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Maladaptive coping breaking the cycle2
If we’ve found ourselves wrapped up in a cycle of maladaptive coping, it’s time to reconfigure our toolbox. We’ve discussed this before, but it’s helpful to think back to the concept of “rapid state change”—our bodies and minds trying to go from Point A to Point B, and quickly. At the heart of it, that’s really all a coping mechanism is; something that takes us from discomfort to comfort. (Or in some cases, numbness.) One tool for disrupting the cycle of maladaptive coping is to simply replace the habit with something more adaptive.
Say we’re really into wasting hours playing Tetris and thinking about our thoughts. (Who, me? Couldn’t be.) It’s what we turn to when we’re feeling burnt out, fried, or otherwise unable to deal. If we’ve identified that this coping mechanism is not actually solving the problem, we can replace it with something that might help instead. The mystery woman in this situation (again, definitely not me) could plug into a virtual yoga class when she’s feeling this way, instead; the movement, quiet, and dopamine that comes from it would solve the issue much more succinctly. (Instead of just putting a bandaid on it, like Tetris was. Again, all hypothetical.)
Another great tool for disrupting a cycle of maladaptive coping is simply connection. We dove into detail when we discussed shame resilience, but connection with others is one of the quickest ways to disrupt internal feedback loops that are reshaping our reality. When we’ve found ourselves using a coping mechanism that really isn’t serving us, it’s hard to see things clearly—we’re so used to relying on *the thing* that we may not even fully understand how much it’s impacting us.
Or perhaps we do know how much *the thing* is impacting us, but we’ve developed shame stories around this cognitive dissonance. We may feel that our inability to cope means we’re less than as a person. Any of these kinds of thought processes stand to benefit from an external source validating our worthiness or helping us see what is and isn’t working well in our lives.
As we build our resilience, this presents us an opportunity to take a look at coping mechanisms we’re using that perhaps aren’t serving us as we truly need them to. (Or maybe we swapped one maladaptive coping mechanism—alcohol—for another.) As we often note here at Reframe, usually the alcohol is just the surface-level thing—deciding to change our relationship with it opens us up to so much additional growth
Maladaptive coping breaking the cycle
We’ve talked a lot about how to build resilience thus far, but what do we do if we’ve already found ourselves in a cycle of poor resilience and maladaptive coping that we’re unable to find our way out of? In fact, this might already feel a little touchy if we’ve become accustomed to using alcohol to cope. This is often the case with those of us who find our way to Reframe.
We know, of course, that alcohol isn’t the only maladaptive way to cope. Perhaps we numb out to television marathons, eat our weight in ice cream, use other substances, use other people, scroll through social media, hide from the world, or get lost in hours of Tetris. These are all forms of maladaptive coping, and this kind of coping can vary by degree. Tetris is probably pretty harmless (at first, at least), but leaning into some forms of numbing out can wreck our lives by equal measure.
We learn how to cope in our earliest years on Earth—we see others in our lives (caretakers, siblings, peers, teachers) coping in various ways, and we may mirror them in kind. After all, when it’s all that we see, it makes sense that that’s how we deal. We learn to adapt to psychological and physical stress as best we can, and if we aren’t taught adaptive coping from the start, we’re just doing our best. (This is also why it’s so deeply important to practice compassion and kindness towards ourselves when we find that we’re not coping in adaptive ways—we’re all just out there doing the best we can.)
As we learn how to self-soothe from an early age, we pick up “tips and tricks” as we go along. Often enough, those maladaptive coping mechanisms seem innocent enough—none of us go into it thinking “I’m going to dive so deep into this thing that it creates a vicious cycle of maladaptive coping that I may never recover from!” Over time, we begin to build our “toolbox” as best we can. These resources come in a few different categories of coping mechanisms, as outlined by Dr. Martha Wadsworth:
Active coping mechanisms: like seeking out support, goal setting, problem solving
Accommodative coping mechanisms: like compromising, adjusting expectations, adapting as events unfold
Emotional coping mechanisms: managing stress reactions and emotional reactions
Behavioral coping mechanisms: using behavior to manage discomfort (this is often where the idea of “numbing out” comes into play)
Cognitive coping mechanisms: managing stress through mental activities (meditation, visualizing, etc.)
