Justice Injury and ODD
Note: the refined definition of ODD used in this approach employs the construct of
Justice Injury and thus referred to as ODD-JI.
Justice Injury and thus referred to as ODD-JI.
- Justice Injury is a pervasive, heart-felt sense that one is often the victim of unjust treatment by authority figures. In the context of ODD, it characterizes situations in which normal rules and consequences often don't work despite the competence of parents and teachers.
- If "trauma" is helpful to one's own conceptualization map, Justice Injury may be considered a type of trauma response to repeated incidences of what are perceived to be unjust treatment at school, home, or other important settings. These often involve misinterpretation/mislabeling of attention differences (ADD/ADHD), information processing differences, and other issues as being badly intended, purposeful behavior by the child or adolescent.
- Justice Injury, especially in the presence of some temperament, relational, and social modeling issues, can have a profound effect on self-regulation efficacy.
Why Is Justice Injury a Helpful Concept?
Too often, therapists, families, and schools assume that a serious behavior problem is caused by poor parenting or classroom management. In the case of ODD-JI, nothing could be further from the truth. It is the case that ODD-JI does not respond well to normal techniques that work with most of their peers. The construct of ODD-JI helps us
- to avoid these blame traps
- explains why perfectly normal approaches, ones that work with other children in the family and other classmates, don't work
- directs us down a very different path to restoring relationships and changing problem behaviors.
Required Criteria for ODD-JI
1) The child or adolescent has a pervasive, heart-felt sense that one is often the victim of unjust treatment at the hands of others (usually authority figures) who deny the unfair treatment.
2) This sense of being treated unjustly fuels most of the youth's most passionate, confrontational, and problematic behaviors.
3) There is a resulting unwillingness, for the sake of dignity, to “bend” to normal consequences. Rather than achieving better outcomes through oppositional behavior, the result is what appears to adults to be consistent self-sabotage. The youth's manner of arguing is often self-defeating, as the goals of argument often become subordinated by the dysregulation (especially fight or flight reactions) that occurs during the arguments.
4) The associated trauma with unfair treatment must be so severe that it regularly evokes a fight-or-flight neuroendocrine response during difficult conversations with authority figures. During difficult conversations with authority figures, and sometimes at the mere expectation such a discussion, this fight or flight response is evoked. Thus, when oppositional youth enter into anxiety-provoking conversations with adult authority figures, they quickly enter into a disregulated “fight or flight” neuroendocrine state that not only changes the way they perceive and handle conflict but also the way they encode memories of these events. This neuroendocrine shift can occur in any person, but the fact that it happens, sometimes invisibly, to oppositional youth during conversations with well-intended, unsuspecting authority figures has profound implications that we will explore.
1) Arguing more often occurs when the youth is anxious and unable to self-sooth, especially if then presented by an authority figure with a task or limit. Parents often describe a dysregulated mood, sometimes of unknown origin, as a precursor to very emotional arguments.
2) The greatest complaints of the authority figures is how the youth behaves during arguments rather than how that child or adolescent behaves when out of sight.
3) There is authority-focused anxiety that starts with one figure or context but may extend to difficult conversations with all family and school authority figures.
4) Many parenting techniques that work with the average child or adolescent, that may work well with the siblings of the ODD-JI youth,
5) These highly argumentative/defiant interactions usually disrupt the discussion and enforcement of consequences.
6) There is often but not necessarily an early history of
a) emotion dysregulation
b) high levels of temperamental activity, and
c) strong justice sensitivities.
7) The face-to-face interaction must so seriously stress authority figures that they feel exhausted and may become dysregulated themselves during arguments.
General Observations of ODD-JI
1) ODD-JI is often characterized by normal parents and teachers who employ standard parenting and teaching techniques that work with most children. There should be no automatic assumption of abnormal home or school environments.
2) There are three main reasons for failure in the therapy of ODD, the first generic to all psychotherapy and the second specific to ODD. The first is the failure to repair disruptions in the therapeutic alliance (Miller, Duncan, _____________). The second is “burnout,” a sense of feeling overwhelmed by the demands of therapy on top of the ODD and other family stressors. The third is a sense that the therapist blames the clients for causing the ODD.
3) The treatment of ODD-JI is best viewed as a marathon, not a sprint. Experiencing ODD is chronically and profoundly stressful for parents and teachers (Anastopoulus et al, 1992), and treatment can create even more stress. Sensitivity to the optimism, self-care, and endurance of the adults is the hallmark of a good therapist of ODD.
