Coping

Welcome to ‘Torches‘, a month dedicated to undestand coping in its many forms.

Let’s start with definitions.

To cope is to deal effectively with something difficult. Sounds a lot like resilience, but while resilience is the ability to “recover quickly”, to “bounce back”, almost being untouched by the circumstances, coping implies a process of managing them, expending effort to solve problems, and seeking to master, minimize, reduce or tolerate stress or conflict. So, when we cope, we are more affected by the things that happen to us, but seek a way to process them, whether it’s by attaching some form of meaning to them, or by simply avoiding them. As you can already see, coping can range from very aware strategies to rather ‘defensive’ ones. But ultimately, it’s a very personal way to jump obstacles.

Little exercise to reflect: how do you think you tend to cope usually? What do you do with that obstacle? Do you push it off, do you see it as an occasion to learn how to jump, do you sit in front of it and hope it will disappear?

Coping can vary a lot from person to person, or even from moment to moment. We might be in a more protective mood and that might lead us to avoid the problem (sort of a survival mode), or we might be more prone to see what a tough experience can teach us.

Let’s look at four forms of coping:

  1. Positive appraisal happens when we reframe an event in a positive light, managing to get the positives out of it. It’s a matter of change in perspective, that allows us to see multiple aspects of the same event, and focus on the positive ones.
  2. Problem-focused (or approach coping) where we invest our efforts into finding a solution to manage or solve the problem at hand. It requires a clear vision of the issue, and a concrete plan on how it can be overcome.
  3. Emotion-focused (or avoidant coping) focuses on reducing the emotional distressed caused by the event we are living. This often involves seeking emotional support, or self-soothing with drugs or alcohol. The focus is on the emotion experienced rather than what caused it.
  4. Meaning-focused is based on a narration of the event that extracts meaning from it, drawing on a person’s values, beliefs and goals. It’s what allows us to see ourselves as part of something bigger, a process made (also) of obstacles, that are there to teach us something.

We have probably used all of them in our life, while having a ‘default’ for some situations, or more variability in others. This strongly depends on our emotional state, our support system, and the nature of the problem.

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