To return the body to a healing state, it is necessary to observe behavioural patterns. A coping mechanism or strategy is an adapted behaviour designed to dismiss and suppress certain feelings and emotions. It starts small in childhood, some feelings are just too difficult to deal with. Children need time and space and lots of guidance to deal with certain feelings.
Most parents and other authority figures never taught themselves to deal with difficult emotions and the pattern to escape in a coping strategy is easily learned from others. Unfortunately the feelings are then stuck in your body and over time, whenever you almost feel a certain sensation, you will develop the urge to immediately do a certain kind of behaviour.
Instead of making our lives easier, it is hardly ever the case. A coping mechanism is very stressful for the body and the feelings will get stronger and stronger. Eventually we might even crave for a psycho-blocker in the form of medication that doctors prescribe on a regular basis. This might be the start of unlearning old behaviour or the start of a dull life living in numbness. It is my belief we need to face our demons and that through the hardest pain we can get back to the beautiful treasure that lives inside each and any one of us.
This blog is meant to put a light on coping mechanisms through the lens of schema therapy. The goal is to become aware of our programs and thus of the hidden pain inside of us. This is also a warning, because there is pain, probably lots and lots of it. The only difference now is that you are able to deal with the pain. You might even experience the beauty of all your pain. It will eventually probably guide you to a better life. Good luck!
Being involved in coping mechanisms has the unfortunate effect that we keep getting ourselves involved in the pains of childhood. Freud called this repetition compulsion. A child of an alcoholic might marry an alcoholic. A victim of child abuse might abuse their own children. Someone who had over-controlling parents might need someone else to tell her what to do in life. A prostitute might have been sexually abused in childhood and so on. Somehow being involved in these situations gives us a feeling of safety and familiarity. That is why they are so hard to change.
Jeffrey Young mentions in his book called ‘reinventing your life’ 11 behavioural traps that adults can have. They are pretty general and there are different ways they can express themselves in your life. The average adult has at least 2 or 3 of these traps built in their ‘personality’. Once you read the book, you will recognise them in everyone you know.
11 behavioural traps
This involves the belief that your needs will never be fulfilled by anyone. Nobody really loves you or understands you. This probably results in being attracted to cold and reticent people. When you are also reticent yourself, due to the fears, it will probably result in failed relationships. You will live between feelings of loneliness, rage and being hurt. Your anger will push people away and maintain the beliefs that cause it. People with this belief generally have no idea what love really is.
You live with the fear that a disaster can happen at any moment. As a child you have learned that life is not safe and you might not even know what safety is. Your parents might have been overly concerned about your well-being. The fears are not real, yet they control your life. You spend a lot of time in strategies that might temporarily give you a fragile feeling of safety. This can result in fear of being homeless, fear of flying, fear of being robbed, fear of a panic attack etc.
If you are trapped in dependency, you feel unable to live your life without the support of others. As a child, people gave you the feeling that you can’t really do things on your own. Later in life you will always be looking for strong shoulders to lean on. Someone else can arrange your life and problems, you keep yourself small.
You feel broken and infected. You don’t believe that there is anyone that could love you for who you are. If people would know you, they would see how bad you are. You haven’t been respected as a child and even your parents might have bullied you for your weaknesses. You blamed yourself, you were unworthy for the love and approval of your parents or peers. As an adult you are afraid of intimacy, you can barely believe that someone appreciates you. You expect rejection.
You set your own wishes and needs aside for others. Their needs are more important than yours. Others are allowed to decide your choices for you. Maybe you feel guilty and are afraid to hurt others. Maybe you fear punishment or abandonment if you choose yourself. As a child you might have had a dominant parent who pushed you down. As an adult you might pick a dominant partner who can control you or maybe someone who lacks a lot in life and needs your support while she has not a lot to offer back to you.
Distrust and abuse
You are convinced that others would hurt and abuse you. You expect to be cheated, lied to, manipulated, humiliated, being physically hurt etc. You hide behind a wall of distrust to protect yourself. People can’t get close and you distrust their intentions when they do so. You are always expecting the worst outcome. You expect to be betrayed and are unable to open yourself for a real relationship. If you have one, it might even be an act. As a result you can never open yourself up and the burden will heavily weigh on you. Sometimes people with this trap start a relationship with the goal to get hurt, so they can be vengeful afterwards.
Fear of abandonment
This is the feeling that people you love will soon or later leave you for someone else. This can result in clinging on to them, which will eventually lead to pushing them away. Sometimes you can react extreme to your loved ones in normal situations because you look through the lens of fear of abandonment. In this trap it is common to seek lots of superficial friends, you might never be on your own.