Evidence based tools for building resilience2
Another evidence-based strategy for cultivating resilience is to hone in on purpose—the reason you’re here on this earth, the thing that drives you. In a study done by Stacey M. Schaefer and crew, they determined that finding meaning during challenge is one of the most critical mechanisms of resilience. Author and Chief Purpose Expert, Richard Ledeier, outlines some great steps we can take to work through this idea of purpose:
Purpose Reflection Activity:
Why are you?
Why do you get up in the morning?
What keeps you awake at night?
When are you most alive?
What does being successful mean to you?
How might you apply your gifts to a pursuit that is of deep interest to you and helps others?
What can you do to make a difference in one person’s life, today?
What is your sentence (meaning, if you summarized your purpose in one 140 character sentence, what would it be)?
If you say yes to living purposefully, what do you say no to?
If you met an older version of yourself, what sage advice would they give you?
Another skill that research has shown us can foster our resilience is learning to forgive others. Several studies have proven the efficacy of learning to let go for our happiness and ability to bounce back after adversity. Consider a time when someone wronged you and you were down for the count—would you have been able to recover from that better if you had been actively building your capacity to let things go and forgive others?
Evidence based tools for building resilience
Because we know that we can build our resilience, both in times of trial and in times of peace, it can be helpful to identify a few small things you can do daily to build up that metaphorical muscle. Resilience isn’t a static, fixed quality we either have or do not have—it’s something we have a flexible baseline of that changes depending on our circumstances, trauma, stress, and response to all of those things. Psychology gives us many frameworks for study, and because of this, we have some great evidence-based tools we can use to foster our resilience in small, tangible ways.
We’ve already touched on a few, like cultivating gratitude, working on adequate self-care, and healing your self-talk. We also know that when we cultivate creativity—through art, music, dance, expression, play, underwater basket weaving—it is a wonderful way to build our resilience skills regularly. (Creativity helps us “get creative” in times of challenge, of course.) Similarly, focusing on getting into flow state—in “the zone”—builds our resilience because it’s a time that effectively builds our self-efficacy, confidence, and motivation.
So what else does the research tell us about building resilience?
Dr. James W. Pennebaker and company conducted an interesting and instructive study back in the 80’s (prehistoric times, practically, but still relevant!) that taught us a lot about the power of therapeutic writing. One specific form of this that proved highly effective for improving well-being and overall happiness is “rewriting the story,” or recalling a past event and rewriting it from a strengths perspective.
In this study, participants were asked to recall a past event that caused them distress or unhappiness. Instead of writing it exactly as they recalled it, they were asked to write it from the perspective of the strengths they displayed, the lessons they learned, and the resilience they showed during that time. The event was no different—the same thing happened, but by asking them to find the good, it shifted their perception and their happiness. This sort of activity helps our brains begin to pick up on all of the good, something that is perhaps not really our nature, and tells it that we’re stronger than we even realize.
Building resilient relationships2
3. Decisiveness: much like decisiveness cultivates resilience in our own self, decisiveness within relationships helps build a sense of certainty and steadiness. This also might look like decisiveness in ending an unhealthy relationship, building our own self-efficacy and confidence that we know what we do and do not want in a relationship (romantic or otherwise)
4. Tenacity: sticking together even when things get tough, especially when things get tough. Showing up in the messy middle, being there in the valleys, celebrating each other at the peaks
5. Self-control: by practicing impulse control, we allow for rational decision making within the relationship. We avoid jumping to conclusions, taking actions that might hurt the other person, and speaking without thinking.
6. Open and honest communication: difficult conversations are important, and the ability to navigate these adeptly is a marker of a resilient relationship. Avoiding the conversation suggests lack of safety or mutual respect within a relationship.
7. Presence of mind: this gives us space for collaboration, understanding the humanity of the other person, and the presence to enjoy the moment.
Today, consider the relationships in your life. Which ones have displayed real markers of resilience, showing up for you time and time again? What makes those relationships unique, and how can you bring this information into other relationships in your life?
Building resilient relationships
As we begin to better understand resilience and how we cultivate it in ourselves, we can then begin to apply it in different arenas of our lives. We noted yesterday that researchers have discovered that we have different levels of resilience in different domains; perhaps we have strong resilience in the workplace, but our relationships lack true resilience. This provides us another area of growth: fostering resilient relationships with those in our lives.
When we consider the various relationships in our lives, we likely think of some that have stood the test of time. There are also relationships that are fleeting, lasting only for a season. There are some relationships that feel strong, but cannot withstand trauma or strain. And then there are the ones that can weather any storm. What causes these relationships to thrive or fail? Can we impact the direction of these relationships with anything we do, or are they just inherently what they are?
