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Thursday, July 1, 2010

T3 - Coping Mechanisms

Shannon asked me to cover this topic when she commented on my post, Pick My Brain Without Writing In. (It's not too late to ask your own questions!)

Coping mechanisms. We all have 'em. We all use 'em. But what the heck are they?

Coping mechanism is a broader term to define everything a person does to handle the difficulties in their life. There are many types of coping mechanisms, some of which are never known by others and therefore not seen as "problematic," and others which are very public. Here's a brief run-down:

  • Adaptive mechanisms: This is more of a positive approach to handling our problems. if only we did more of these.
  • Attack mechanisms: Probably one of the more detrimental ways to cope, and that is to lash out at others, be passive-aggressive, or trivialize things in a hurtful way.
  • Avoidance mechanisms: These coping mechanisms simply delay the inevitable time when you will have to deal with the problem. While maybe not overtly negative or positive, the delay in and of itself can cause harm.
  • Behavioral mechanisms: A lot of what has already been mentioned above fit into this category. However, additional coping mechanisms that change how we act might be regressing to a childlike state to avoid a problem, or compensating in one direction to make up for a perceived flaw in another.
  • Cognitive mechanisms: Changing the way we think about our problem is a way to cope, for example, psychosomatic symptoms develop mentally, or we fantasize to escape reality.
  • Conversion mechanisms: These coping mechanisms transform one problem into another, for example, if you get angry, you so chop firewood. The payoff is that you're fitter and have firewood and nobody got harmed (this is sublimation).
  • Defense mechanisms: Freud's original set of defense mechanisms is the gold standard people generally think about when coping mechanisms is mentioned. Denial, projection, regression. Good stuff.
  • Self-harm mechanisms: These mechanisms end up hurting our selves. This could be self-harming or subconsciously converting stress into physical symptoms.
If you're not wide-eyed with too much information, I picked a few interesting coping mechanisms (to me) to delve into.

1) Dissociation

Some of you might think that only really whacked-out people dissociate (this means to disconnect from their mental state into a separate one). In really extreme forms, this can lead to separate personalities, but on the other end of the spectrum, you've got people who dissociate driving down boring I-5. Suddenly you'll "come to" and wonder what the heck you were doing during the last 5 miles.

Dissociation can be a way to cope with being bored, but not to be confused with fantasizing. (A good example of the latter would be the character Rebecca Bloomwood in Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic. She always imagined things were happening to her that weren't.)

2) Superstitions

Some people develop superstitions to ward off a potential evil or bring about good luck. Most notably, athletes do this a lot. Read this article here on various superstitions some athletes had. One of my favorite depictions of this was from the show Frasier, when Niles was used as a good luck charm by a Seattle SuperSonics team member who wanted to rub his head before every game.

Of course, superstitions don't have to be odd or weird. Maybe a character's way of coping with living in a bad neighborhood is to check all doors and windows a few times before going to bed. Some would argue this might be obsessive-compulsive, but others would argue it's just to stay safe.

3) Humor

Since this is one of my own mechanisms to cope with everyday life, I wanted to include it. It can be positive, a way to diffuse tension in a room or break the ice in a group, but it can also be negative, in that the humor, while funny, is biting (as in sarcasm) or offensive (as in bad jokes). People spout off when nervous or fearful, or they hide behind their humor (such as the case of cynics, which you can read about in my Christian Fiction Online Magazine article this month--hopefully the link works, as I'm doing this post in advance).

So there are a few coping mechanisms, as well as links to pages that discuss the many varieties of coping mechanisms above. Hope this helps, Shannon! Thanks for the was a great idea for a post. :)

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Shannon said...

This is a very interesting list. I've done a bit of research on coping mechanisms myself but I've never seen the number of categories you've got here. This will very much help me with my character development. Thanks!

Dr. Bugenhagen said...

Thanks for posting this topic and providing links. I found this to be very helpful both for my writing and understanding myself and others. Formerly, I worked as a counselor for a Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Clinic where I experienced a plethora of psychological coping mechanisms in action. Like an omniscient author's perspective, we often saw the lies our clients told themselves while they could not. I wonder why it's often so difficult for us to see what our own lies to ourselves are? As a Christian, I've noticed some nudges from God that help point me in a direction.

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.