Here is a list of some common maladaptive coping strategies used by people overwhelmed by their emotions, and their corresponding cost of implementing the strategy. Think about which ones you use to cope with your own stressful situations.
Rumination about the past. You spend a great deal of time thinking about past pains, mistakes, and problems. (This is called rumination)
Cost: You miss good things that might be happening now and then regret missing those things, too; depression about the past
Rumination about the future. You get anxious worrying about possible future pains, mistakes, and problems.
Cost: You miss good things that might be happening now; anxiety about the future
Isolation. You isolate yourself from other people to avoid distressing situations.
Cost: You spend more time alone and, as a result, feel even more depressed.
Self-medicating. You make yourself feel numb with alcohol or drugs.
Cost: Addiction, loss of money, work problems, legal problems, relationship problems, health consequences
Defensiveness. You take your feelings out on other people by getting excessively angry at them or trying to control them.
Cost: Loss of friendships, romantic relationships, and family members; other people avoid you; loneliness; feeling bad about hurting other people; legal consequences of your actions
Self-mutilating. You engage in dangerous behaviors, such as cutting, hitting, picking at, or burning yourself or pulling out your own hair.
Cost: Possible death, infection, scarring, disfigurement, shame, physical pain
Unsafe sexual behavior. You engage in unsafe sexual activities, such as having sex with strangers or having frequent unprotected sex.
Cost: Sexually transmitted diseases, some life-threatening; pregnancy; shame; embarrassment
Avoidance of causes of problems. You avoid dealing with the causes of your problems, such as an abusive or dysfunctional relationship.
Cost: You put up with destructive relationships, get burned out doing things for other people, your own needs are not met, depression
Controlling through food. You use food to punish or control yourself by eating too much, not eating at all, or by throwing up what you do eat.
Cost: Weight gain, anorexia, bulimia, health consequences, medical treatment, embarrassment, shame, depression
High-risk behavior. You attempt suicide or engage in high-risk activities, like reckless driving or taking dangerous amounts of alcohol or drugs.
Cost: Possible death, hospitalization, embarrassment, shame, depression, long-term medical complications
General avoidance. You avoid pleasant activities, such as social events and exercise, maybe because you don't think that you deserve to feel better.
Cost: Lack of enjoyment, depression, shame, isolation
Surrender. You surrender to your pain and resign yourself to living a miserable and unfulfilling life.
Cost: Lots of pain and distress, regrets about your life, depression
The costs of these self-destructive coping strategies are clear. All of them lead to your pain being prolonged into long-term suffering. Sometimes pain cannot be avoided, but many times suffering can.
Take, for example, an argument between friends Maria and Sandra. For Maria, who doesn't have overwhelming emotions, the argument was initially painful. But after a few hours, she began to realize that she and Sandra were both to blame for the argument. So by the next day, Maria was no longer upset or mad at Sandra. But for Sandra, who struggles with overwhelming emotions, the argument was replayed in her memory over and over again for three days. Each word and gesture was remembered as an insult from Maria. So the next time Sandra saw Maria, three days later, Sandra was still angry and she restarted the argument just where it had ended. Both women experienced the initial pain of the argument, but only Sandra was suffering.
While we can't always control the pain in our lives, we can control the amount of suffering we have in response to that pain.
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