Coping Mechanisms

Before a person properly ‘wakes up’ – shifts the centre of gravity of their being from acquired / externally-driven personality to internal ‘essence’ – their life is necessarily filled with tension. Not all of the time, of course, but most of the time. It can even fill their dreams with unresolved issues, so that they wake up feeling drained, instead of rested. One answer is a holiday – a break from the usual routine of concerns. It’s just one of many ‘coping mechanisms’.

Most people do not realise just how full their days become, with their little coping mechanisms. I am not just speaking of the obvious ones, like alcohol and tobacco, Walter Mitty like daydreams, going to the golf course or the gym, binge-watching the latest TV serial, outbursts of frustration or even lashing out in anger. I mean the more subtle ones that – if you noticed them – would be seen as little victories; things like ignoring the co-worker or neighbour who wants to bend your ear with their meaningless chatter. I called them little victories, but in truth they are little acts of spite. They prove (!) that we do have some control.

The source of all that tension, and the cause of the coping mechanisms, is the mass of unresolved ‘wishes’ that we carry around. Some of those wishes are ‘positive’: things that we want to happen. Some of them are negative: things that we fear might happen, and wish to avoid. We carry them around as tension, because we cannot simply make those wishes come true, in a positive way. Either they seem beyond our direct control or they lie beyond the reach of our attention. The latter are those things that we think we know how to do, but can’t seem to ‘get right’. Things like brown-nosing the boss for a promotion, pulling an attractive date, or getting the best of a negotiation whilst the other party feels the same.

Another coping mechanism that – by its nature – often goes un-noticed, is the building of a mental ‘buffer’. This, in effect, tells the mind not to enter that part of the mental model, unless certain conditions are met. It stops us seeing internal contradictions, such as our wish to be successful, but our continued failure to make that wish come true. We box our failure away from the usual scope of our attention. The odd thing here is that only we lose sight of the contradiction: to other people, it may still be as plain as day. Mostly, we respect these buffers in other people, unless they stop us from releasing our own tensions.

Sometimes, all of our coping mechanisms can fail. We can no longer even maintain the buffers between our desires and our perceptions. Taking a holiday from our desires, to ‘recharge our energy and positivity’ (refresh our buffers), does not work. Even ‘letting the wish go’ (buffering our desire) seems impossible. At that point, even a sane person will seek out a counsellor, or perhaps a professional psychiatrist, who will help them to build new coping mechanisms. Leaving such tension un-treated results in clinical depression, and sometimes in substance abuse.

Counsellors, psychiatrists and psychologists all know about coping mechanisms. They know various techniques like EMDR, CBT and NLP to help retrain people, and either strengthen their coping mechanisms or give them new ones. You can’t cure addiction, for example, unless you address the unresolved tension from which the substance (or behaviour) in question has become a refuge. They all know – or should know – how to treat the symptom, but they mostly think the cause is ‘normal’. It certainly is ‘normal’ in the sense of a population norm – a statistical norm – but the underlying tension isn’t ‘proper’ to a healthy mind.

A healthy mind should ‘wake up’: should stop living a dream that is filled with unresolved attachments. But because we do not teach this point of view, generation after generation continues to live within their dreams, and call it ‘normal’. One can’t call their tensions ‘self-inflicted’, because they aren’t awake enough to know their real self. Their attachments are ‘taught’ by the world around them; by copying other people and by experiencing pleasure and pain. They live in a dream where their attachments seem real: justifiable. Coping mechanisms, too, belong to that dream world. They have as little objective reality as the attachments that cause the tension they address.

Maybe one day, human society will learn to be healthy. Adults will then help children to move from the phase of ‘finding out about the world’ into the active wakefulness that is proper to our species. Instead of passing on their own dreams, attachments and coping mechanisms, they will teach children to become centred in ‘essence’. Maybe it has already happened, and the fabled ‘Fall of Atlantis’ is a cautionary tale about a society that becomes complacent, and whose adults return to a dream existence.

Author: sbwheeler

Retired IT consultant.

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