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.
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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.
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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.