How I Cope   3 comments

PAIN

Before I share how Kimberly and I grew in our wonderful, painful, scary and supportive relationship, I need to give some context regarding our perspective on coping mechanisms.  

All of us are wounded because we are born into a broken world with broken people and broken relationships.  In order to survive emotionally we develop methods for protecting ourselves.  These include the happy face, the sad face, the angry face, the cute face to hold off the dis-grace of others.  We use control, manipulation, confrontation, and every other form of avoidance (procrastination, withdrawal, acquiescence, drugs).  The list goes on.  We use these methods unwittingly, settling into a pattern that works best for each.  Many children would be emotionally destroyed if they found no means to cope.

I was at one time convinced that coping strategies were evil because they shielded us from the truth and taught us to live a lie.  They do shield us from the truth, but this is not necessarily an evil.  As Jack would say, “You can’t handle the truth!” or in Jesus’ words, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.”  Our coping mechanisms act as crutches, and if we see them as such, we can slowly mend and get back on our feet.  The problem comes when we either deny the injury and pretend we have no crutch or stop going to physical therapy because it is too painful and decide we’ll just sign up for a disability pension.  I used to try talking people out of their coping mechanisms, kick their crutches out from under them so to speak, until I realized how powerfully beneficial these protective shields are.

My major coping mechanism for feeling better about myself is trying harder.  I thought I was practicing discipline, obedience, godliness, but increased effort was really my means to block a sense of shame and unworthiness.  I only discovered this truth because my method of coping didn’t “work” sufficiently–I still felt too much like a failure.  The more energy I used to escape my negative feelings, the more I realized it wasn’t working, that I could never make it work.

Once I realized that this was a coping mechanism, I tried to “overcome” it.  It was a lie that I had to cast out…  only it had stopped deceiving me once I recognized it for what it was.  When I realized it was a crutch, I could use it as a crutch.  For instance, I feel inordinately bad about failing to meet expectations (the inordinate part is a major clue).  When I did not recognize this as a coping strategy, it controlled me subconsciously.  Now that I realize it is a crutch, I am tempted to throw it down, but the problem is not so much my behavior (trying harder) but the reason behind it–working to earn my worth.

The Dark Hand of Shame

So my second temptation is to maintain my hard effort while changing the underlying thought patterns, but the effort itself supports the wrong mindset.  I am running late for a meeting, and as I drive I tell myself, “It’s okay.  Everyone is sometimes late.  Calm down,” but all the while I am driving like Jehu.  I find that I can’t maintain the same level of diligence without operating out of a sense of urgency, a drivenness that comes from my insecurities.  The more I try to give myself a break, the less I meet expectations, and the worse I feel about me.  These voices of condemnation have indoctrinated me and shaped my feelings, and barring a miracle, it will take a long process of reorienting my perspective.  In the meantime I do not have the emotional resources to simply stop all effort to meet others’ expectations and hold back the resulting flood of shame.  I would be overwhelmed by the voices against me feeding my shame.  My coping mechanism allows for my frayed emotions to be soothed as I slowly push into my fear and break free.

So I take baby steps, put a little weight on the foot.  I put in a little less effort while working to offload the shame that I would normally feel, turning a little more towards grace.  I share with others my fears so that their power is reduced.  I find gracious people to support my faltering faith.  And slowly I find myself growing whole from this deep wound.  Healing of long established problems, both physical and emotional, takes a lot of time, gentleness to the injury, support and protection.

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Posted October 5, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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3 responses to “How I Cope

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  1. Thank you for sharing about your relationship with God, and with Kimberly. Even after being a follower of Jesus for 37 years, and married for 33, I am still learning…perhaps more in the last ten years than the other 20+. One way I learn is from others who are courageous enough to share with honesty about their own struggles, and what they have learned about themselves, others and God. Your journey has been an encouragement to me.

    I think you are on the right track here with your attitude toward coping strategies…

    One question I have asked our missionaries here that we help care for: What are your coping strategies? Are they working in this new context? What needs to happen? I also ask them about their children: do they recognize their own children’s coping strategies?

    Another similar question: how do you know when you are overly stressed-what signs? how do you de-stress? and the same for their children: how do they know their children are stressed, what signs do they see, and how do their children naturally de-stress, and how can you help them intentionally de-stress.

    And I apply the same questions to myself! Even after celebrating 25 years this month on the mission field!

  2. Oops, meant to sign in! This is Doris Nichols commenting above. Don’t like being anonymous!

    • Thanks for your response, Doris, and for the encouraging words. Your questions to fellow workers sound wise. For some there is no greater stress than living in a foreign culture. Everyone there needs a lot of support. I’m glad you can be there for them.

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