Why Do I Seem to Pick the Worst Coping Skills?

Does it seem that when you are stressed, you often pick coping skills that do not seem to work? I hear this quite frequently … people come into my office and tell me that their coping skills do not work because they are still feeling sad / angry / depressed …

I heard a quote once that said that it is the coping skills that work we do not really notice them, it is the coping skills that do not work that we hold onto and that we keep using. This is so true! We often get stuck using the ones that do not work often because they worked at some point, even if very little. Example; we are feeling upset and so we listen to music. It made us feel better. We feel bad for another reason and it does not make us feel better but we keep trying to use the music as a coping skill.

I am not suggesting that you give up your copying skills! Far from it, rather I am asking you to look at the less obvious ways that you agree and see if they are actually serving you well. An example of this less visible form of coping would be to not take responsibility for actions that you did, or to blame other people, or to ague back when feeling defensive. Because these are things that we do rather than things that can be seen they are much harder to pinpoint and attach as coping skills.

So, then, how do you find out these ways of coping? Well, the best way is to seek out the patterns. What is it that you do when confronted? What do you do when you are upset, when you feel cornered, when you feel blamed? Take yourself through a whole list of scenarios not based on the feeling, but rather based on the thought (in other words, we feel angry when we are blamed but we may react differently to being blamed than when a restaurant does not have what we want to order yet we feel "angry" for both situations).

Once you see the patterns, note how you react and then ask yourself "Am I getting what I want by reacting this way?" For example, I have worked with someone who would use threats to get what they wanted. They would say in therapy that they did this because their partner was not listening and so they felt that they had to resort to this form of punishment. Seriously? How many people do you know, yourself included do what someone is telling you to do when you threaten? (This is of course not when the treat is life threatening, I am talking about a threat such as "I am going to leave you if you do not …") The person knew after looking at how this will actually work for the other person that this most likely will not work and all they are doing is setting them up. The question for me is, is that enough to make them stop? Reward is very powerful. This person sometimes gets what they want by such behavior, so are they able to see the changes and positive aspects of not using threats when to date it has to some degree worked?

This is one reason to go to a skilled therapist. They are qualified to help that person look at their patterns and make real changes to them that are more sustainable. That being said, can anyone do this on their own? Most likely, if they are dedicated enough.