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Maladaptive Coping Strategies

Maladaptive coping strategies refer to the negative

things we do to cope, often when we’re in intense emotional and / or physical pain.


This is usually the consequence of the overwhelm of what we are experiencing, and we do not know what else to do.


Strong emotions can easily sneak up on us and often come like a tidal wave that builds and floods us. Sometimes we struggle to identify these emotions and they take us by surprise.


Here are some of the common coping strategies we can maladaptively learn to cope:

  • You spend too much time thinking about past pain, mistakes and problems.

  • You become anxious about possible future plans, mistakes and problems.

  • You isolate yourself from others and avoid situations (esp. if distressing).

  • You self-medicate (to feel numb) with alcohol or drugs (inclusive of over-the-counter medication, nicotine, coke, crack, heroin, cannabis, amphetamines, ...).

  • You take your feelings out on others (unconsciously or otherwise), becoming angry and aggressive and / or controlling of them.

  • You engage in dangerous behaviours:

  • Cutting, hitting, picking at or burning yourself (self-injury).

  • Pulling your own hair out (trich or trichotillomania).

  • You engage in unsafe promiscuous sex, e.g. sex with strangers without protection.

  • You avoid dealing with the causes of your problems, e.g. abusive relationship.

  • You control or punish yourself with food: eating too much, restricting or not at all, or by purging what you eat.

  • You attempt suicide or engage in high-risk activities with no regard for yourself or others, e.g. driving recklessly, high amounts of drugs / alcohol (self-abuse).

  • You don’t think you deserve to feel better and avoid pleasant activities, e.g. social events or exercise.

These are the strategies we develop in an effort to cope with our experiences, but ultimately lead to greater and deeper pain and other problems which, left unaddressed, only get worse over time.

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