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Coping Or Avoiding? Why Knowing The Difference Matters
Are your behaviors coping or avoiding your emotions? There is a big difference, and if you know it, you can be more healthy. I’m often asked, as a marriage counselor, for a list of things clients can do to cope well. I have to tell them that I don’t have one because here’s the thing – anything you do to cope with uncomfortable emotions you can also use to avoid those uncomfortable emotions. There aren’t any inherently pure coping skills out there. Let’s talk about what the difference is between coping and avoiding.
What Is Coping?
To cope is similar to letting go. To cope with an uncomfortable emotion assumes that you’ve picked it up in the first place. After picking it up and owning it, then you cope with it – or let it go. Whether you are dealing with fear or sadness, or something else, you can only let go of it after you have it in the first place.
For example, if you are dealing with the death of your parent, first you need to feel your sadness and loneliness because of your parent’s passing. Then, after you have felt and picked up those emotions are you able to cope with it. Then you are able to let them go. This is the way to move on past them, but it can only happen after you have picked up your emotions. Remember, you can’t let go of something you don’t have. So pick it up! (Related Articles: Emotions 101: How To Be Healthy and 3 Principles Of Emotional Health).
What Is Avoiding?
When you avoid an emotion you don’t pick it up. You push it down and push it to the side. You can do this through simply ignoring it, or deliberately dodging it. This is also what happens when you use pornography or drugs – or even when you get angry (Related Articles: Help For Pornography Problems, and Pornography Counseling: Find Recovery And Healing and Individual Therapy Tip: Anger Is A Secondary Emotion). When you use pornography, for example, you flood your body/brain with a feel good chemical called dopamine. So, instead of feeling the discomfort of your parents death, you feel euphoria, excitement and anticipation. You have avoided feeling your emotions. Thus, never letting them go and solidifying their place right next to you for a long time.
Many clients tell me that ‘I’ve dealt with that’ in regard to emotions surrounding something like their parent’s death. Unfortunately, the sadness and loneliness they could have felt was pushed aside and they have been avoiding it. They have been numbing from it and think that that is coping. It’s not. Let’s talk about why.
Confusing Avoiding And Coping – They Are Not The Same
If you aren’t feeling your emotions then have you coped with them? Or have you avoided them? If you are doing something such as watching shows online, is that a healthy coping behavior, or a way to avoid your emotions?
The answers to these questions aren’t straight forward. However, the answer starts with the question of whether or not you picked up your emotion in the first place. If you have picked up your emotion, then watching shows is probably an attempt to cope, or to let go of that emotion in a healthy way. If you haven’t picked up your emotion, then it’s probably an attempt to avoid or cover up the emotion in an unhealthy way. And when you do this, your emotion never really goes away – it sticks around and influences you and your life.
It’s important to know whether your behavior is a healthy attempt to cope or an unhealthy way of avoiding. By avoiding your emotions, you set yourself up for addictions. Addiction to pornography, substances, anger, work, money, religion – anything really. You start to look for ways to avoid feeling without realizing it.
Coping takes and helps you build strength. Pick up your emotions even if it feels counterintuitive (Related Article: Build Your Emotional Capacity). It will help you build your emotional muscles and improve your relationships.
Where To Get Help Applying These Principles
A trained Utah therapist can help you know if you are coping with or avoiding your emotions. Knowing the difference matters to your personal mental health and relationship success.