Ways coping with pain can look like 

Coping with pain or suffering is often a process beyond our conscious thought. We often, especially at the beginning of our healing journey, don’t know exactly how we are behaving and how that came to be. Yes, there are many coping strategies out there that we can use to soothe or help ourselves; here I am talking about what you are already doing that you perhaps didn’t know you were doing as a result of your pain or suffering.

Many of these coping mechanisms are learned from early experience with our attachment figures: mom, dad, or other important people present in our early life. These experiences lay the groundwork for our attachment styles (secure, avoidant, anxious, or disorganized), but factors such as temperament, personality, culture, or other circumstances also play a part in what we need to cope with. We try our best to survive and get what we need with what means are available to us. 

As I mentioned in my post “How do you describe pain?” I brought up two examples of such strategies in adult life: to over-exaggerate your pain (anxious style) or to undermine your pain (avoidant style). Sometimes there is no clear pattern of strategies, they can vary, but usually, they keep to a theme. Even though such strategies can look and have different effects on their environment, they are two sides of the same coin: the coin of psychological survival. 

When we grow up we don’t need our attachment figures the way we did when we were small, yet the groundwork and conditioning live within us regardless of the figures’ presence. So strategies that we actually needed when small may perhaps cause more harm when we are adults. For example, if I was trying to not get my parent’s attention because that could mean trouble as a child, the same mechanism could hinder me from being open and vulnerable with a spouse that I would love to open up to as an adult; there’s something in me that simply hinders me from doing so. Here is where we perhaps start to discover that some things might not be in order. 

Now, it is easy to continue on the conditioned path. For someone growing up with a lot of criticism that could mean trying to critique your way out of this knot: “God damn it, do you want to open up or not? Shape up! What’s wrong with you?”. If you’ve walked that path for a while you might have realized it doesn’t work very well. It doesn’t feel safe. One of the most important factors to be able to open up? That’s right, feeling safe. Feeling safe can in other words be described as starting to be the grown-up yourself that you needed and still need. Most of us need help in this process, because of the simple reasons that it is very hard to see certain things while: you’re in the midst of it, very used to seeing it, and you’re lacking other reference points. 

If you would like help on your healing journey I’m available for psychotherapy sessions. Read more on my homepage, see the link in my biography. 

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