Decisive Measures in Coping

pulling-hair-out

“Every one of us is a minor tragedy. Most of us learn to cope.” 
~Elizabeth Bear

Almost daily, as humans we are faced with problems.  Some as small and easy to handle.  Others are more complex, and take more decisive measures.  And then there are events that are beyond the magnitude of every day stress.  No matter what the size of the problem, stress arises.  The level of stress connected to each situation usually has a direct coincide.  Small matters equal a low stress level.  But the bigger the problem, the higher the stress level.

Throughout our problematic lives, we develop coping mechanisms to handle the discomfort that comes along with our problems.  Some of our coping mechanisms are extremely helpful to reduce the amount of stress we feel.  Others were helpful to us at one point, but when we continue to use them, later in life they have the potential to harm us in ways we may not fully understand.  In our tool box of coping mechanisms, there are those that no longer serve us and need to be disposed of.  The first problem lies in lack of knowledge about the tools in our boxes.

The identified types of coping mechanisms are nearly boundless.  Merriam-Webster defines coping mechanisms as:  “Any effort directed to stress management, including task-oriented and ego defense mechanisms, the factors that enable an individual to regain emotional equilibrium after a stressful experience. It may be an unconscious process.”  It may be an unconscious process, and until you know what coping mechanisms are, it will  be an unconscious process.

After examining a lengthy list of types of coping mechanisms (which I will include in the next post,)  I discovered the main coping mechanisms that I used, that worked for me as a child, that do know work for me now, as an adult.

The most long-lived coping mechanisms that have stayed with me throughout the years are fantasy and introjection.  I’ve discussed my use of fantasy in the form of excessive daydreaming in other posts.  In my mind, I created a fantasy life that was like a never-ending movie where I was its star.  Early on, when I felt the need to escape, I allowed my mind to drift into a daydream state and into this life.  I carried this excessive daydreaming over into my adult life, and when I was living in reality, I expected real people to behave like fantasy people.  Of course, this is virtually impossible and proved detrimental to my real life, which caused me to revert even deeper into my fantasy world.  When I learned acceptance, not only of other people, but of myself, I found happiness and don’t have a great need for my daydream world.

As far as introjection goes, when a stressor occurs, I used to put myself into the “role” of a person who is more suited to handle it.  For example, when I was a young girl, I was terrified to dance in my ballet recital.  So, I pretended that I was one of the beautiful ballerinas who danced in the Nutcracker that I had seen the previous winter.   This introjection pushed my fear aside so that I could complete my task without facing my fear.  Although I have conquered introjection and no longer use it as a coping mechanism, I continue to battle with excessive daydreaming to this day.

Many times, I displaced angry feelings that I had toward my mother and step-father onto my younger brother.  Displacement is one of Freud’s original coping mechanisms.  When I was angry with one of my tormenters, I would take it out on my brother by tormenting him.  He, in turn, tormented other little kids at school, and sometimes, even his teachers.  I teased my brother relentlessly and even hit him, when I could catch him, that is.  He tormented me with his displaced anger, too, by teasing and hitting me.  Of course, my mother wasn’t around to referee our squabbles, and we eventually learned that we have to stick together.

As an adult, I realize that the anger I have should be directed at my mother and shouldn’t be in the form of violence.  As a young adult, I did direct my anger toward my mother.  My rebellion was in the form of insurrection.  I raged against every (fake) thing that my narcissistic mother stood for.  My revolt was short-lived when one day it dawned on me that no matter what I said in retort, my mother would continue to stick with her fantasy lies.

Appearance was very important to my mother.  She wanted the nice little country club debutante, but I started wearing all black (before it was cool to be Goth) and listening to alternative music.  Even though I was no longer displacing my anger, I became very passive aggressive, another coping mechanism that I relied on,  and resorted to truculence and withdrawal of commitment.  This infuriated her, but it did not stop her obsession with control.

Sometimes, when my mother was home, especially when she remarried for the third time, out of her mouth would spew a fountain full of speech.  I call this verbal vomit.  For hours at a time, she would lecture me about her “vision” of how I should be.  Her lecture of verbal vomit always included several key notes.  One is criticism of my appearance, and how, if I only wore my hair, the clothes, the shoes, the make-up that she picked out, I could be (in the sense that I had the potential to be) really beautiful.

