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Coping Mechanisms

“I don’t actually want to die, I just want a different life.“

These words came to me once when I was in, obviously, not so great a place emotionally, to put it lightly. Shoutout to my coach for giving me the space to say them out loud. These words changed everything for me—this realization was my silver lining. It meant that I was ready to figure out how to create a life that I really loved, not keep living a life that I had to figure out how to endure with all sorts of coping mechanisms.

Today we’re talking about coping mechanisms: the bandaid on the broken bone.

One of the harshest and most loving questions I like to ask my clients is “do you want tools that help you cope with a life you don’t love, or do you want tools that help you build a life you actually love? Either choice is okay and completely up to you, but you need to make sure you like your reasons for choosing either.”

And you really do have to choose. Otherwise, your tendency to mute your life’s more difficult emotions with food, sex, alcohol, drugs, shopping, memes (yes I’m serious), overworking, exercise, or other forms of buffering will always win out over the small, peaceful voice that says “this part of life is okay, you don’t have to tone it down with these quick-fixes.“

A few things happen when we choose to employ coping mechanisms to deal with the realities of our lives:

  • we reinforce the belief we have that we can’t handle what we’re experiencing.

  • we lose trust with ourselves by teaching ourselves that we cannot rely on ourselves—we must rely on outside stimulants to soothe, distract, and comfort us.

  • we never actually develop the skills of acknowledging, feeling, processing, and releasing emotions, therefore ensuring our continued dependence on those outside stimulants mentioned above.

  • we continue the cycle of blaming other people or circumstances for our emotions and in so doing placing the responsibility on those people and circumstances to “make us feel better“.

  • we always need more and better—and yet it’s never enough (you can never get enough of something that is inherently not nourishing or fulfilling).

What I’m trying to say here is don’t struggle against your unwanted emotions. That’s what’s happening whenever you pursue coping mechanisms, no matter how benign or beneficial they may appear on the surface (“what?? who cares that I already went to yoga 3 times today, it’s healthy!“). The more you try to resist, ignore, or distract away from the emotions you’re feeling that you’re trying to escape, the more disconnected you get from yourself. You’re not fixing a problem by buffering away from the emotions it brings up for you, you’re just holding yourself further away from the solution. Emotions are our teachers. Listen to what they have to say. Turn off the music, the TV, the podcast long enough to hear your own heart and your own thoughts, and go from there. I promise you, whatever emotion you’re feeling will not kill you, and in fact will open your life up if you let it move through you instead of resisting against it day after day after day.

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