As we plunge into the holiday season, I thought it would be a good time to take inventory of our go-to behaviors for relieving stress.
According to Julie M. Simon, LMFT and author of When Food Is Comfort, if we grew up with encouraging nurturing caregivers, we acquire capabilities such as personal competencies and strengths that support our development, bring relief from distress and help us meet life’s challenges.
Some of these capabilities include the ability to: Soothe ourselves, express emotions, perceive others’ emotions, focus, learn, solve problems, ask for help, cooperate with others, feel worthy of relationships, express warmth, delay gratification, have a sense of humor, express creativity and be in tune with our bodies.
Other internal resources also include our talents and natural gifts like playing an instrument or being an excellent reader.
When we don’t believe in our internal strengths
Experiences with caregivers or past loves who let us down consistently, did not tune into our emotions or worse, traumatized us with physical or psychological abuse, make it sometimes difficult to identify and trust our internal resources. Continual criticism, shame, absence or rejection give us a diminished sense of worth. We often resort to other behavior and resources to soothe us.
Survival resources or coping strategies are physical or psychological adaptations that allow us to manage challenging early experiences. They help calm our nervous systems. According to Julie Simon, examples of these resources are:
- Running away
- Reading a parent’s mood to avoid them when they are angry, drunk, anxious, etc.
- Being a good girl or boy and not making waves
- Emotionally withdrawing
- Adopting a subservient demeanor
- Getting good grades and striving for high achievements
- Getting angry
- Thumb sucking
- Rocking back and forth
- Escaping into books, movies, programs or games
- Using drugs, alcohol or food to comfort ourselves
- Excessive exercise, shopping, masturbation
- Hyper-vigilance: looking out for threatening behavior
- Getting into trouble
- Striving for perfection
Some of the above ways to cope calm us down in chaotic settings. Others rev us up in non-stimulating or depressive settings.
I can own at least six of the survival resources listed. Do you think these strategies are especially common with highly sensitive people? Highly sensitive people are born into this world with above average nervous system reactions. Put us in an insecure parenting or romantic relationship and we are in a double bind. We may resort to these adaptive responses.
To help increase awareness of our behavior, take a moment to list all the coping mechanisms you employ. Consider if they are useful to you today. Hint: Some of them are. The rest may be inhibiting your personal growth.
What can you do to stop using the ones that no longer serve you? List the internal resources that do serve you. Look to develop strength in the those, such as in delayed gratification and creativity. Nothing changes overnight, so prepare to make baby steps every day.
Beyond the internal resources, we have external resources. They can also help us avoid leaning on unhealthy coping mechanisms. External resources are different from internal and survival resources. These we get from people or things outside of us. They can be relationships, spiritual practices, work, communities, health care and material resources such as money, a home, a car or food to eat.
What external resources give you the ability to manage your emotions? Navigate difficult career decisions? Handle life’s ups and downs?
Noticing coping strategies over the holidays
As the holidays unfold pay attention to the coping strategies you default to when family drama or money stress ensues. Consider the benefits or problems with these survival resources. As a child, you needed them to thrive. Could another resource better support your personal growth now?
Thankful for resource
Writing is a creative internal resource I use weekly. When I share it, it becomes an external resource because it connects me with you, my readers. Since it is the week of Thanksgiving here in the United States, I would like to take a moment to express my gratitude for all of you who read my writing and make me feel less alone. I appreciate your presence in the world and thank you for sharing your time and thoughts with me. May you have many, many blessings in your lives.
Top photo courtesy of Pixabay
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