Why Coping Mechanisms Aren’t Talked About

Let’s be honest, addressing our fears is scary. In this instance, we’re talking about deep-seated fears. The reason why we may have certain coping mechanisms in place.

Coping mechanisms help us get through life, essentially.

Or so we think.

Let’s break this all down first, before we get into solutions. We first need to understand the why, to get to the how.

What are coping mechanisms?

This topic can get pretty technical. But let’s sum it up.

Coping mechanisms are a result of the brain coming up with a solution during traumatic or super-stressful events. The brain does this to “protect” us from the reality of what is actually happening.

Life isn’t always easy. As well, childhood wasn’t easy for most, either.

Anywhere from birth to around 24, the mind is still growing and developing. This time frame actually breaks down into further categories, but for simplicity’s sake we‘ll stick with this general time frame.

Be aware, that trauma or extreme stress situations can happen at any time in life where a coping mechanism can form, not just childhood and early adulthood. However, the strongest coping mechanisms form at this young age.

Where do coping mechanisms come from?

Typically, if a coping mechanism forms in the earlier years, it’s due to repeated trauma or stress that the child endures. It’s too much for the young developing brain to withstand. The brain basically says “I’ve had enough.” It then switches off from “normal” reality, to a different one.

A way to cope, if you will.

The brain decides to show its recipient an altered reality, by means in which to cope with unmanageable surroundings.

Remember, this can happen at any age. It can also happen from one single event. If something or a situation is too much for an individual to mentally comprehend, the brain comes in with a “solution”.

Coping complications

The problem with this solution is that it typically sticks. The individual was “saved” by the brain to handle the unmanageable stress, trauma, or allowing the individual some relief.

Relief in that instance equals safety.

The brain holds onto the coping mechanism for the duration of the stressor event(s), as well as the aftermath. The individual feels safe in this new reality. Why would someone want to let go of safety?

The brain should drop the coping mechanism after it’s all over. Right? Since the brain isn’t wired to obtain these coping mechanisms in the first place, it doesn’t know how to let it go.

To turn it off, the individual must recognize that they are no longer unsafe, and make a conscious effort to let it go.

Sounds easy on paper! Not so easy if you are living it.

Why coping mechanisms aren’t talked about

Most go their entire lives without ever overcoming their coping mechanisms.

But why? Why should someone need to let it go? What’s the problem?

Remember this becomes an altered reality, by means in which to cope. Altered reality conflicts with the actual reality of daily life, responsibilities, and stability. They are two different worlds.

Image by DepositPhotos

As safe as a coping mechanism feels, it ultimately has the reverse effect on an individual’s life. Sadly, this isn’t common knowledge. It’s not something we are taught in school. This is where people can’t understand why their life is constantly going in the wrong direction. One repeated trauma after another.

Recognizing something’s “different”

Sometimes this happens on its own. The individual may realize that life around them is or has been falling apart for some time.

They might observe they’ve been on a downward spiral. Or, they could become frustrated that they’re never able to come up, or to succeed, or simply don’t feel happy in life.

Other times, events will trigger this awareness. For example, maybe one’s drinking has gone too far and they look up one day and their wife has left, they’ve wrecked their vehicle, and the rest of their family won’t talk to them.

Or, someone turns 39 and they have no friends or a support system because they treat everyone so badly. They realize they’ve been sick of their inner dialogue for far too long. But have no clue how to fix it.

Eventually, both are left feeling alone. Both aren’t content within themselves therefore they feel empty, helpless, and alone. Always.

Also, both people’s coping mechanisms have pushed everyone away. The coping mechanisms are no longer needed, and no longer work for their current life. It’s become a hindrance.

Both are lucky, though. They realize whatever they are doing obviously isn’t working. They’re tired. They realize that they don’t know how to operate, and something needs fixing.

This is called acknowledgment.

Letting go of coping mechanisms

Letting go begins when the individual makes a conscious effort to look at the situation and its effects. Such as through therapy or working through it on their own. But the brain won’t just do it automatically.

In most cases, an individual will live with the coping mechanism for a long time after before realizing something is different. Sometimes, it never goes noticed. Trauma and post-trauma is real, and often it’s never treated or diagnosed.

It’s an extremely scary thing to have to address the very thing that’s kept an individual “safe”. Oftentimes people feel it’s the one thing that’s always been there for them, when nothing or no one else was. Typically this happens subconsciously.