The jury’s still out, officially, but researchers and psychologists believe that we likely have some agency over the strength and resilience of our interpersonal relationships. Just as we can cultivate resilience in ourselves, we can take steps to cultivate resilience within our relationships.
Dr. George S. Everly outlines Seven Characteristics of of Highly Resilient Relationships:
1. Active optimism: take note of the “active” part. Active optimism asks us to actively believe that things will all work out, and then taking active measures to make that happen. When we apply this to relationships, we take active steps to work through conflict, pour into one another, and trust in the fate of the relationship
2. Integrity within the relationship: honesty, accepting responsibility of one’s actions, willingness to forgive
10 Ways to build resilience2
6. Embrace change: when we remain flexible, we strengthen our resilience. There’s so much we cannot change, but we can change our reaction to those circumstances.
7. Make decisive decisions: when we’re wishy washy, when we flop between options, we’re less likely to be able to know the “next right step” after we face a challenge. When we’re decisive, however, we’re able to get back up and move forward after we fall down.
8. Get to know yourself: when we have a clear picture of ourselves—our strengths, weaknesses, and areas for growth, we know where to start. By cultivating these parts of ourselves that we are less adept in, we build ourselves up to weather the storm when it arrives.
9. Work on your self-talk: when you have poor self-talk, any challenge or trauma is likely to exacerbate that toxic dialogue in your mind. It’s hard to get out of a hole when you think you’re a trash human, but when you’ve taken the time to heal your self-talk and speak kindly to yourself, you are more likely to pull your way out of said hole.
10. Care for your physical and emotional body: when we have good self-care, we have good practices to turn to when we’re as down as we’ve ever been. These self-care practices soothe us and prepare us for the strength we need to get back up.
10 Ways to build resilience
When we’re resilient, it’s not that we’re just “grinning and bearing it”... we’re truly thriving on the other side of adversity. It’s active, not passive. Forward motion, not complacency. And the good news is that resilience can be built. We’ll dive into greater detail in the coming days, but today, let’s check into Resilience Bootcamp.
Looking for ways to build your resilience? Here are 10 ways to build resilience:
1. Acquire new skills: more skills = more ways to problem solve. This helps us build a sense of competency, something that helps us remember this is not the end when something bad happens.
2. Regular and realistic goal setting: the act of setting reasonable, attainable goals, executing a plan to achieve them, and then seeing them through to completion, all contribute to our feeling of self-efficacy and ability to overcome challenges.
3. Connect: connections with friends, family, peers, and community are integral to getting back up when we’ve been knocked down. Strengthen a small number of your connections or expand your network more broadly—deepening our quality and volume of connections helps us overcome.
4. Adopt the “Everything is figure-out-able” mindset: taking more of a global view of our life, rather than a day-by-day snapshot, helps us zoom out and remember this is temporary. Understanding that everything works its way out eventually helps us remember that this too shall pass when we’re faced with adversity.
5. Step outside your comfort zone: consider this like exposure therapy. Every time you do something that makes you uncomfortable, but you survive, you’re building resilience.
A resilient person2
They also identified interesting qualities of resilience, like how resilience shows up differently across different life domains. (We might have great resilience in our relationships, but poor resilience at work.) Resilience is impacted by health status (like mental illness), and is impacted by and impacts our natural stress response.
When we have high resilience, we have high levels of awareness (both of our strengths, weaknesses, and external environments), manage our emotions and mood adeptly, have a good understanding of our agency or ability to affect change, and have many past successes to build on. (Among many other things.)
We’ll dive deeper into building resilience in the coming days, but for today, let’s visit Dr. Henry Emmons Seven Roots of Resilience theory for boosting resilience. To improve our resilience, according to Emmons, we can begin by focusing on:
Balancing our brain chemistry.
Managing our energy.
Aligning with nature.
Calming our mind.
Skillfully facing emotions.
Cultivating a good heart.
Creating deep connections.
(This is part of his broader “whole person change process,” a lovely theory we’ll dig into in greater depth.)
A resilient person
When we consider resilience, we recall that there is some sort of natural baseline resilience we each come into the world with, and then we can build our resilience in addition to that baseline. This concept is fleshed out further in the research, as are the markers of a resilient person. We can dig into these categories and markers of resilience to identify the ways in which we can build our own resilience, adding more tools to our toolbox.