The fact is, I was a very pretty girl in my younger years.  I always had admirers and/or boyfriends, and was asked out for at least once a week, and if not for my biting sarcasm, it probably would have been more.  Her lectures worked in oppressing any secure feelings I had about my appearance, when I listened.

After a while, I began performing rituals, another coping mechanism in which a person repeats a pre-determined sequence of events to avoid acting upon a stressor.  I began counting.  I counted objects all around me.  I also looked for patterns and “traced” them with my eyes, studying the patterns, and focusing on their repetition.  This allowed my mind to escape.

When my mother discovered that I wasn’t paying attention to her (because I wasn’t reacting, and narcissists live for the drama)  my coping mechanism became to trivialize.  I made a joke, a very sarcastic and hate filled joke, out of whatever the topic at hand was with her.   This was probably her least favorite of all of my tools, so I used it on her whenever I could.

As an older adult, I know that trivializing when my mother is attempting to play mind games with me now is my way of participating in her insanity.  Now, I have turned trivializing into a positive mechanism when reflecting on my own actions.  It’s easier to own up to mistakes by making light of the situation, especially when it is followed by awareness and acceptance.  I wouldn’t use it as a defense mechanism with any other person as I did with my mother.

So, why do we all use coping mechanisms?  I used them for various reasons, but all those reasons point to fear and pain.  I cannot and could not ignore those two basic feelings.  If I ignore the fear and pain then I won’t ever face my past and the long-lasting effects of what someone else did to me.  I do not ever want to be a “victim.”  The truth is that at one point in my life,  I was helpless and under someone else’s control, and during that time, I was victimized.  I lived in a constant state of fear with overwhelming pain.  When I escaped the clutches of my tormenters, I pushed the memories aside and continued using the tools in my coping mechanism tool box in other situations and with other relationships.  That didn’t work out so well for me.

Now, I am facing the fear and pain and gaining a deeper insight of how, out of fear and pain, I used coping mechanisms that hindered my growth as a human being.  Because I faced the fear and pain,  I learned to recognize those coping mechanism and shed them. (Well, maybe not completely because I am still learning!)  The solace is found in the events when I feel myself reaching for a tool that I don’t need, but catching myself in time. Then, instead of using that tool, I turn it over to God.  At that moment, I decide to let go and let God.  When I do this, the anxiety subsides, and I feel a calmness in my heart.

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Categories: Abuse, Abuse History, Child Abuse, Dysfunctional, Narcissistic, self-help

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

22 replies

  1. I so appreciated reading this last post. I must confess I have only read a couple other of your posts, but I want to read much more. I’m going to read at least one more tonight. Meanwhile, I’m also going to think about coping mechanisms I have used.

    • Of course there are many more coping mechanisms that I have used and don’t need to, but on my journey, I can’t visit everything at the same time! I’m going to post a list with the definitions by Sunday.

      Thanks for reading and your words of encouragement!

      ~N

      • You work so hard and so well, and your work is very important. I look forward to your list of coping mechanisms. I have a BS in Psychology (unused, un-reviewed, stale). I look forward to applying my education for my own benefit, inspired by your dedicated insights into so many of my “issues.”

  2. Oh my gosh you’re the first person that has ever said that part of their abuse was long lectures. the father in my life would constantly be lecturing me numerous times in a week for hours at a time. sometimes he would make it known one was coming but i didn’t know when or what it was about, hence causing me a lot of fear and anxiety…another level of control for him i assume?
    i’m so sorry you endured this type of abuse too. i’ve felt so alone in this area of it. his lectures were always about the same things your mother would lecture you about. he would compare me to others…it was just brutal…

  3. I’ve also discovered that my mother’s lectures were a coping mechanism for her. She was constantly projecting her faults onto my brother and I (and pretty much anyone else that she could.) When a person has uncomfortable thoughts or feelings, they may project these onto other people, assigning the thoughts or feelings that they need to repress to a convenient alternative target. Projection may also happen to obliterate attributes of other people with which we are uncomfortable. We assume that they are like us, and in doing so we allow ourselves to ignore those attributes they have with which we are uncomfortable. I’ve often wondered if narcissists are cognizant of their actions and motives, or are they totally unaware? I believe there is some cognition, but, in my mother’s case, I fully believe that she felt justified in pretty much everything she ever did to us. I, too, got the “announcement” that she would be talking to me at some later point. She also did that with punishment. Sometimes, she would not dole out her punishment right away, leaving us to sweat it out as to what was in store for us. We were pretty much pickled in anxiety, so I understand the brutality you speak of.

