Everyone deals with adversity in their own unique ways. Having a better understanding of the different strategies you or your loved ones might employ to cope with difficult situations can help you respond with more empathy and understanding towards each other during times of crisis. This chapter will explore some of the basic ways that people react to stressful life events, and discuss important concepts that play a role in maintaining a healthy psychology.
Everyone has their own way of coping
One of the most common and potentially harmful myths about coping is that people are supposed to cope in a specific way, and that if they don't do this according to the prescribed script it could lead to further problems down the road. The reality is that there is no right or wrong way to cope that is universal to everyone, and different people may employ different strategies for the same event.
In fact, research examining how people cope with difficult emotions has found that we each have several different strategies for coping, and some work better than others under different circumstances. So the same person may switch off between several different means of coping depending on the situation. People shouldn't be expected to conform to any particular set of "grief stages" or be told that they must adhere to a rigid, cookie cutter set of rules in order to heal or overcome a traumatic event.
Myths & facts about coping
Below are several other myths and truths about coping:
Coping myth: It's important for a person to talk about a trauma soon after it has happened.
Coping fact: Forcing a person to discuss the situation too soon tends to make things worse, not better. Having a person talk about a troubling situation before they are ready can reinforce the memory at the precise time when the memory is attached to the most negative emotions. Allowing time for the dust to settle is usually more helpful.
Coping myth: Unless a person confronts a situation, they'll be riddled with problems later.
Coping fact: Many people never feel a need to "confront" a difficult subject and avoid the traditional steps of talking it out that psychotherapists usually promote. Yet they exhibit no signs of struggling with their trauma later.
Coping myth: Recovering from difficult events requires people to relive their childhood or revisit past injustices.
Coping fact: This idea is great for keeping psychoanalysts employed, but it doesn't do much else. Past experiences can certainly shape who we become, but when problems arise, it is our psychology in the present that needs fixing. The idea that reliving the past will free us of present conditions is a pop psychology myth that is entirely unsupported by evidence. (In other words, it's made up, just like the movies.) Research shows that dwelling over past hurts is what fuels depression, so run away quickly from any therapist who tells you this is necessary.
Coping myth: Therapy is always necessary to recover from trauma or difficult life events.
Coping fact: Not only is psychotherapy unnecessary in the MAJORITY of cases, but the wrong type of therapy can actually make things much worse. Words can harm as well as heal, and not all therapists adhere to the science of what has been shown to heal. Furthermore, many studies suggest that the benefits of traditional psychotherapy may not be much better than simply talking things out with friends or even allowing the passage of time to heal our wounds. We don't intend to dismiss the potential help offered by such professionals; it can be extremely valuable, and a competent therapist is always an asset. But nature designed us to weather adversity, and most people are capable of coping and recovering all on their own.