guessing the motives and advice of others as they attempt to help us address our problems.
  • Our unwillingness to admit that some problems are so great that we cannot solve them on our own and that we need help to work on them.
  • “Putting off the agony'' of facing the problems and the unwillingness to suffer the immediate pain in treating the problem. Putting off the pain to another time when we will be “better prepared'' to handle it.
  • Asking for time so that we can prepare ourselves for the problem and its consequences.
  • The unwillingness to be “prevention oriented," to look into the future and see what we could be doing today to prevent illness or problems from occurring.
  • Procrastinating in what we know we need to do while convincing ourselves that the problem will not recur or increase in magnitude.
  • Pointing out all of the good things we have or are doing in our life as a means of justifying our taking no action to resolve the current problem.
  • Grabbing onto a simplistic, minimally painful, quick solution to a complex problem.
  • Salving of one's conscience by taking some indirect action (e.g., contributing money to feed the hungry in Africa) in response to an immediate personal problem (e.g., a family member is involved in an unhealthy life-style and we are unwilling or unable to confront them on it.)
  • Giving a person with problems material things instead of our time and positive attention hoping that by this their problems will be resolved.
  • Convincing oneself that ignoring or using an indirect means of addressing another person's problems is the best way to help that person (e.g., let them know we love and care for them and that we are always there for them when they need us rather that confront them with the problem.)
  • Looking for the “helper" whose solutions to our problems are most palatable to us.
  • "Doctor Shopping" for the doctor or helper who promises to cure or fix the problem with the least amount of effort and pain and with total success even though others say it will never be that easy to solve.
  • Doing “good'' for others in the hope that such actions will solve our problems.

What are some irrational beliefs involved in bargaining?

  • It should not hurt to solve a problem.
  • Solutions to problems should be simple and straightforward.
  • In getting help for problems there should be no cost in terms of time, resources, or energy.
  • There should be a solution for all problems.
  • There should be an answer or diagnosis for all problems.
  • There should be a cure for all ills.
  • If I look hard enough I'll find an answer or solution to my problems.
  • Living a good, clean life should result in my problems being small or nonexistent.
  • People should recognize their own problems and work them out on their own.
  • People will not like or accept me if I confront them with their problems.
  • They are constantly finding new cures; therefore, they'll find one for my problem.
  • If I ignore a problem it will go away.
  • If I am hurting from my problem, everyone in my life should respect my feelings and avoid causing more problems for me.
  • All helpers should be kind, gentle, considerate, and successful in helping me solve my problems.
  • A helper is responsible for solving my problem.
  • Change should come easy.
  • Since I am motivated to work on solving my problem, then my problem should be solved easily, immediately, and completely.
  • Once you solve a problem you should never have to solve it again.
  • The more I pay in resources, time, and energy to solve a problem, the better the solution should be.
  • Why worry about tomorrow? Relax and enjoy life, and don't concern yourself with the possible aftermath of your behavior.
  • No one understands me or my problem.
  • I am the only one with this problem.
  • If I am quiet about what I am currently experiencing in my problem, it will eventually go away.
  • How can this problem ever be resolved?
  • I must face this problem on my own.
  • I must never burden anyone else with my problems.
  • It is a sign of weakness to ask others for help in dealing with a problem.
  • If you ask someone for help and they give it, you will always have to perform some type of payback.
  • I must have done some awful things in my earlier life for this problem to happen to me.
  • You must accept any problem that comes your way as a sign of your innate evil; you must accept it as the penance or retribution for your badness.
  • If I get help the problem will go away, and I won't need anymore help.

How does one cope with bargaining behavior?


Step 1 When you recognize bargaining behavior being used in dealing with a problem or loss, you need to stop that behavior immediately, or confront the person with the bargaining behavior and ask him to stop.


Step 2 Identify the irrational beliefs underlying the bargaining behavior.


Step 3 Systematically begin the process of refuting the irrational beliefs by asking the following questions:

  • Are the beliefs I am (or you are) working under reasonable and rational considering the nature, scope, and intensity of the problem involved?
  • What would be a more reasonable set of beliefs to work with when addressing the problem(s)?
  • What would happen if I (or you) should begin to follow these new “rational'' beliefs in addressing the problem(s)?
  • How is the problem being resolved by my ( or your) operating under the current beliefs?
  • What is self-defeating in my (or your) current beliefs?
  • What is self-enhancing in my (or your) new set of beliefs?


Step 4 Once you (or the other) have decided upon a new set of rational beliefs to use in addressing the problem or loss, begin to put the problem-solving techniques into operation.


Step 5 As you (or the other) begin the process of problem solving, be alert to the re-introduction of any irrational beliefs that might lead you to use bargaining behavior again.


Step 6 If you identify any bargaining behavior, go back to Step 1 and begin again.