Bye Bye Coping Skills (How to Heal Yourself Emotionally)
Do you have an arsenal on standby with a giant coping skill list? Does it feel like you need 99 coping skills just to function in life? What if that’s not actually helping you?
Your list of coping skills is probably pointless. Don’t freak out and stop reading, though. I’ll explain why I say that.
Yes, positive coping strategies are important, but if you really want to learn how to heal yourself emotionally, you have to look at what got you where you are now. You have to acknowledge why you have a need for all of those positive coping strategies.
Go Beyond a Coping Skill List
What have you been through that resulted in your need for a coping skill list to be on constant standby? What experiences have left you struggling to cope with your life?
Seriously, think about the answers to those questions. The answers are your key to healing. Your coping skill list does nothing in regard to teaching you how to heal yourself emotionally.
For those of you who are reading this and expected me to give you this life-changing coping skill list, I’ll provide you with some links for 99 coping skills and more!
I’m not going to take the time to give you a list of coping skills I wrote, though, because there are plenty of resources out there for that. If that’s all you’re looking for instead of actually learning how to heal yourself emotionally, here you go!
List of Coping Skills Resources:
This website gives you 99 coping skills plus one extra! https://www.thepathway2success.com/100-coping-strategies-for-anger-anxiety-and-more/
This one gives you a list of coping skills for different types of needs. https://www.verywellmind.com/forty-healthy-coping-skills-4586742
This one focuses more on positive coping strategies for stress.https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/6392-stress-coping-with-lifes-stressors
Positive Coping Strategies Have Limits
Ok, you’ve got that info now. It’s time for me to explain why I say that your coping skill list is probably pointless.
It’s great to have a coping skill list in the moment when you need it. Let’s take that a little further, though.
As a psychotherapist, I have clients come to me quite often saying that they need to learn some coping skills or they need some more “tools in their toolbox” to cope with life. My response to that often shocks them.
I tell them that I might not be the therapist for them. If they are just looking to cope with life, then there are plenty of therapists who can teach them 99 coping skills or however many they need. I rarely teach coping skills to my clients.
A Coping Skill List Can Be a Toxic Cycle
Are you wondering why that is? If I am merely teaching a client to cope, then I am not teaching them how to heal what led to their need to cope.
If somebody does nothing but cope with their feelings, then they will stay stuck in that cycle. Something will happen to trigger them and they will have an uncomfortable emotion.
Next, they will use a coping skill to decrease the intensity of that emotion. That sounds great, right?
The problem with that is they are not doing anything to heal the trigger that caused the need for a coping skill to begin with. So, the uncomfortable emotion will continue to return again and again.
At some point, the coping skill that was working for them will stop working. Then, they’ll need to find more and more coping skills.
That cycle is often what brings clients to me. They tell me that they used to be able to handle whatever they’re dealing with, but now nothing works.
Yes! That’s exactly my point. You will run out of coping skills and get to the point that nothing works anymore unless you learn how to heal yourself emotionally.
Therapists Should Do More Than Teach Coping Skills
If all therapists are supposed to do is teach you how to cope, then there’d be no education required to become a licensed therapist. Therapists would only need to know how to run a search for coping skills on the internet.
You could simply go to a therapist and have the therapist read a coping skill list from a Google search to you. At the end of your session, the therapist could print that list off for you and tell you to practice some for homework.
The next week the therapist can ask you if you did your homework. You could sit and talk about the coping skills you used. Rinse and repeat.
That’s not going to teach you how to heal yourself emotionally, though. You need to go much deeper than that in order to truly heal what caused the need for coping skills.
If you’re looking for a therapist like me who will guide you beyond just finding some coping skills to use, then read my post 5 Steps for Finding a Good Therapist here. Just know that not all therapists are good therapists or good therapists for you!
Now, you know where I stand on coping skills. They have a place and time, but they don’t actually help you heal whatever caused the need for them in the first place.
Running Out of Coping Skills
So, let’s look at a fictional lady name Stacey. She is a forty-two-year-old married woman with two children. Stacey struggles when she and her husband have normal disagreements.
For the first few years of their marriage, Stacey would become passive when she and her husband disagreed about something. Quickly, she would tell her husband that he was right, even if that’s not what she felt.
She would do anything to end the disagreement to prevent her anxiety from taking over. As the years went by, Stacey got more and more angry with herself when she continued to defer to her husband.
Stacey decided that she needed to use a coping skill when they had a disagreement. She began taking deep breaths and counting to twenty when a disagreement began.
That helped for a couple of months, but then it stopped working. Her anxiety during a disagreement started getting so high that she began believing that she should consider divorcing her husband.
Surely, it was her husband’s fault and he “caused” her anxiety to get so high just because they disagreed about something. Shouldn’t he know better than to cause that kind of anxiety for her?
No! It’s not his job to manage her anxiety. It’s Stacey’s job to do the healing work to learn where the trigger began.
Stacey begins therapy because she feels like she is weak to have such anxiety and her coping skills aren’t working anymore. Now, let’s fast-forward several sessions to see the root of Stacey’s trigger when having a disagreement with her husband.
Exploring What’s Underneath the Need for Coping Skills
When Stacey was a little girl, she would hear her parents arguing on a regular basis. Her father got very loud and often violent when her mother would argue back.
There were many times that her father would leave for several days after an argument occurred. Stacey learned that when her mother would just agree with her father, the argument would stop.
Can you now see why Stacey tried that at first when disagreements with her husband took place? Also, Stacey had a subconscious belief that her husband would leave her if she stood her ground.
That’s what she learned about men arguing with their wives. Throughout Stacey’s life, she had a pattern of holding in her thoughts and feelings because she feared she would be left if she voiced any of those to a man.
