In our Facebook community, Kerstin asked how to make the 6th module more practical. Lahari answered beautifully and I asked if I could use it for the program. She then decided to write a blog about it and here it is: Coping vs healing by Lahari Parchuri. Thanks Lahari!
As I was getting ready to sit down and write this my mind was screaming at me to go make a cup of tea before I sat down. I scanned my tummy and it was full with a lovely breakfast consisting of bananas, plums, and oats. I knew this was my mind’s trick to get me to make a cup of tea when I didn’t need one. But the question is
‘Do I really want one?’, No. ‘Did I really need a cup of tea to sit down and write this article?’, No. ‘Would I have totally made one and shoved it down my throat in the past?’, absolutely 100%.
I went to the kitchen and looked at the kettle and said ‘not now’. So, why am I making a fuss about a cup of tea? It took me a while in my life to realize ‘cup of tea’ was an emotional band-aid for the emotional wound that needed healing.
I have been using so many other band-aids to soothe my pain in the moment by turning to these so-called coping mechanisms, sometimes without even realizing that I was engaging in coping behaviors. It was alarming and liberating at the same time to realize that my emotional body was completely covered in these bandaids to the point that I can’t even access the real wound anymore to actually heal. Instead of just using these band-aids(coping behaviors) that were only meant to be first aid I was using them as the complete medicine, little did I know decades later the wounds inside would eat me up and make me debilitated in the form of ME/CFS.
Why is it important to be aware of your coping mechanisms?
If you are not aware of these and continue misusing them as the full remedy these so-called coping mechanisms will become THE things that will stop you from healing completely. Coping mechanisms have a place in life as band-aids do in physical injury. If you had a nasty deep cut with a potentially toxic substance involved, you wouldn’t just put a band-aid and expect it to heal completely, would you? You probably would use a bandaid or some other means to stop or slow down the bleeding until you get the actual help to clean it and check for any risk of infection, then properly dress it up so it can heal. Depending on the size and scale of the physical injury you would be advised to rest so your body can use most of its energy in healing.
Emotional wounds need similar if not more attention and care but are often very difficult to spot and understand that there is a wound. If all you were taught (either literally or learning by watching others) was to use bandaids for your emotional wounds in your life, then it is even trickier to spot these bandaids. Especially in the current times, most of these band aids are disguised and popularised as so-called ‘self-care’ tips. Please don’t force yourself to do any of the so-called self-care things if you are not 100% convinced that it is what you want to do.
My coping examples
I usually enjoy walking, painting, going for a drive, meaningfully connecting with friends and family, reading, gardening, cooking, etc. But there are times I feel self pressured to do these or guilty if I haven’t done them in a while and start engaging in these when I really need to sit with my feelings and process. My emotional band-aids look like making a cup of tea when I didn’t need or want one, eating sweets and crisps when I didn’t really need them, doing gardening when I needed to feel my difficult feelings, painting but out of stress and wanting to create an amazing painting instead of enjoying the process, going for a drive to distract myself from what has come up emotionally, going out to the supermarket when I didn’t really need to, talking friends or family to distract difficult feelings, going for a walk when I needed to sit down with the feelings, the list goes on.
Long term coping mechanisms can look like overachieving, throwing yourselves into academia, work, and social projects, creating projects to keep yourselves occupied or distracted, conforming to the societal norms to look good, judging others to feel safe, closing yourselves off to new experiences to be with the familiar, taking things personally and holding on to limiting beliefs, etc.
Is it all a distraction?
Even when sometimes I want to be there with my feelings and process them, my mind is so powerful in diverting my attention to some potential threats in my life or things that I need to do. Sometimes these were real existential threats, not knowing whether I can meet my basic needs of food/shelter/safety after a couple of months due to changes in my circumstances, emails I needed to respond to within the deadline which otherwise would have real consequences, etc. My mind was trying to divert my attention to danger in the future so I can distract myself from the emotions in the present moment. It is so easy to focus on dealing with future danger and quickly get wrapped up in problem-solving in the physical world, which again becomes another band-aid and the real emotional wound is still inside, stored in our emotional body.
It is a delicate balance to strike especially if you are dealing with existential threats, get yourselves in a reasonably safe situation to allow yourselves the time and space to heal the emotional wounds. It took some persistent effort for me to recognize these coping strategies and gently say ‘not today not now’ and be there with my inner children that were wounded emotionally, they are the ones that need to be healed the most.
Below are some of the things that help me in recognising my coping mechanisms and start healing, I hope they resonate with you too :
- Be 100% in the present moment (Here/Now/self meditation)
- Ask yourselves ‘Why do I want to engage in this action or thought?’ Eg: eating chocolates, drinking caffeine/alcohol, doom scrolling on your phone, engaging in vicious cycles of thinking in your mind, etc. And if it is because you are stressed or trying to distract yourselves find an alternative that brings you joy.
- Slow right down and completely STOP if you need to. Sometimes I take myself on walks to have dialogues with my inner children that were wounded. My mind throws all kinds of powerful distractions in the form of thoughts and anxiety etc. I sit on a bench to have this dialogue and get distracted by my coping mechanisms. Because I am sitting down and relatively calm after some deep breathing, I realize that I have been distracted and stop the dialogue, I walk a bit further and find another bench to sit down on. Sometimes it takes me getting to the fifth bench to peel off these emotional band-aids and really start healing emotionally by being there with my inner child and providing a safe space for her. It is a real effort, but one that is totally worth your while.
- Connect with nature and engage your senses. When we engage our senses truly, our nervous systems tend to calm down which in turn reduces the need to engage in coping mechanisms
When you realize your coping mechanisms and start to disengage them from your life, please be gentle and patient with yourselves. It is a process, imagine if your whole emotional body is completely wrapped up and entangled in these emotional band-aids, taking them out one by one, needs utmost care, compassion, and patience before you get to the wound. Once you get to the wound, you can start healing, there are many ways to help with emotional healing. A good starting point is the 8th module in the Alignment recovery program. In there you can find a guided meditation to help you connect with emotional wounds. (But continue slowly with the 6th and the 7th module first)
Thank you for reading, do get in touch if you want to talk about this further. I am off to make my cup of tea, I want one now after writing this, followed by a gentle stroll along the river to talk to my inner child that needed to engage in the coping mechanism before I sat down to write it.
All the best with your healing