It May Be Time to Ditch Your Coping Mechanisms

March 10, 2017

We can’t just cope forever. Eventually we have to heal.

Sometimes when life lobs you with the tough stuff all you can focus on is surviving.

It’s a perfectly normal thing to do after trauma. Maybe you were abused as a child, are a survivor of rape trauma, served in the military – there are hundreds of reasons why you may have needed to develop coping mechanisms to get by. For me, it was the murder of my partner.

Watching someone die would be traumatic for anyone, but when it’s someone you imagined your future with, it’s more than just a person who’s dying. A part of you is gone too. Your future has vanished. All of your plans come crumbling down, and the remaining structures are hidden behind a haze of grief. None of it matters anymore. My life, my future, none of it mattered.

When it’s someone who was an integral part of your life, every little thing reminds you of the loss. I’d cry driving by a Jack in the Box, or while petting a cat, or every time I saw something with Harry Potter on it. I couldn’t function while also constantly putting every moment of my life on pause, so I developed a talent for turning “off.”

In the throes of trying to figure out how to manage to survive on a daily basis, switching off was a lifesaver. I could start remembering what it felt like to spend time out with friends, or reading a book, or eating, because my entire being wasn’t clogged with grief. I essentially put a valve on my pain, allowing me to banish or summon it whenever I was ready for it.

Except, the only problem was, I never turned it back on. Sometimes the pressure of the grief burst out from its blockage, and sometimes I’d hesitantly flip the switch in an attempt to purge it from my system, but the ‘off’ button felt so much safer. When I was ‘off’, I didn’t have to deal with rejection or anxiety, or any of those painful things any more than I wanted to. And eventually I stopped remembering how to deal with them properly at all.

It also had me making a lot of apologies for things I didn’t fully understand. I knew my blankness was off-putting when I was around other people, but I was so out of it, I didn’t even understand the depths of how it was beginning to affect my relationships.

Rather than giving me freedom, my coping mechanism of stifling the pain began to make me numb, and anxious. The amount of baggage I had turned off became overwhelming. It’s not as if I was faking it when I’d go out with friends and have a great time – our emotions are far more complex than being simple ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ – it’s just that I wasn’t really truly present in the moment anymore. In essence, I’d reached a point where my coping mechanisms weren’t helping me cope. But I’d been using them for so long, I’d forgotten how to exist on my own. I’d forgotten how to live beyond simply surviving.

I’ve started to see a therapist again, and hopefully they’ll help me move past survival mode and into a place where I can actually carve out a future for myself. My mental health is every bit as important as my physical health, and I’ve been neglecting it. I wish I’d examined myself a decade ago, so I could better determine both where I was, and where I needed to be.

Coping mechanisms aren’t meant to prop us up forever. They’re meant to bridge the gaps between what we can and can’t get over on our own, certainly. But we aren’t supposed to stand on our bridges indefinitely. We’re meant to cross them.

Images via tumblr.com and giphy.com.

Comment: Do you have any coping mechanisms preventing you from growing?


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