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Coping Mechanisms

Coping mechanisms are gateways to understanding what needs healing

“Denial, perhaps, is a necessary human mechanism to cope with the heart aches of life.” – Richard Paul Evans, “The Christmas Box”

Coping mechanisms are any tools and strategies we employ to deal with stress and/or trauma to help us manage our difficult emotions. They are strategies to shift us towards emotional equilibrium and balance. Coping mechanisms can be adaptive or maladaptive. 

Examples of adaptive coping mechanisms:

  • Seeking support
  • Relaxation/meditation
  • Problem solving
  • Humour that helps release energy
  • Physical activity

Examples of maladaptive coping mechanisms:

  • “Escape”
  • Self-soothing
  • Numbing
  • Compulsions or risk taking
  • Self-harm
  • Apathy

The key difference is that adaptive resources seek to reveal and release the pain, while the maladaptive ones only serve to cover up and supress the pain. As Carl Jung put it, what you resist persists. Maladaptive coping mechanisms can in some cases lead to pathological expressions, such as eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc., some with long term physical ailments. Clearly some coping mechanisms can also lead to direct physical challenges, e.g. smoking, substance abuse, etc. Most of the time the beholder is quite aware of the impact their coping mechanisms have on their life, but find it exceedingly challenging to break those patterns and habits. Far more challenging is it when these coping mechanisms exist in our blind spots and we are unaware of them. These behaviours could include procrastination through social media or busy work, obsessing about external events, or something similar. 

The first step in any healing is awareness; to become aware of our patterns and habits and bring them to our own attention. Unless we have someone help us point them out, we have to take a very close look at ourselves to discover any self destructive coping mechanisms we are employing. We especially have to be mindful of the maladaptive coping mechanisms masquerading as adaptive ones. 

In my experience, the best way of releasing maladaptive coping mechanisms is to heal your core wounds. However, most of these have to reveal themselves through our triggers and coping mechanisms; these are your gateways to explore the path that leads to discovering your core wounds. Once I had healed part of my own core wounds, releasing my 30 year smoking habit was a breeze, it just let go because there wasn’t a purpose for it anymore. So, once we discover a pattern or habit, the process is to determine if is it serving or sabotaging you then to understand what core wounding you are using it to cope with. While you are healing these pains and shifting the suffering into acceptance and gratitude, you can shift any maladaptive coping mechanisms in to adaptive ones. To simplify; look out for what you are doing for pleasure (maladaptive) vs. what you pursue to experience happiness (adaptive). Now go foraging.

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