As our bodies have grown and aged into our daily routines there is a normal occurrence of bumps and bruises along the way. Perhaps we had an acute injury that has never fully healed, a bad knee or shoulder that has needed extra ice after strain, or we could have a side of the body we favor that causes an imbalance over time. This is a normal part of aging, living, and exercise, with it being rare to find an individual over thirty who hasn’t experienced a major issue with their body. You may be asking: “What does this have to do with the possibility of my coping strategy being harmful?” It turns out that the same process rings true for our emotional selves and life.
From the first moment of life we are developing and evolving our emotional selves. This continues to be a fluid process throughout our life cycle within ourselves, family, peers, and partners. Unfortunately what is normal in a physical sense is also normal in an emotional sense. Traumatic experiences, being a victim of abuse, attachment dysfunction with our parents, feelings of isolation, betrayal from peers or partners, or experiencing a major shortcoming are all to common in our development and life.
Just as we compensate to favor one side of our body, such as knowing to ice our knee after a strain or finding ourselves avoiding physical exertion, we naturally build compensations for emotional wounds or imbalances. Instead of using ice to reduce swelling we relieve emotional pain with coping skills that can range from positive to negative, with the consequences not always being clear.
A common way to cope in or society that can create these negative consequences is substance use. Alcohol, THC, amphetamines, cocaine, caffeine, benzodiazepines, and opiates have been imbued into our routines and lifestyles. They serve the dual purpose of medicinal and recreational use in our life. Most people have received signals from themselves and their environment that their coping through the use of substances has become negative at one point in their life. Becoming aware that you blacked out at a party the next day from a friend, over using a prescription and finding yourself rationalizing it the next day, realizing that you did not engage in a work or life task because you were intoxicated, or the sobering look at your finances when you see how much you have spent over the past month of going out. The examples are endless.
We must also remember the value of these compensations to our lives. They are vital to our survival and functioning. Limping is always better than being stuck when we have somewhere to be. Just as a substance can be a relief to an experience, or dynamic with our self or another, that feels unbearable at this moment. Altering our behavior to our environment typically indicates someone who is resilient and searching for solutions – an attempt to continue. This is why we cheer for the athlete who plays through the pain. We identify with and admire their resilience in their performance as we perform and aspire in our day to day lives. We cheer for them with the understanding of their increased vulnerability and risk that they are facing.
I challenge you to think about the times when the stress in your life was high. When you find yourself feeling shameful from your actions or when someone close is concerned about your behavior. Ask yourself, “Are the ways that I cope with stress and emotional wounds putting me at higher risk for negative consequences?” If you feel ready to address some of these underlying issues, please get in contact with us!
By Jacob Meyer, LSW at Healing Roots Wellness Center