Traumatised children often display destructive behaviours, seeming to want to provoke harsh reactions:Because new situations are inherently stressful, and because youth who have been through trauma often come from homes in which chaos and unpredictability appear “normal” to them, they may respond with fear to what is actually a calm and safe situation. Attempting to take control of what they believe is the inevitable return of chaos, they appear to “provoke” it in order to make things feel more comfortable and predictable. Thus, the “honeymoon” period in foster care will end as the child behaves defiantly and destructively in order to prompt familiar screaming and harsh discipline. Like everyone else, they feel more comfortable with what is “familiar.” As one family therapist famously put it, we tend to prefer the “certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty.” This response to trauma can often cause serious problems for children when it is misunderstood by their caretakers.
Similarly, sometimes one provokes others around them (displaying aggressive anger to provoke a shouting match when things could be settled by discussion; attempting to start quarrels when things are “too quiet and not right”; addicted to drama in romantic relationships), because it’s the only situation they are at ease with. It’s the only way they know how to safely interact with other people.