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“I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Have you ever attempted to escape your shadow like a little girl who is terrified by the unexplainable silhouette that haunts her in the day? Maybe you’re not met with terror at the sight of your shadow but with safety, comfort, and peace.

Up until this point, I’ve been a bit ambiguous about what this shadow is. Well…I’m not referring to the, “dark area or shape produced by a body coming between rays of light and a surface.” I’m referring to the coping mechanisms produced by a body coming between rays of distress and discomfort, neglect and abuse, trauma and loss.

Throughout life we all develop ways to manage, cope, and adapt to the environments around us. Many of us unknowingly engage in the act of coping. It is grafted into our daily rhythms of life and may look like: meditation before the sun awakes, an outward expression of emotions through words or tears, and the use of substances to slip away from sorrow and fear.

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, or what you have become; we all need coping strategies. It helps us to alleviate stress and effectively navigate situations that may otherwise throw our bodies and minds for a loop.

Coping Strategies that Enhance Health (non-exhaustive)

  • Exercise/Physical Activity
  • Prayer
  • Humor/Laughter
  • Asking for Help
  • Positive Self-Talk
  • Establishing Healthy Boundaries
  • Listening to Music
  • Engaging in a Hobby
  • Reading
  • Relaxation/Deep Breathing

Trauma

As a therapist, I must acknowledge that there are times when one may experience an event(s) that is so distressing and disturbing that the amount of stress endured supersedes one’s ability to cope, or connect with the emotions involved with that experience. In response, some people resort to engaging in maladaptive coping strategies. They provide temporary relief, comfort, and safety but in the long term have negative effects on one’s physical, spiritual, and mental well-being.

Coping Strategies that Diminish Health (non-exhaustive)

  • Avoidance
  • Over or Under Eating
  • Disconnection from Thoughts, Feelings, and Emotions
  • Sleeping Excessively
  • Excessive Drug/Alcohol Use
  • Poor Hygiene
  • Aggression/Defensiveness

Line of Defense

If you are engaging in coping strategies that diminish your health I want you to first, extend to yourself self-compassion. This simply means that you are to be kind and understanding toward yourself, in the midst of and despite your suffering, failure, or feelings of inadequacy. It’s important for you to acknowledge and lean into your experiences and emotions, not suppress them. Greet yourself with the same gentleness, tenderness, and care you would give to a new born baby.

Secondly, I want to let you know that there is hope! Though you may not feel it or see it, you have hope! With the support of a therapist, maladaptive coping strategies can be unlearned and healthy/adaptive coping strategies can be learned. Here lies your hope, there is always room for change and growth.

If you are reading this article and need help with learning how to cope with distress, discomfort, or trauma, we would love to connect with you and support you on your journey. Give us a call today to schedule an appointment.

Written by therapist Treshana Lewis

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