Coping skills can take many forms and help us make sense of our experiences, mitigate stress, and sustain our sense of self-worth. Sometimes life can feel pretty overwhelming. Without these strategies for managing life’s stressors and sustaining a sense of emotional well-being, it would be difficult to navigate even the simplest daily challenges.
What happens when our coping strategies don’t work?
In the absence of effective coping skills, defense mechanisms instinctively surface to protect us. While coping skills are viewed as positive actions that help us address life’s stressors, defense mechanisms reflect a more primitive effort at emotional self-defense. Some common coping strategies are exercise, meditation, journaling, prayer, social interaction, and creative expression through art or music. By contrast, denial, regression, projection, repression, rationalization, and acting-out are some examples of common defense mechanisms.
In our efforts to decrease counterproductive defense mechanisms and increase healthy coping skills, it’s important to appreciate that defense mechanisms are simply coping strategies of last resort. Although toxic, dangerous, and self-defeating, they serve as coping strategies nonetheless. While we don’t want to encourage self-defeating behavior, understanding the need that prompted it is essential to developing empathy and fostering healthier coping skills.
Do your coping skills enable you to effectively engage with the world around you or do you find yourself repeating self-defeating patterns of behavior?
In the weeks ahead, I’ll talk about some of the more common defense mechanisms and the ways they may show up in our daily lives.