When I meet new clients I often find that some of the ways they’ve been attempting to cope with their problems are likely to have been making their problems worse.
In fact, its common that the initial problem isn’t really the problem but rather that the initial problem has grown into bigger problems because of the types of coping the person has been using.
One of the reasons people fall into this trap is that lots of coping behaviours can be either helpful or unhelpful depending on the specifics of the situation.
12 Examples of Coping Behaviours that Can Be Either Helpful or Unhelpful Depending on the Context
1. Distracting yourself from thinking about the problem
2. Reassurance seeking (e.g. seeking reassurance from your partner. Reassurance seeking temporarily relieves anxiety but sometimes increases your anxiety about that thing in the long term)
3. Attempting to change someone else’s behaviour
4. Talking about the problem (can lead to it seeming like the problem is taking over your whole life, and/or hostility from other people who want to help but can’t)
5. Thinking about the problem
6. Avoiding situations or people that trigger the problem
7. Positive thinking (sometimes positive thinking can lead to poor decisions)
8. Putting something off.
9. Attempting to change negative emotions
– Sometimes its better not to attempt to chase negative emotions away. Emotions are naturally temporary so sometimes its best to “sit with” negative emotions rather than get into a tug of war with them. A large proportion of the time, difficult thoughts and emotions will pass on their own, just like clouds pass through the sky. Its good to sometimes practice feeling negative emotions without doing anything. Giving lots of attention to negative emotions usually makes them feel bigger and more important. Its possible to feel negative emotions without feeling overwhelmed by them.
10. Having a glass of wine
11. Sleeping or other types of temporary withdrawal from the world.
12. Behaviours aimed at preventing something bad happening e.g. mentally rehearsing conversations you feel anxious about having, double checking, being prepared in case something goes wrong. (These tend to perpetuate anxiety that something bad MIGHT happen and/or that you couldn’t cope with it if it did).
What’s the solution?
“Judging Your Behaviour By Function and Not Topography”
“Judging Your Behaviour by Function and Not Topography” just means that
you should generally judge behaviours based on whether they really are helping rather than your assumptions about whether they “should” help.
– Is your coping behaviour leading to increased or decreased problems overall and in the long term?
– If you have been doing a lot of a particular type of coping behaviour (e.g., attempting to distract yourself from thinking about your problem, avoiding things, talking or thinking about your problem a lot) and your problem has been staying the same or getting worse then that should raise a warning flag that your coping strategies need tweaking and you might need help to do that.
If you’ve been falling into this trap, it doesn’t mean you’re stupid.
It’s incredibly difficult to realize the ways your behaviours might be making your problems worse by yourself (I still catch myself doing it!). That’s one of the ways seeing a psychology PhD can help. We can help you see patterns you can’t see for yourself and equip you with alternative coping tools.