While in therapy, Stacey realizes that, if there is a disagreement, it has the potential to get nasty and possibly violent. So, she tried to do everything she could to prevent that.
The goal for Stacey in therapy is to learn how to feel safe emotionally while also allowing herself to feel and communicate her feelings. That can be a tough process, but it will help her learn why she responds the way she responds.
Once she is able to process the emotional trauma and learn that her husband is not unsafe for her, she can begin to have disagreements in a healthy manner with her husband. She won’t need to continue finding more coping skills when the ones she has quit working.
Healing Instead of Just Coping
Now, I’ll use myself as an example of how coping skills are pointless if you don’t do the work to learn how to heal yourself emotionally. I’m going to take you back to my teenage years to do that.
Please know that I am really hoping my example from my teenage years is beneficial to you. It’s hard for me to write about those times because I was so incredibly depressed. So, to my teenage self, I’m sending you so much love!
My father was an alcoholic. There were many times when he would get incredibly drunk, call me, and tell me how worthless I was.
My go to response was anger because that was easier than acknowledging the sadness. If you relate to that, then you should read my post Anger is Often Repressed Sadness here.
After one of my father’s drunken rants, I would hop in my car to get away from everything. I’d crank the music up loud to keep myself from thinking or sing loudly while driving down country roads to release my anger.
That coping skill from my teenage years carried over to my twenties as well. I thought I was doing well to get in my car, blast the music, and just drive to “calm” myself down.
That coping skill stopped working for me. Not only that, it wasn’t always available. I tried many other coping skills throughout my twenties, most of which were quite unhealthy.
In my late twenties, I started therapy because nothing was helping me cope with my anger anymore. That allowed me to see the root of some of my anger.
What I did NOT need was another coping skill list. I needed to learn to process and heal the sadness that was causing my anger.
Had I not learned to do that, then I’d probably have run out of coping skills to use by the time I reached thirty-years-old. There would have been no positive coping strategies left that I hadn’t tried.
Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of people end up. They’ve tried just about every coping skill out there and nothing works anymore.
You Are Not Screwed Up If Coping Skills Stop Working
The result of that is typically people deciding they are so screwed up because “nothing” can help them. That is simply not true.
It’s also the main reason I keep saying that a coping skill list is pointless if you don’t figure out the reason you need it to begin with. There’s also another danger to that.
The longer you go without exploring the cause of your feelings and behaviors, the louder and grander they become. If you don’t believe me, go ask one of my ex-boyfriends.
The more we push our feelings down, the bigger they become. They will get to a point where they begin exploding in every aspect of your life.
That means that you will struggle with family, friends, co-workers, romantic relationships and probably even strangers you encounter. Your behaviors will seem to be uncontrollable, and you’ll probably think that nothing will help you since it’s gotten to this point.
That is not true at all. You can heal and learn how to live life and not just cope with life. That should be your goal.
Coping Skills Don’t Heal You
So, if you are searching for that magical list of 99 coping skills that will supposedly make everything in your life manageable, I’ll reiterate my point about coping skills for you again.
You could have the best coping skill list in the entire world, but, at some point, those coping skills will stop working. Before you run through and use up your 99 coping skills or however many you try, I challenge you to do something different.
Allow yourself to explore where the emotional and/or physical trauma or experiences that resulted in your need for so many coping skills came from. Once you can identify that, process it, and learn how to begin healing it, you won’t need all those coping skills anymore.
For me, I no longer need to jump in my car, crank the music and scream lyrics at the top of my angry lungs anymore. Now that I have healed so much of that anger and sadness, I view my experiences with compassion and self-love instead.
I am so thankful for that because I truly enjoy cranking my music up, rolling my windows down and singing at the top of my lungs. I do that for fun now, though. It’s no longer something I do when I’m angry and need to use it as a coping skill.
So, think about the times you use coping skills or times you feel like you need a coping skill. What’s at the root of that? That’s where you will work to learn how to heal yourself emotionally.
Let me know what your thoughts are about this post by commenting below. Before you start screaming about coping skills being helpful, re-read this post. They have a place and time, but shouldn’t be a crutch to avoid tough things.
This site is only intended for people who are truly willing to look at themselves with an open mind and have the ability to truly be vulnerable with themselves and others. Please understand that this site is in NO WAY THERAPEUTIC ADVICE. However, this site can be very beneficial in learning the causes of your Not Good Enough Stuff. This site is not intended to provide or replace medical or psychiatric treatment. Mary Beth HIGHLY RECOMMENDS finding a licensed therapist to help you process the information from this site and all that you learn about yourself. Visit Psychology Today to find a licensed therapist in your area.
I’ve identified it. I’d like to have clearer understanding of how to actually process it and where exactly does one’s “learn to heal it”?
Anita, My best advice will always be to find a licensed therapist to guide you on ways to heal. It’s incredibly difficult to answer “how to heal it” for many reasons. The main reason is we are all so different, which means we need to heal in different ways. I tell my psychotherapy clients all the time, that if healing were so easy and had simple A, B, C steps, then there’d be no need for therapists. I write a lot about the ways that helped me heal and ways I help my clients heal, but I can’t know how to guide healing for those whom I don’t know. Unfortunately, that’s probably not the answer you were looking for, but it’s my honest answer. If you live in the U.S. and are looking for a therapist, let me know where you live and I’d be happy to do some research for you! Just shoot me an email!
Thank you for your quick reply. I’ve tried several different counselors and therapists and am now doing EMDR therapy. My issues are complex but the one that is the most difficult & painful, I’m not having much success and don’t know who/what it’s going to take. I will email you and do very much appreciate your assistance!
You are so very welcome!