Coping in relation to trauma and PTSD
When you are confronted with a traumatic event, there are certain automatic responses taking place in your brain. Some of them you are conscious of, like the adrenaline that heightens your awareness and prepares your body for action, others are happening on a unconscious level.
Either way, the coping mechanisms used are adaptive, and therefore useful in reducing stress, or maladaptive and increasing your stress level.
Whatever you choose or is chosen for you, those mechanisms are there to help you manage the anxiety produced by the traumatic event. As I stated in a previous post, no one can decide what constitutes a traumatic event for someone else.
About 400 to 600 coping mechanisms have been identified, according to Wikipedia. So, why do you cope the way you do?
You are unique
Life is experienced differently since each of us is unique in every way. You are not born as a blank piece of paper. Generations have gone before
you, having an impact on who you are. You might have your father’s nose or your grandmother’s eyes. You inherit certain traits, not just in how you look, but also in how you behave and react to life events.
For instance, anger is a coping mechanism in my family of origin. I deal with a lot of anger, but having been exposed to the detrimental effect it can have, I struggle in expressing my anger in a healthy way. In the beginning of my healing journey I wasn’t even aware I had anger issues. Can you say denial?
Upbringing & social environment
The way you have been raised has a huge influence in how you perceive trauma or stress. Maybe you had to overcome the death of a parent. Or the betrayal of trust. Or you had a happy and care free childhood. Maybe your parents believed in you and raised you to be a strong person in his or her own right. Or the whole family system was skewed and you had to take care of a parent, instead of being taken care of.
Maybe you were bullied in school. Or you were a little shy. You were the popular guy or girl. You were intelligent, learned easily. Or you struggled to do your homework and exams, feeling dumb. Or you were told over and over that you wouldn’t amount to anything.
I can go on and on. The way your parents relate to you and vice versa influences all your relationships with major authorities. Do you get that? Do you really get that?
I was astounded to discover that after finally being able to leave my highly dysfunctional family behind, I entered a social network with leadership that was actually identical to my relationship with my father! And I walked into it with open eyes. I had absolutely no clue what was going on, since I was used to misuse/abuse of authority from my parents. How could I recognize a healthy authority-dependence relationship when I had no idea what it actually looked like?
Besides being influenced by your environment and unconsciously learning from it, there are also coping skills you can acquire. First you need to be aware of how you respond to the stressor. Then you consciously have to change your reaction to something (more) desirable. This takes practice. For example, to reduce stress you train yourself to focus on your breathing instead of the stressor. Or you learn how to practice mindfulness in order to stay in the moment and not be hijacked by the stressor.
In other words, even though you might have inherited lots of coping mechanisms, you don’t need to be stuck with them. You decide the outcome you want, then you work on the skills you need to reach your goal!
So, how are you coping?
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