For many people, if not most, when a problem arises, they look for a way of fixing it or making it “disappear”. Living as we do in a world of instant gratification, it is not uncommon to see people reach for a band-aid, a temporary solution, that will alleviate the problem, at least for the moment. These band-aid solutions allow us to cope temporarily with the issue.
Using a coping mechanism approach is normal, acceptable and makes a lot of sense, when dealing with temporary issues, as it is usually quick and economical. However, it is not an ideal long-term strategy, particularly when confronted with emotional matters, as coping mechanisms are not usually designed to resolve the underlying problem.
We cope, we live
Humans have developed many coping strategies and mechanisms over time. These coping mechanisms keep us safe and serve a useful purpose, as relatively efficient short-term solutions to problems. One definition of coping is “the process of managing taxing circumstances, expending effort to deal with personal and interpersonal problems, and seeking to master, minimize, reduce or tolerate stress or conflict.” Managing, minimizing, reducing, tolerating… all of these presuppose the continued existence of the problem and a continued effort to deal with it each time it appears. As the problem is not really dealt with, it will continue to present itself.
After a while, we get so used to reaching for a coping mechanism that we might not stop and consider if we could take another approach. Given that a coping mechanism is really only a temporary fix, it is not surprising that many of us keep looking for new ones when the old ones no longer do the trick. Out of this ongoing need for more and better coping techniques, a whole industry has arisen, providing us with a plethora of coping tools to try:
- relaxation techniques
- improved communication skills
- problem analysis approaches
- empathetic problem discussion
- acceptance of personal responsibility
- improvements in assertive behaviour
- trust building exercises
- techniques to handling insecurity
- enhanced forgiveness
- development of detachment
- development of patience
- Critical Thinking skills
as well as the old standards of simple denial and distraction, where we try to distance ourselves from the issue.
Some of the coping skills mentioned above will certainly benefit us in many areas of life. However, just as putting a daily or hourly band-aid on a cut that requires stitches for it to close, using a coping mechanism inappropriately can become quite tiring and ultimately quite expensive in time and effort.
Don’t cope, resolve
Rather than constantly coping, which really is mainly about dealing with the symptoms instead of the underlying problem, it is wiser and more efficient to seek out the most effective way to deal with the issue itself.
For example, if you were someone like me who suffered a loss of a parent at an early age, you might adopt coping mechanisms like mine: I would avoid at all costs any situations which would remind me of my father’s death. I would not attend funerals, would not discuss him, would not spend any serious amount of time in the town where I grew up, etc., etc. I moved to another country, lived an entirely “different life” and yet, the pain I felt around his death remained with me. My coping approach dealt with the symptoms by keeping me away from that pain, but never actually resolved anything. I dove into the business world and became a workaholic, studying business techniques and eventually running two companies simultaneously. I was distracted, yes, but the pain was always there, waiting for the day when I would finally face it and release it.
When I retired from running companies, I entered into the world of personal development and tried out many, many of the standard coping mechanisms available – I spent countless hours using my large collection of relaxation and affirmation recordings, attended numerous workshops on everything from hypnosis to meditation to communication skills to living from the heart, went on inner quests, etc., etc. I learned all kinds of ways to temporarily get myself into a better state of being or feeling, but soon it would be obvious that the pain was still present, waiting for me. In reality, these techniques are all good ways to cope better with what life throws at us, much like talk therapy can potentially teach us. But, bottom line, the pain was still there.
When I finally found myself in a situation where it felt somewhat safe to dip my toe into the pain, I knew I had to finally do something serious about it. 20 years of denial and avoidance and another five years of intense study of even better comping techniques was enough. Still with the results orientation I had cultivates as a businessman, I set out to find a way to release the pain, set it and myself free. I did not need to seek out any more band-aids – it was clear that that approach was not effective nor cost-effective. I needed something that would help me, once and for all, release the pain I held over my father’s death years earlier.
The funny thing about what I have discovered on this quest is that the answer is incredibly simple and yet missed by so many due to a natural feature of humans – we avoid pain. This pain avoidance means that we look for the sugar coated pill that will magically dissolve our ills and pains, without our suffering. It can also be likened to wanting to win the life lottery – all our pains and tribulations dissolved away without our having to do much of anything. Given the constant influx of the latest and greatest coping tools (new meditations discovered by some guru in some distant land, new mind tricks we can use to cover our internal cow patties of pain with better whipped cream, more and better magical thinking involving aliens, ancient lands or dolphins, etc.) it is nor surprising that we get perplexed as to why they are not helping us beyond some minor pain alleviation.
The answer is simple and yet counter-intuitive. Research and field work by people like Dr. Peter Levine and Dr David Bercelli, just to name two, have shown that we can allow feelings to pass through us instead of “storing” them. If we do store them, we can access them and then release them, and that is what my AER (Awareness Expression Resolution) process facilitates. Learning how to release stored feelings is not hard and does not take a lot of time, does not require mind trickery or the intervention of anyone else, and can be learned in an hour or so.
But, since releasing requires us to become aware of our pain and consciously let go of it, people tend to seek out magic painless pills instead. And, while they get some feel-good sugar for the moment, their pain continues to be with them.
So, if you are tired of searching out that perfect band-aid, and ready to actually let go of your pain, try something radical: feel your feelings (stored and new ones) without resistance or judgment, and let them flow through and out. You might just find they are ready to leave…
Copyright 2010 Robert S. Vibert, all rights reserved.