What are Coping Mechanisms?

Sometimes you are unaware of it, but looking for approval or trying to live up to someone’s expectations is something we regularly do. The approval feels good and makes us feel that we belong and are acceptable. 

But what happens when we don’t meet someone’s expectations? What if we feel we fall short or are inadequate? We call it a “weakness” and “weakness” is deemed as “bad”. We feel unacceptable. We feel we don’t belong and feel separate. So we cover the weakness with a coping mechanism and we will feel acceptable again. This is usually done unconsciously.

For example, Lilly is funny and sarcastic and makes jokes whenever she can. Everyone loves Lilly. 12 years ago, she lost her daughter in a car accident. Lilly never fully grieved her loss and on some level, she feels that everyone thinks that 12 years should have been long enough to grieve. She covers her “uncomfortable and socially undesirable” pain with the socially approved humour and that way she feels accepted and no one can see the “weakness”.

Humour is not always a coping mechanism; sometimes it is a personality trait, but it can be used as a cover or a coping mechanism. Anger and rage is another. If the person feels that anger is more acceptable than his or her “weakness” it could be used as a cover. For example, Tony is 42 and doesn’t speak to his family of origin and it truly, deep down kills him inside. He hates when people talk about his situation with him because it gets him crying and he believes that men shouldn’t have emotions, so he uses anger as a means to keep people away. A means to hide his weakness.

We each have a repertoire of coping mechanisms that we use as masks. These masks take a lot of our energy to maintain and they hide the real you inside. We often identify with these masks and believe that they ARE us and we start to lose ourselves.

Ask yourself: What coping mechanisms do I have in place? What “weakness” am I trying to hide?

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