Genie Joseph, M.A. adjunct professor at Chaminade University in Hawaii, outlined three different types of resilience:
Natural Resilience: that inherent baseline we’ve discussed—the natural amount of resilience we come into this world with. (Children tend to have a lot of this!)
Adaptive Resilience: the resilience we build through hardship, the resilience that comes from getting back up after we’ve been knocked down. We can increase resilience merely through the act of resilience.
Restored Resilience: also called “learned resilience.” This doesn’t necessarily need to be formed through hardship, but instead, can be cultivated through specific tools and practices to “restore” us to our child-like state of resilience.
When we experience stress and trauma, this reduces our natural resilience (especially if we get knocked down and stay down). We don’t necessarily need an even amount of each of these categories. It’s not the intent to be evenly distributed across natural, adaptive, and restored resilience, but when we’re lacking in one area, we can use others to compensate.
And through the research, we also know some specific markers and characteristics of a resilient person. Researchers Conner and Davidson outlined these markers as high indicators of resilience:
Viewing change as a challenge or opportunity
Recognition of limits to control
Engaging the support of others
Close, secure attachment to others
Personal or collective goals
Strengthening effect of stress
Realistic sense of control/having choices
Sense of humor
Tolerance of negative affect
Adaptability to change
What is resilience and why do we cultivate it 2
This concept of resilience is incredibly useful in the scope of changing our relationship with alcohol. In many ways, alcohol may have weakened our resilience; instead of using our inner strength to handle a challenge, disappointment, or trauma, perhaps we used alcohol, instead. Perhaps we didn’t get back up, but sat down and drank a bottle. Maybe we’ve gotten used to this one companion getting us through a hard time, instead of our inner resilience and ability to rise above. But when we start cultivating our resilience, we can decrease our need to rely on that old friend, alcohol, to get us through.
The simple act of surviving a craving without using alcohol is a huge resilience builder. It’s never as awful as the first one—every time you beat that urge to drink without drinking, you’re adding a few notches to your belt on the journey of changing your relationship with alcohol. You show your brain that you can and do overcome, which builds your self-esteem and self-efficacy. This cycle continues; when the next craving comes, your brain already knows that it’s not going to kill you.
Over the next few days, we’ll dive into the why and how of resilience, giving you tools and resources to build your own resilience and become a pro at bouncing back. Until then, consider a time when you showed resilience and rose up after a challenge—how did you manage that? What tools (or people, or thoughts) did you use to overcome?
What is resilience and why do we cultivate it
When we talk about resilience (like we did when we introduced the concept of “shame resilience”), we are speaking about a really powerful concept that gives us an opportunity to change the way we live in the world. The beauty of resilience is that it is something we can cultivate, rather than an inherent trait that we either do or do not naturally have. And when we have strong resilience, we are able to navigate our lives with more ease, confidence, and direction.
So what exactly is resilience?
As defined by the American Psychological Association, resilience is:
“the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress”
In layman's terms, it’s the ability to “bounce back” after difficulty.
To be certain, we are each born with a certain level of inherent resilience—the way you behaved on the kinder playground was certainly different than the way other children did. Each of us has a baseline of sorts, a natural resilience setting. But through facing fears, learning from challenges, and sitting with discomfort, we’re able to build our resilience and change our baseline over time. Let’s dig into the ins and outs of resilience a bit more, today, shall we?
Like many of the other concepts we’ve discussed here at Reframe, “resilience” is often used interchangeably with other concepts in its genus like “mental toughness,” “grit,” “fortitude, “mental endurance,” and so on. This is fine in a conversation with your neighbor Jan, but when we’re diving into the ways we can change our minds and our behavior, it’s helpful to get specific.
Resilience differs from “mental toughness” in order of operations; resilience is what helps us get back up after a challenge, while mental toughness helps us avoid challenge in the first place. Similarly, resilience differs from “grit” in duration. Resilience is more momentary, while grit involves forging on for long periods of time, regardless of roadblocks and challenges. These terms are all interrelated and can build on each other, but it’s helpful to make distinctions when we’re working to change.
One of the key components of resilience is the part that comes before resilience: hardship. While we all have those baseline resilience quotas, we increase our resilience by experiencing disappointment, failure, challenges, and discomfort. Getting through those events in one piece, rebounding after a fall, or getting back up and trying again all help us increase our resilience and build our strength for the next challenge. It’s never as hard as the first failure, so long as you make it out on the other side. This is called “self-learned resilience.”