We start learning ways to cope with stress from an early age. People may assume that children don’t have much to be stressed about and this certainly isn’t the case. Children have very little autonomy. They have to do as they are told and have very little say in what happens in their lives. When parents don’t allow their children enough space to make some decisions or at least consult their children’s opinions on matters that relate to them, children begin to learn that the world happens ‘to them’ and that they are powerless. This causes stress. Children feel stress when they experience situations where there is no fairness or when they are told to do something because their parent “said so”. When there is little room for negotiation and discussion (vital skills that children need to learn) they begin to find ways to cope.
There are three main methods of coping as a child:
Children who use surrender as a method of coping tend to become submissive people pleasers and this continues into adulthood to a lesser degree. Those that surrender tend to be passive and very compliant in nature. They avoid confrontation at all costs and find it difficult to stand up for themselves.
Typical avoidant behaviours: withdrawal, distraction and denial. Avoidance involves running away from the problem, denying it exists. Avoidant coping is a major issue and creates many problems in adulthood from addictive type behaviours such as gambling, overspending, overeating to excessive procrastination. Avoidant types may be socially withdrawn, or they may become excessively independent as a way to avoid being reliant on others – an avoidance of intimacy and possible rejection and disappointment.
This method of coping involves behaviours such as aggression, dominance and manipulation. People who choose overcompensating as a way to cope tend to exhibit passive-aggressive behaviour (a type of “I’ll show you” or “I’ll get you back for this” without being direct about it), obsessive-compulsive behaviours as a way to feel in control or they may try extra hard to seek recognition and status on their lives to prove something to themselves or others.
The method of coping that is chosen depends upon various factors and there may be to a certain degree, all three types of coping involved. A child’s innate temperament/personality as well as the environment they grow up in will influence the method of coping. The trouble with these methods of coping is that they become an old solution that offer no longer works as a child becomes an adult. All three methods of coping will do damage to an interpersonal relationship as an adult where both people are meant to be equal. This differs from being a child where the power stakes are uneven.
Identifying your main method of coping is important in reducing it’s impact in your life. Do you exhibit any of the above behaviours? How are they impacting upon your life and your relationships now that you are an adult? Finding more pro social ways of dealing with adult situations is they key to moving on from coping methods that are no longer effective.
Learning how to be assertive as an adult is key to moving forward. Being an adult means taking responsibility for yourself, asking for what you want as well as seeking a win-win situation with others.