Maladaptive Coping Mechanisms
Maladaptive coping skills are not only unhelpful, they negatively impact our mental wellbeing. Such behavior prevents us from engaging in stressful situations - mentally, physically, or emotionally - and can lead to social isolation (Thompson et al., 2010; Enns, Eldridge, Montgomery, & Gonzalez, 2018).
As a survivor of several forms of abuse as an adolescent, teen, and young adult, I developed a number of maladaptive coping skills. These maladaptive skills were also survival skills that helped me well into my middle age years. I have listed two of these maladaptive skills that I used here. Escapism - We tend to carry such a large load of pain that every little cut and scrape can seem unbearable. When the pain exceeds our ability to handle it, we bail out, even when the situation is not truly dangerous or upsetting. Some obvious and well-known examples of escapism include abusing drugs and alcohol, cutting, sexual addictions, and overeating.
Another popular coping skill, especially for survivors of abuse, is Denial. The coping skill of denial and minimizing can look a lot like self-blame. Rather than blaming yourself, however, you talk yourself into pretending that everything is fine. To make it through each day, children often need to believe that what is happening isn’t “abuse” but just “part of growing up.” I hear this kind of statement from nearly every survivor. They do not want to look at the perpetrator, especially if the perpetrator was a family member or friend. I was one of those people for many years.
Constructive Coping Mechanisms
According to the APA, Constructive coping strategies are task relevant and action oriented and are divided into one of three categories: problem-focused coping, emotion-focused coping, and appraisal-focused coping. They rely on realistic assessments of stressors and available coping resources. Their use is associated with better physical and mental health outcomes than the use of other strategies
Now, on the other hand I did have some good coping skills that I developed, although I had no idea that is what they were. Here are two of those skills that stand out to me even today. I loved to surf. When I was surfing I felt safe. My abusers could not touch me, harm me or abuse me in any way. Often I would stay out in the water way after dark in order to be in the house as little as possible. I felt at peace and safe, one with God while surfing. Another skill I utilized was taking my dog and going for a walk in the hills that surrounded my house. We had a spot overlooking a 180 degree view of the ocean we would go and sit among the golden foxtails with the wind and warm sun embracing our faces. It was another place of peace and serenity.
Overcoming Maladaptive Coping Mechanisms
So then, how does one overcome our maladaptive skills? The first step is as simple as becoming aware of your maladaptive skills. Once you have become aware of those maladaptive skills, I would suggest finding a competent mentor or Life Coach that can help you discover how those behaviors have affected your life in a negative way. Next, along with your mentor and/or life coach, start developing some healthy and constructive skills such as: cycling, hiking, meditating, playing a musical instrument, playing with a beloved pet, practicing yoga, or going for a walk on the beach are just some examples. Find things that help you to feel safe and at peace. Remember, you have had these maladaptive skills for a long time, likely all your life. So, be patient and kind with yourself. Positive change is not easy and takes time.
Call to Action
What is a coping mechanism you are using in your life today, good or bad? Leave your answer in the comments please.
You can read more about “Coping Mechanisms” in Chapter 4 of my book “Healing The Wounded Child Within” available on Amazon.