As a psychotherapist, my career exposes me to the odd, the quirky, the downright scary, and at times stories that make me wonder, why do we have such a need to understand the one thing we can never truly understand, our Self. The other day,I was taken aback when I heard an individual talking about their coping skills,  as  if it were a badge of honor to be flaunted for everyone to emulate. As a person, I found myself relating to their need to develop effective ways to handle stress. But, as a psychotherapist, it brought up the questions: is life journey something we are doomed cope with; or, is their something we are missing? Coping, is it a functional life skill, or a copout to disengage from our personal calling? 

I am taken aback when I hear others speak so openly about their coping skills.  As a psychotherapist, I teach ways to effectively cope with the stress caused by problematic emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. I understand that the we all have a need to develop skills that will help us navigate the daily stresses we all face. Our need to cope seems as universal as our need to make sense of our personal life journey. From the richest to the poorest, the blue collar assembly worker to the white collar executive, the student to the working professional, I see people wearing their coping skills like a designer shirt, flaunting their skills for the world to see. While we must all develop ways to handle stress, to develop a coping attitude towards life can have severe repercussions on continued personal growth.

Simply defined, a coping skill is a concerted effort to manage stress. Successfully employing a coping skill allows us to regain emotional equilibrium and a general sense of wellbeing after a stressful event has occurred.. By relieving the effects stress has on our emotional equilibrium, we return to a state of balance, finding harmony within. However, not all coping skills are created equal; in fact, many do more damage than good for the individual coping, becoming in themselves the seed for  further problematic behaviors.  

Our ability to deal with emotional stress is unique to each person. Let’s face it, we are all unique, and we each find personal ways to deal with the problems we face. By nature, we are inquisitive beings. Most people yearn to find a higher sense of purpose, seeking to belong to something greater than our individual life. Questions like: Who am I? What do I want to be when I grow up? What have I become? or Where are we going from here?  These questions open our mind to our personal potential; but oftentimes, fear, anxiety, and self doubt paralyzes our capacity to engage our future dreams in a manner that assures our personal wellbeing and success. We want to know about ourselves, but oftentimes become sidetracked by the development and successful implementation of coping skills. 

The ability to cope is both a blessing and a curse in disguise. The development of coping skills not only helps us deal with situational stress, but can hinder our personal growth. In psychotherapy, my job is to help others learn new and effective ways to replace problematic emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. By taking a personal inventory of the problems at hand, I help others chart a course of action that can lead to the realization of their personal potential. By exploring the problems that affect a person’s life, whether it is trauma or guilt from the past, problematic or habitual behaviors in the present, or anxieties about the future, by an individual can deal with and move beyond beyond issues from the past while learning new and effective ways to deal with the daily stresses that impede the realization of future dreams.

In life, we must develop coping skills in order to survive. But, the coping skills we develop can also imprison us, if we rely upon them as being The Answer for all our problems. By limiting ourselves to the use of a limited set of coping skills, the very skills utilized often become the foundation for other problematic behaviors, addictions, and the seed of further stress. That is why we must focus on developing healthy living skills instead of coping skills that would trick us to believe that we are effectively handling our daily stress.

It is only natural to implement coping skills to deal with stresses of daily life. Therefore, the development of coping skills is a valid venture that teaches us ways to handle those issues that cause us stress. However, in focusing on ways to deal with personal or external stress, we often forget to live in the moment, and fail to see the beauty that surrounds us during the journey we call life. By relying to heavily on our ability to cope, we forget to live life, and successfully engage the  beauty of our dreams.The Psycho/Legal Babble Blog explores topics of psychology, law, philosophy, and religion. It is an open forum for others to share, learn, and expand our personal knowledge into areas that affect our daily lives. Life is a journey, in which we learn from mutual interaction, respect, inclusion, and support, as we engage a path home in the dark recesses of the woods we may have been lost. Our blog is supported by The Stockton Therapy Network and The Law Office of Anna Y. Maples. 

Dr. Thomas C. Maples, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice at The Stockton Therapy Network, Stockton, CA. He is a life coach, entrepreneur, business consultant, and educator, who helps others make sense of their life journey as it relates to realizing the fruits of their dreams.