Coping Mechanisms


We all have them.

We have adopted ways to deal with the reality that we are stuck in. Very young we may have realized it was better to keep our emotions to ourself than it was to get hurt by an abusive mother. Some of us had to get angry to get our way. Checking out during sex was a way to endure something we did not enjoy. Maybe you cry and pout until you get your way. Perhaps you believe you should never show weakness. You might use sarcasm and humour to evade being honest or vulnerable. Feeling sorry for yourself has been a way of feeling better about yourself. Passive-aggressive behaviour really does work.

No matter what coping mechanisms you use they have probably worked for you in the past. Checking out during sex or an argument or a compliment really did help keep you from being hurt. Anger really did help you get what you needed, once upon a time.

The problem with coping mechanisms is that they were formed many many years ago, as a response to trauma or terror. You probably developed your fear of confrontation when you were three or four years old. No doubt you formed your skewed version of the opposite sex when you were a child or in puberty. The ways you interact sexually were learned before you really had any idea what sex was all about. Your perception of your father or mother was forming as you were learning to walk. You based your entire belief system, back then, on your immature and basically stupid beliefs about life, love, reality, and the meaning of life that you developed when you were a dumb kid. Twenty years later you can still hear the kids on the school yard calling you fat, or ugly, or stupid, or all of the above. That seven-year old’s hurtful comment about your weight still affects you today. Amazing, isn’t it?

It may be time to look seriously at some of the coping mechanisms you have been using for years. It may be time to come to grips with the fact that you have been feeling bad about yourself for thirty years based on the opinions of a bunch of cruel elementary school brats, or a dad who was an alcoholic and still isn’t a real person. Yelling may have been a necessary skill in your home growing up but it isn’t working for you anymore and it’s time to let it go. Perhaps it’s time to say goodbye to that voice that you know that keeps telling you that you are stupid, or ugly, or worthless. That person’s opinion isn’t worth a damn thing and you know that intellectually. Refusing to let people in has worked in the past but it’s holding you back now. I know you said that you would never trust again but at the time you were very wounded and your emotional tank was tapped.

At the end of the day it often comes down to Einstein and his crazy-haired definition of insanity – doing the same thing and expecting different results. That’s it, isn’t it. Destructive coping mechanisms have long since stopped working but we continue to think that we have to listen to their insipid voices. You can rebuild trust, or confidence, or hope. You can move forward.

It’s just really hard and takes more time than we want. It is, however, incredibly worth it.

6 thoughts on “Coping Mechanisms

  1. The coping skills we use unconsciously can work for a while, but it seems that as we go on in life it seems they cause more harm than good. After going through intensive treatment for six months, the amount of work I have had to try and fight those old coping mechanisms and develop newer, more healthy ones is astounding. I wish I had known about how much trouble those coping mechanisms could have been earlier in life; it would have saved me a lot of time and trouble.

  2. Hi Scott.

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Its strange what we hang onto and for how long we actually carry these things through our lives. I suppose it’s learning to let go and trust again, just like you said!
    Hugs to you. Paula xxx

  3. I think very often the problem is not so much the coping mechanism we have been using as that we just need a bigger toolbox. Checking out still works as a way to get through a very boring, very long plane flight, as well as a trip to the dentist. But you might need to try something else if sex is still scary for you. Anger might get you your way even now when dealing with a particularly difficult and trying customer service representative, but it’s not the way to get what you want from your wife. You need other methods. It is easier to learn something new than to unlearn an old habit, so it may be just as effective–or moreso–to forget about trying not to do the old thing, and just try to do a new thing.

  4. Thank you. Yes, those hurtful words at my childhood me still hurt and I am still learning to recognize when I have my walls up or am avoiding confrontation. I thought everybody else around me had f’d up issues, and am now realizing at some degree that I have them as well. And how much of my childhood do I want to remember in order to get past some of those issues?

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