The Different Ways We Cope

There are different ways we all cope. We run, we shop, we overwork ourselves, we even shut down and respond in rage. While some coping strategies aren’t necessarily harmful, coping is only really a temporary fix to the pain left from stress we’ve experienced in life. How many times have we had a rough day at the office. Or maybe we just experienced a tough divorce, job loss or notice we’re having trouble in relationships. When situations like this happen, we turn to whatever helps us feel better or makes us forget what it is that is too painful for us to experience.

For example, we have an argument with our partner and they start to yell. You aren’t seeing eye to eye on something and they’re voicing their feelings out loud. We hate when our partner yells and criticizes us, who doesn’t? What happens? You may shut down. Heads go down, words go silent. You sleep in the other room, don’t come home after work as usual or avoid contact. In this situation, the yelling and what’s said could trigger us. Some of us cope by avoiding contact and others by pursuing their partner toward achieving some sort or resolution or intending to be heard. But where could this lead? Our ways of coping can lead us to be stressed even further. And don’t forget, that issue we were arguing over hasn’t been resolved. Why does this conflict trigger us so deeply that we shut out a person we love, appreciate and respect? We shake our heads and say that won’t happen again. But a lot of the time, it becomes something that can repeat and it starts to feel like it’s hitting the same place in us all over.

What is Underneath the Iceberg?

For some, our coping actually brings about other, unintentional and even negative situations and consequences. If we shut down, maybe we miss a special moment with a loved one or create distance in our relationship. If we drink, maybe we get into legal trouble or it creates long term health issues. Now, not only are we still hurt from the original situation, but it can lead to other issues in our life. When coping begins to look like a cycling pattern, it’s important to begin to understand what we haven’t addressed and understand how our coping keeps us from the deeper pain.

In therapy, there are steps to working through this process and toward discovering what is underneath our iceberg, our deeper wounds and traumas. In the beginning, identifying the ways we use to cope is a first step. This takes understanding that since we were little kids, we have learned ways to cope in order to get through the difficult times.  Those hard times have created our wounds. Each of us has chosen different outlets and we all normally rely on them, returning to them when our bodies feel threatened. 

Then, as we work together, our therapists help you understand not only how we cope but also the underbelly of why we feel threatened and what pains us. Gaining awareness of how we have reached these feelings, emotions and reactions will help begin to give us strength and power over our lives.

Based on all of this, we might judge ourselves or others for how they cope, why they got upset in the first place or even wonder how coping can be anything but negative. Well the truth of it is, it makes sense in the short term and it’s been our way of getting by. Something has triggered us and our mind and bodies are trying to make themselves feel better. We all need that. The reason seeking therapy is so important is to help us in coping with life’s challenges so we can work on doing so in a healthy and productive manner.  This will ensure our own overall long term emotional health and well-being.


Alicia Beltran

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