4) ODD-JI may be further aggravated by information processing problems, Attention Deficit Disorder, or mismatches in attachment or communication styles between youth and adults.
5) Aggravation of ODD can occur when authority figures are unaware of these Attention Deficit or other differences and, consequently, treat the youths as if they are misbehaving or have ill intent. The presence of strong justice sensitivities in these youth make them much more vulnerable to being traumatized by chronic experiences of feeling shamed for behaviors that they are unaware of or are unable to control.
6) ODD-JI youth are often unsure of the benevolence of adult authority. Therapy is not just about changing behavior; it seeks a more global shift in the youth’s relationship and comfort with authority in general.
7) Ideally, children and adolescents respond to the experience of their own anxiety by self-regulation efforts and by inviting soothing from adults. What characterizes ODD-JI from an early period is not only poor self-regulation (Stringaris___) but a failure to effectively seek soothing from caretakers. They react to their own anxiety by externalizing and getting angry at or very controlling with caretakers, often at the very moment when they would be best served by overtly requesting soothing from this caretakers.
8) In contrast to the more common presentations of conduct disorders, the most common complaints of parents and teachers dealing with ODD-JI come not from the initial misbehavior but rather from the arguing and acting out that accompanies discussion or boundary setting that follow
9) ODD-JI behaviors are not constant. They flare when youth become anxious and dysregulated.
Some Highly Specific Clinical Guidelines
Clinicians might be further guided by looking for the following three characteristics of ODD-JI. You will note that these are informed by communications theory (Bateson Project, MRI), game theory, and systems theory. ODD-JI children and adolescents display
a) Zero-Sum Expectations and Communication
b) Process Orientation
c) High Hierarchy Behavior
a) Zero-Sum (Win-Lose) Expectations
These youth enter anxiety-provoking (especially boundary setting) conversations with adult authority figures
a) with a zero-sum or win-lose perspective, and
b) with a great need to win and
c) attempt to do so in a forceful, anxious manner.
The adult may enter into a conversation with a collaborative, win-win expectation, but such conversations quickly degrade into win-lose frameworks. To the degree that the adult is converted to this win-lose perspective and also tries to “win” the conversation, the argument tends to escalate. 
Note that family arguments tend to be either win-win or lose-lose. One rarely "wins" an argument with a loved one, in contrast to a sports or legal battle. To enter an argument with an intimate with a win-lose or zero-sum perspective constitutes the acceptance of a handicapping myth. Systems with ODD individuals are often characterized by a "win-lose" or zero-sum language.
Our observations suggest that the resolution of ODD-JI is characterized by a youth’s no longer reflexively approaching anxiety provoking discussions in a win-lose manner. The youth is sometimes able to initiate a collaborative, win-win initial stance in conversations with adult authority figures.
2. Process vs Outcome Orientation
An oppositional youth’s concept of “winning” an anxiety provoking conversation is quite different from an adult’s. Adults tends to view “winning” as getting their way in the end, as determining the outcome of the interaction.
Oppositional children and adolescents have a different definition; they view winning as getting their way during the conversation. "Winning" is not about outcome as much as it is about determining the process of the interaction. These two styles of getting needs met are described as outcome oriented or process oriented.
ODD-JI youth tend to feel that they are "winning" a conversation to the degree that they are determining
A) The timing of conversations
B) The content (topic) and direction (who initiates and who responds) of conversations
C) The mood of the conversation
This myth of winning is perpetuated by the degree to which these children and adolescents determine in unhealthy ways the above issues.
The resolution of ODD-JI is characterized by the youth’s being much less controlling during difficult conversations with authority figures. The youth is able to collaboratively and positively determine issues of timing, content and direction, and mood.
C) High Hierarchy Behavior
ODD-JI children and adolescents argue from a very powerful, adult-like (in the perception of that youth) stance. Their voices become louder. In reading transcripts of arguments between parents and ODD-JI youth, it is often difficult to tell who is the parent and who is the child.
Resolution of ODD-JI is characterized by the youth's feeling safer and interacting in a more age- and role-appropriate manner. In the context of psychotherapy, this is often achieved through family therapy in which adults are coached to competently and empathically address and to avoid triggering the youth's trauma issues.