What exactly constitutes a "maladaptive" coping behavior?
I've been mulling over this question a lot lately. With little to no structure to my life as of late, I've been very cognizant of how I spend my free time. It's gotten me to think about how a lot of what I do with my free time is a way to "deal" or cope with life.
The world is harsh. It's brutal. I mean, duh. We live in ambiguity because life is a mix of seemingly senseless and overwhelming tragedy as well as larger than life happiness that we share with others. How does one manage to stay away from becoming a "Pollyanna" (denying anything "wrong" with the world) on one hand, while at the same time not become an Eeyore (everything is bad, so why ever expect it to be good? P.S. I suck). So anyway, people have various ways of "dealing"/staying sane.
The traditional conception of "acceptable" ways to deal are usually graphically represented in a multi-colored triangle or Venn diagram. Maintaining your sanity is "simply" a manner of attending to all of the different dimensions of yourself: your emotional self, your spiritual self, your physical self, your social self, your psychological self--and on and on and on.
I decided that after graduation, as a way to practice "self-care," that I was going to try and avoid exposing myself to so much trauma through one-on-one work with trauma survivors, etc. However, it seems that trauma/suffering is just, like, EVERYWHERE (our neighbors six houses down the street just got robbed in broad daylight for crying out loud). I've learned that running away from human suffering just isn't the answer. YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN'T HIDE! MUAHAHAHAHAHA.
So anyway, here are some of the ways that I try and "deal" with the tragedy of human existence:
- SITCOM MEDIA/EASY ANSWERS LANE/HAPPY ENDINGS HAPPYCLOUDLAND: Any movie, TV show or book with an oversimplified, overwrought, contrived plot with a happy ending--I'm sold. Why settle for the unpredictability and messiness of real life when you can enjoy a formula of (1) trivial "conflict" that ends in a (2) "life lesson" all for the price of 25 minutes! My favorite sitcoms lately have been Community and Parks and Recreation. Movie of choice? I Hate Luv Storys. Who wouldn't love a goofy opposites-attract movie where poor people don't exist and everyone is young and beautiful?
- SUBSTANCE USE: Okay, so far I haven't acted on my inclinations, but the world is just so sad and messed up that I get these sudden urges to binge-drink alcohol. I now begin to understand why chemical dependency is so prevalent in society. Life is so intense sometimes that NOT feeling anymore sounds veeerrrrry appealing. I'll take anything to not feel overwhelmed anymore. Tell me if I'm wrong.
- FOOD: I have literally caught myself having feelings of anxiety, going to the kitchen and eating a cookie/muffin and then experiencing the anxiety dissipate, if but for a short period of time. Food comforts me, so binge eating is a way to try and maximize that comforting feeling...that is, until I'm bloated and disgusted with myself. Lawl.
- VOYEURISM/WASTING AWAY ON THE INTERNET: Life is much simpler if you leave it to actors and celebrities to live it for you. HAH! Rather than actually talk with my family, we'll watch a movie about a fictional family and call it a day. I hate when people say "It's so ironic," BUT IN THIS CASE IT IS! #meta Also, I'm sometimes given to uncontrollable bouts of surfing Wikipedia, reading the most random personal details about actors, actresses and musicians. Then I walk away from the computer three hours later in a daze, feeling ashamed like I've just eaten five bags of Doritos.
- TRANSCENDENT SPIRITUAL TRUTHS/PRAYER: It's a lot easier to "deal" when I can rely on the fact that although people are LITERALLY getting away with MURDER every single day, that ultimately there will be a "final judgment" where Jesus will cast those no good S.o.B.'s that prey on vulnerable women and children into the FIRES OF HELL. Muahahahahahaha! "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord" (Romans 12:19). There's also this idea of "Well, God knows what he's doing" sooo...Why blame him for everything? Blahblahblah, free will vs. grace/Why do bad things happen to good people/I AM STILL GRAPPLING WITH THIS O.K., PPL?!
Okay, so obviously, this list is not exhaustive. However, it really makes me wonder, what sorts of coping behaviors are "acceptable"/"permissible" and which are considered "maladaptive?" The trendy phrase these days seems to be "Everything in moderation." Add that to a layer of post-modernist relativism and you get the conclusion that each person alone knows which coping behaviors are maladaptive for them and at what magnitude they become maladaptive.
HAHAHA, wow, so basically we've learned nothing.
But back to talking about me (I love the self-indulgent nature of blogs!). I definitely am aware of my actions. I have an intuitive sense of when I've "gone too far" and am using a specific coping behavior as a means to escape/avoid my current feelings or the "reality of the world" or whatever. But now I'm thinking, is it even desirable to be always "on," to be always "present" and feeling 100% and aware and sensitive and self-reflective? I mean, that just sounds tiring to me.
This past year one thing I've committed to is the notion of "Be gentle on yourself." You know, don't expect so much from yourself.. don't be super hard on yourself. .don't exigir a level of productivity that's simply beyond your own capacity..
My tentative conclusion on the matter is this: I will allow myself to escape every once in awhile through TV, through food, through humor.. but ultimately these moments of escapism are a temporary diversion from grappling with and struggling with and seeking to understand the greater matters of life. All of these nagging questions, they're going to haunt me relentlessly until I air them, talk about them with trusted family and friends, pray about them, gain more experience with them--and I really am a firm believer in this process...the stages of conflict, disbelief, struggle, confusion, despair...because I believe that ultimately I will arrive somewhere. My understanding may not be complete, but it will be deeper. I'll be able to handle the complexity and subtlety with a defter hand.
The product of SEEKING THE TRUTH is gaining the tools to navigate the very ambiguity you try to avoid.