Destructive coping mechanisms are like resilient pests that keep coming back. Sometimes they are so sneaky you don’t know they are there until you turn around and see the years of damage.
Just as your body compensates for injury to avoid pain, so do your mind and heart. If you sprain your left ankle, you favor your right ankle while it heals. For a time, your right ankle can handle the extra weight. However, if you never learn to walk evenly again, your right side – from your head to your feet – will experience the pain of overcompensating.
Compensations of your mind and heart are not so easily observable.
Sadness was not an acceptable emotion in my home. Anger, however, was. As a sensitive child, my empathic gifts were not appreciated. Around sixth grade, I began to understand if I wanted to avoid the condescending and cruel response to expressing myself, I had one choice.
For half of my life, any painful emotion – sadness, remorse, sorrow – morphed into anger. Many of my journals express frustration with living in such a constant state. I didn’t want to be angry, but it was a habit so engrained it felt normal. Thus, the coping mechanism that protected me from my parent’s displeasure was a key factor keeping me miserable after the abuse had passed.
Awareness Requires Action
After much introspection and psychiatric care, I realized the damage I was causing myself by coping with life in such a negative way.
I had to be humble enough to examine my choices. What did I do when I had a bad day? Did it create happiness and healing in the long-term, or a short-term numbing that led to regret? I had to be honest in my reflections, even – perhaps especially – when I didn’t like the answer.
Once I understood what I was doing, I had the responsibility to change. Changing was painful. I had to ask people for help and forgiveness. I felt exposed, raw, and like I was walking up a steep mountainside. I was tempted to give up and resent the process.
The Right Direction is Usually the Hardest
Learning to change will be hard for you, too. Take heart! When something is hard it usually means you’re going in the right direction. Be patient as you learn to do things differently. Correcting behaviors will not happen in a few days or weeks – as I said, they are like insatiable pests that keep coming back. However, unlike voracious pests, you can conquer destructive behaviors for good.
Thankfully, I stuck with my decision to grow. I pressed forward when giving up would have been easier. Yes, I still get riled up about life, but a harmful reaction no longer controls me. I am happy and at peace, generally speaking.
I know a lot of beautiful people who are also pressing forward, working to correct the compensations which are no longer necessary and causing them harm.
You can learn to change, too.