Examples of coping mechanisms

Again, this can get technical. Please keep in mind that this is only informative and that you should always ask your licensed doctor. For best results when dealing with coping mechanisms, you should consult with a psychotherapist.

Okay, disclaimer out of the way! This category can go all types of ways. Again, for simplicity’s sake, we’re going real general here. These are more obvious examples that anyone can notice or relate to.

Keep in mind that each of these are to the extreme or in excess. One can be true, or many can be true for an individual.

  • Addictions. Alcohol or drug use. Drugs meaning street or prescription misuse.
  • Negative self-talk. Self put-downs.
  • Constant projection and deflection.
  • Verbal abuse. Yelling. Stone-walling.
  • Excessive arrogance. Conceded. Over-the-top.
  • Constant anxiety. Worry.
  • Low or no self-worth. Or you hate yourself.
  • Physically abusive. Physical fights often. Anger. Rage. Vengeful.
  • Dissatisfied with yourself and others around you, always. Dissatisfied with life as a whole.
  • Feeling like you’re always in a pit you can’t crawl out of. Always feeling trapped.
  • Often find yourself in situations where you are stuck.
  • Never stick up for yourself. Or, hold everything back, or inside.
  • Destructive behavior and thoughts.
  • Self-harming.
  • Sexually promiscuous. Sex addiction or sexually overactive. Or, unaware of sexual boundaries.
  • Anything excessive or to the extreme that messes with everyday life and living. Anything that’s a disturbance to daily life.

Healing coping mechanisms

First, the one acknowledges that there is a disturbance. Life isn’t performing the way it should and something is clearly off.

It can stop there, and often does. Often times an individual can recognize there’s an issue, but has no knowledge of what to do with it, or is just too scared to address it.

This is when a decision is made. See it and turn back around, or accept it head-on?

When one consciously chooses to see it for what it is and address the imbalance, this is called acceptance.

Healing begins with acknowledgment, then acceptance. Typically, once an individual accepts that there is in fact an issue and that change does in fact need to occur, things begin to change.

Person standing in the sunshine with hands up in happiness.
Image by DepositPhotos

This could be because acceptance is the hardest part. How hard is it to look your demons in the eyes and admit you may be doing things wrong here? Not anyone else. You.

Vulnerability and acceptance vs coping mechanisms

With such a traumatic past it’s quite difficult to accept. It’s easier to deflect, blame, get angry, be controlling, get intoxicated, and continue to be the victim.

It’s easier. It’s safer. It’s all the individual knows.

And the other side, is unfamiliar. This other side is vulnerable.

Vulnerability is most likely what got the individual in that situation in the first place.

How can it be trusted now?

Compassion for others who have hurt us

There’s compassion for everybody in this situation. Those that never come to acceptance aren’t bad people.

They’re scared. Damaged. Wounded. If they were equipped with the right tools in the first place, they probably wouldn’t be in this position.

Being brave and taking that leap into vulnerability isn’t easy. And for those who have done it shouldn’t forget how hard it actually was. As well, they should remember that nothing anyone ever said made them change. It had to happen on their terms.

Those terms and that decision isn’t as simple as choosing desert or not choosing desert. It’s more like choosing to jump off a cliff into a burning pit. Why some individuals do and why some don’t is debatable.

Regardless, it shouldn’t be judged.

Keeping distance from dysfunction

It may not make sense why someone stays in a lifestyle that others clearly see isn’t working. As well, these may be close family members or others that are close to them in some way.

There comes a point where others around the coping person have to make a decision as well. If the coping person is affecting others’ lives, they can choose to distance themselves.

It may not be an easy decision to make. But others should put themselves and their mental health first. Not only that, but the decision to distance themselves helps everyone in the long run. Even though it may not feel like it at the time.

Furthermore, if someone is struggling to heal, being around or influenced by another coping individual will only keep the dysfunctional patterns going. And going.

In conclusion

Focus on your own individual journey. It’s your path and you are the one living it. The path to healing is scary, yes. But the goal is so rewarding. If you realize you need this change, then the solutions will present themselves.

Don’t get discouraged. Remember that where there is a will, there is a way.

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Chrissy's Write

Chrissy's Write

Hey! My name is Chrissy owner of a website where I passionately write about all things personal development! I am an SEO copywriter, and blogger.