People who are asking this question are usually responding to what other people have said. If you are looking at this page because you are wondering if your behaviour, or the behaviour of someone you know, is a problem I hope this article will help you decide.
This article details a very easy way to tell if a behaviour is a problem. It can also help you decide how much of a problem the behaviour might be.
To find out if you do have a problem you need to ask yourself if the behaviour has affected you negatively in any of “The Four L’s” and be brutally honest in answering that question.
The four L’s are LIVER, LOVER, LIVELIHOOD and LAW and they refer to four general areas of a person’s life that can be affected by behaviours such as anger, alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling or online gaming. Asking if the behaviour has had a negative effect in any of these areas is a very simple way to assess if a behaviour is a problem or not.
All behaviours have the potential to become a problem but some behaviours tend to become a problem more often than others. The four L’s are most often used to determine if someone has a problem with alcohol but they can also help us determine if other behaviour is a problem.
The first of the four L’s is LIVER.
In the case of an alcoholic (the first group this assessment tool was used with) this literally means their liver because alcohol destroys the liver. When using this assessment tool on any behaviour, however, the LIVER “L” is referring to anything physical or health related and that includes mental health.
In short – is the behaviour causing you health problems?
For alcoholics this might be the liver but it includes any physical issue directly related to the behaviour in any way. The inability to control, or stop, the behaviour might lead to depression which is a negative mental health effect. For the smoker it might be breathing difficulties, for the angry person it might mean ulcers, headaches, or stress related health problems. Sex addicts might have contracted sexually transmitted illnesses. The gaming addict might find slumping over a keyboard for hours, or the gambler pressing a button on a slot machine repeatedly for long periods of time, leaves them with back pain or repetitive stress injury.
The behaviour might not be causing any direct health problems but there might be secondary health problems caused by things connected to the behaviour. For example, anger can cause people to clench their jaw or grind their teeth which might lead to dental problems, or jealous thoughts might keep someone awake at night leading to fatigue during the day. All these things count as negative effects on the LIVER category.
The second of the four L’s is LOVER
Is the behaviour causing problems in any of your relationships?
This L refers to your lover or partner as this is the person who is most likely to be badly affected by problem behaviour but this L doesn’t just refer to your partner. Some people don’t have a partner so this L would refer to their other relationships. Everyone should include any problems their behaviour has caused, or is causing, with their family, friends, people they go to school with or people they work with as well as their partner if they have one.
Sometimes people whose behaviour is causing problems in their relationships don’t view the behaviour as the real problem. They think other people are “MAKING” them angry or other people are “TOO DEMANDING” or “TOO SENSITIVE”.
The truth is, if any of the people in your life say your behaviour bothers, upsets, worries, disturbs, or frightens them, you need to take notice because you actually might have a problem. The more people who say a particular behaviour is a problem the more likely it is that they are telling you the truth and your behaviour really IS a problem.
The third of the four L’s is LIVELIHOOD
Is it interfering with your ability to get, or keep, a job? Does it negatively affect your performance on the job?
Job refers to paid employment, of course, but it also includes unpaid work such as being a stay at home parent, volunteer work that matters to you, as well as efforts to get work or otherwise maintain yourself and pay your bills.
People with an anger problem, for example, can tend to get into fights or arguments fairly often which they usually blame on the other person. People with a substance use problem may have hangovers or illnesses related to their substance use that interferes with their ability to get to work on time or do their job properly. People with sex or gaming problems may stay up too late and be late getting to work, take sick days for game events, be too tired to do their job properly or fail to look for work because they are too tired.
This can result in them either being sacked, or quitting, their jobs. Alternatively, their behaviour may consume so much of their time they don’t look for work in the first place.
Sometimes people are able to hide their problem behaviour from their work mates or their boss so they don’t actually get into trouble at work but, if YOU know your behaviour is having a negative effect on your ability to get work (even if it is volunteer work), keep a job, or do the work as well as you know you can do it then you should answer this question with a yes.
The last, and fourth, of the four L’s is LAW
Is your behaviour getting you in trouble with the law or is it causing you to do things that could get you in trouble with the law if those things were reported?
Angry people often behave impulsively. Sometimes their anger will cause them to get into physical fights but it can also trigger other illegal behaviour such as speeding if they are driving at the time they get angry or stealing from someone who has angered them as a way of taking “revenge”.
Substance users can tend to get in trouble with the law for driving under the influence or for posessing an illegal substance. Gamblers might steal to fund their gambling habit.
People with a sex or gaming problem might have less to worry about here but they need to ask themselves if the behaviour they fantasise about doing, watch other people do, or do in fantasy games would get them in trouble with the law if it became known.
Even if you have never been caught, if your behaviour would get you in trouble with the law if you WERE caught, the answer to this question is yes.
Four simple questions and four simple answers – yes or no? How did you go? Was the answer to any of those questions yes?
If you answered yes to ANY of those four questions your behaviour may be a problem. If you answered yes to more than one of them you probably do have a problem and if you answered yes to all of them then you almost certainly do have a problem and it is probably a serious one.
Once you have determined you do have a problem the next step is to decide whether it is a problem you want to do something about.
The more serious the problem the more likely it is that you will need help sorting it out. Change is not easy and changing problem behaviour takes real guts and determination. Guts and determination will only take you so far though. After that you need to learn new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing the world, and new habits.
The best person to help you with that is a counsellor you feel safe and at ease with. Someone you trust and have a good relationship with. That person might not be the first counsellor you see but, if not, try someone else and keep trying until you find the right one.