For most people life is anything but simple. Breakups, bad bosses, layoffs, failed businesses, health issues, demanding family members, our own imperfections — like it or not, you have to deal with it all. To make things worse, problems tend to happen when we are least prepared, forcing us to deal with the challenges without having time to analyze the situation at hand, leave alone consequences.
There are many terrible ways to deal with your problems that can make things worse or even cause irreversible damage, but it does seem that, generally, people “prefer” the following five:
1. Negative compensation.
When some people discover an imperfection in themselves — real or imagined, they will try to prove themselves to the world, which might quickly turn into obsession. Another famous term for negative compensation is Napoleon complex. Named after the emperor of France, the complex is characterized by hostility towards others and/or a strong desire to achieve something great in order to compensate for a perceived handicap.
While compensation is not necessarily a bad thing in itself, there is certainly a negative kind of compensation. You can recognize negative compensation by its telltale signs — exaggeration and obsessiveness. For example, if you feel inferior and inadequate because you belong to a modest family, you might compensate in several ways:
- You could intimidate others physically or mentally to get the false feeling of superiority;
- You could work hard to become wealthy, which could give you a sense of self-importance.
While the second option may seem like a good idea, it is still negative because you aren’t dealing with the real problem — your perception of what’s important in life.
2. Minimizing the importance of your problems.
Rationalization, another psychological coping mechanism, involves giving excuses and/or minimizing the importance of the issue at hand. For example, if you were dumped by your partner, you may cope with pain and anxiety by convincing yourself and others that you didn’t care much for your ex in the first place. Instead of acknowledging your bad feelings and developing a sound strategy for recovery, you pretend to be happy alone.
Denial is different from minimizing the importance of your problems because when you are in denial, you behave as if your problems don’t exist. Similarly to many other coping mechanisms, denial sometimes may be helpful by protecting you from emotional pain and stress, allowing you to take your time to adjust to the new situation. Stay in denial for too long, however, and things may spin out of control. Psychological denial is common between people with chronic or terminal illnesses and is particularly dangerous as many health problems can be cured if tackled in the beginning stages.
Escapism is a way of coping with unpleasant realities by indulging in entertainment (e.g., movies and games), fantasy, and daydreaming. That may include excessive reading of fiction, spending too much time on social networks, and simply overdoing it with the Internet.
Focusing your attention on something other than your problems for a short time may prove beneficial by helping you gain a healthy perspective of your problems, but that’s not what real escapism is about. Escapism is about postponing to deal with the challenges, neglecting your responsibilities, or even becoming addicted to entertainment.
5. Overeating and substance abuse.
Although we don’t usually think of food as chemical substance, it is capable to alter our bodies in several ways. When you eat, your body chemistry is temporary changed:
Your blood flow changes in order to aid digestion;
Your brain produces chemicals that help you feel happier and more relaxed (Dr. Phillip C. McGraw, The Ultimate Weight Solution, 2003).
This can quickly become your favorite way to find an emotional relief — a habit that is notoriously hard to break. There are several issues with eating for comfort:
- You will eat when upset;
- You will eat when happy;
- You will eat to celebrate;
- You will eat to feel safe;
Although food may give you a temporary high, eventually you are likely to feel even worse if you are already overweight or have body image issues.
Breaking food addictions is particularly hard because it’s something you can’t completely refrain from. Other addictive substances such as drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol work in a similar fashion but the difference is that, while highly addictive, you can break your addiction by putting yourself in an environment where these things are simply unavailable. As we all know, this isn’t the case when it comes to food.
Unlike other coping methods above, overeating and substance abuse are never positive; no matter the situation, there is nothing good about using food or drugs to deal with problems and stress.
Now that you know about these common lousy ways to deal with your life challenges, are you guilty of any of these?