Friday, February 04, 2011

coping strategies

I saw a therapist for a couple of years not long after we moved here-- so probably 14 or 15 years ago or so-- who thought so differently than me that she was highly effective.  One of the best things I learned from her was the idea of coping strategies.  We talked about the ways I had learned to handle the difficulties of growing up in my childhood home (which was not horrible, just garden variety stuff), and how those skills, those coping strategies, could be used to my benefit now.

For example.  I am not a big fan of confrontation.  I have a hard time thinking quickly in an emotionally intense situation, so I become tongue-tied.  Plus, as I've said before, I'm pretty hyper-sensitive, and the heightened emotions around confrontations were scary to me as a child (and sometimes still are).  So I learned the skill of avoidance.  If dad was mad, avoid him.  If mom disapproved of something I was doing, avoid her and do it anyway, although never to the point where I would then have to have a confrontation about it.

Before this therapist--we'll call her June--I thought of that as a bad thing.  Common wisdom says that you should always meet your challenges head on, right?  But June said, you're good at avoidance.  It's worked for you in the past.  Play to your strengths.  How can we make it into a conscious strategy, something that works for you instead of against you?  Rather than seeing it as a bad thing, see it as one of several tools that you have to handle a confrontation.

What works about avoidance?  For one thing, if you let something go for a few hours or days without confrontation, it often clears up with the passage of time anyway.  For another, if I avoid confrontation right in the thick of my emotions, I have time to think about what I want to say so I don't become tongue-tied.  The bad part about avoidance?  if you carry it too far, it gets out of hand.  If you avoid too long, people don't realize you're upset or mad about something when you are.  There is a point where it becomes lying by omission.

Another example.  Over the past couple of years, I've become aware of how the habit of effacing myself -- which I mentioned on Wednesday-- has become self-destructive.  For a long time, it didn't seem that way to me.  I'm pretty introverted anyway, and it just makes life flow along so much more easily when you try not to bother people.  But there comes a point where no one knows who you are because you've so thoroughly erased yourself.  I think I had reached that point a few years ago.  I've been working on it.

Today I've been trying to re-cast it as June would have.  In my childhood home and with my personality, erasing myself, disappearing, was an excellent coping strategy.  There was a lot of very complex emotional stuff floating around in our house.  With my hyper-sensitivity and also being pretty dang bad at handling complex interactions with other people, disappearing worked really well.  Being able to fly under the radar, to ghost myself and disappear, made all the crap a lot easier to handle.

So what still works about disappearing?  it gives me a break, for one thing.  All those exhausting complicated social interactions overwhelm me sometimes, and the ability to disappear--for a few minutes or a few days-- gives me a chance to revive, refresh.  But other than that, I think it mostly works against me now.  It's not honest.  And it's lonely.  Recognizing that I'm an introvert is one thing, but shutting myself off is another.  Ha-- that's another post that's floating around in my head, so maybe I'll stop there and finish this up next week.  Have a great weekend.

1 comment:

  1. I continue to admire you, and your "confronting" the things that be-devil you. It's a very complicated dance we do, avoiding/being polite and confrontation/standing out there for all the world to see. Great progress on looking at these aspects of your life, and seeing how to make "you" better.