    You’re a survivor! Hang in there!!!! 🙂

    (((HUGS!!!!))))
    ~N

    • Yes I agree, the father always put everything and everyone down. I’m sure his behaviour both with that and the lectures were a coping thing, too bad our parents had to cope on us. I think some of it is calculated and some they may not be aware of. Sorry we can relate in this way but I’m glad to have met you.
      We are survivors. It’s tiring some days though isn’t it?! xo

  4. Coming from a life of abuse starting from the crib at the hands of my father, I can totally relate to so many of your coping mechanisms. I found that one of mine was dressing completely to the distaste of my mother to repay her for allowing the abuse to go on. I also blocked out the abuse from my memory completely for many years. I still to this day have very little memories of my father and the abuse, they usually come in flashback form. I can totally relate to your toolbox. After many years of therapy I am able to recognize and avert myself from reaching for them. I love that you too are able to now do the same. I always relate to your blogs and love reading and learning a little more about myself every time. Thanks for opening your heart to us all.

  5. Your blog has come along to me at the right time. When my sister, who is 6 1/2 years older than me, was in high school, we no longer played together, but when she left home for university, I spent every day after school going up to my bedroom, putting on music and living a daydream world for a few hours. I realised a few days ago that it must have been a way of escaping from the reality I lived in with my mother as she was and my father who was (and still is) emotionally absent. It had never occurred to me before that this was a coping mechanism. This went on from when I was about 11 or 12 til I met my husband 5 years ago. From then on it’s served me less, although I still daydream, it’s different. When I was pregnant I would daydream about what it would be like when my daughter was born… or still today I imagine what it will be like when I finally manage to go to the centre of my town… but when I was a teenager, it was another life. I was alone, I didn’t have parents in this daydream life. I was orphaned somehow, which in many ways is how I feel. My father was absent and my mother was incapable of being a mother. But in this daydream life I was able to do anything I set my mind to without fear, or thinking I wasn’t good enough.

    • Excessive daydreaming is something that is not very well understood. I have read some things about it. I’m not 100% sure that I have an issue with Maladaptive Daydreaming because I was able to successfully complete college even as I still daydreamed excessively. I figured out a way to use my daydreaming to my advantage in order to survive college and get a real job. It’s amazing to meet others who used daydreaming as a coping mechanism. Until lately, I didn’t see it as a coping mechanism. I saw it as a shameful thing that would definitely be a mental illness if anyone found out. Hiding a problem of excessive daydreaming is difficult!

  6. One of my favorite passages from the Bible is Philippians 4:6,7 “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peach of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I find when I practice this especially when I am feeling anxious that the Lord does encourage and comfort me.

  7. Thank you again for such a helpful post. What I am wondering is HOW you became aware of the strategies you were using and how to do something healthier?

  8. When I am angry to someone I daydream, when I don’t like the situation going I daydream so that at least I won’t release it where I will put myself in shame. Your post woke my sleeping consciousness up about daydreaming, I love it 😉

  9. I was never sexually abused, but physically beaten and kicked out home at age 13 with a mountain hate you wouldn’t believe. The kind of hate that made me the perfect outlaw biker, needless to say I ended in a street gang, and a few later progressed to riding in an outlaw bike gang. It wasn’t until my third time in prison that I attended the church in there, and met many other outlaw bikers in there that had turned to Jesus and that is where my strength came from. What you see in movies is just a movie, living the life is not something I would wish on anybody. Upon my release I had an honorary release from the gang and to this day I am a God Fearing and loving man and ride for Jesus.

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