You believe you are unable to succeed in school, sports or work. A general feeling of always staying behind to do what is expected. Others always seemed to perform better at school for example. People called you dumb and lazy or claimed you lacked discipline. As an adult you keep yourself down by exaggerating your failures and thwarting yourself.
Extreme high demands for yourself
If this is your trap, you always strive for the highest achievements. You can put the emphasis on for example status, money, success, beauty or recognition. This often comes at the cost of your happiness, fun, well-being, health and relationships. You probably have the same norms for other people and you are probably very critical of others. As a child, people expected high achievements from you, or it might have been a coping strategy to deal with one or both of the parents not being able to play the role as the parent. You learned that you always had to perform at the top of your possibilities. Nothing else was good enough.
Demanding to others
Can you accept the realistic restrictions of life? Can you accept life the way it is? People with this trap feel they are special. They expect to always get their way. It is easy to overlook other people’s opinions on what is reasonable and what not. You lack self-discipline. Lots of people with this trap were both spoiled and neglected as children. As a result there was a lack of boundaries, you were not expected to withhold sometimes. You played life with different rules than other children. As an adult you can develop rage for not getting what you want.
With this trap you didn’t feel like you belonged to anyone or a group as a child. You felt unwanted. As an adult you perpetuate this feeling by avoiding connection. This can be caused by a feeling of unworthiness, fear of rejection and you will act accordingly. You can for example think you are ugly and sexually unattractive, or that your social skills are failing to be able to create what you crave for. This trap is often hard to identify as it might not be obvious to the outside world.
There are three ways or modes you can use to deal with your traps. Surrender, avoid and overcompensate. With the trap of inferiority you can in the first mode for example be negative about yourself, look down when you talk to others, apologize for being you, etc. In an avoiding mode, you can stop social activities, play a role in a relationship, be an alcoholic, not communicate in a marriage etc. When you use the overcompensation mode, you can be arrogant, put others down, be an achiever, afraid to admit mistakes etc.
Every trap can thus show itself in 3 different ways. And each way has countless examples. I need you to be open to the possibility that everything you have done in the past ten years can be affected. What if everything you ever thought, believed or did, was a coping mechanism? Imagine how different your life can be if you heal your emotional wounds.
A childhood must be good enough in order to not develop these (egoic) programs. It doesn’t need to be perfect. D W Winnicot claimed that children need the following things in their upbringing. Every trap deals with one or more of these deficiencies.
- (self) appreciation
- Self expression
- Realistic boundaries
So we have a psychological need and the development of negative beliefs. In emotional healing it is key to give yourself the psychological needs to your inner-child. As long as the wound still exists, a part of your emotional body has not evolved. Part of you is still a child. You are in a position to heal that emotional wound at this moment. Beliefs can be altered via hypnosis or affirmations, but it is key to recognize, accept and stop doing the coping mechanisms first. By not running a program, you can feel the pains behind the program.
Fight or flight mode
The reason why this is important in the healing phase, is that each program activates the fight or flight mechanism of the nervous system. Every mode equals the three verbs, fight, flight or hide. In the survival state you can become addicted to stress hormones, your immune system will weaken, your digestion is less important as you are facing a threat. When the body is too often or too long in the fight or flight mode. It will eventually disrupt the body’s ability to maintain homeostasis.
Some scientists claim that ME/CFS is a dysfunction of the ANS (autonomic nervous system). Others claim there is a cell metabolism issue. The mitochondria are using the ATP as if the body is in need to survive a hungry winter. This has been proven with worms in times of frost. In both cases, stress and danger vs survival play a role.
It has been my observation that people can improve their energy once they no longer involve themselves in coping mechanisms. Instead of a need to rush and distract, a state of slowing down and feeling can be initiated. That doesn’t mean that healing is linear, as often the danger comes from emotions that are almost in the conscious awareness. Dr Sarno and his TMS theory explore that further. He also noticed the personality similarities between his patients. Most of these personality traits might be categorized under over-compensating mode.
One needs to examine his behaviour deeply and eliminate coping behaviour. To become aware of your own traps and beliefs I recommend reading: Reinventing your life by Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko. The book is available in many languages and has countless examples of coping behaviour as well as a self-test.
I love the model of levels of consciousness. Every lower level of consciousness starts with a belief, whereas higher levels start by feeling and alignment. In the holistic model of dis-ease, I have tried to explain the global negative circle of how we develop disease in our lives. It is interesting to see that in schema therapy, the ideas of the stressful personalities are explained. Everything fits together like a puzzle.
You can check out the book if you are interested, it is called Reinventing your life.