Most of us have default behaviors that we do automatically when we feel stressed, distressed or upset about something. Some behaviors are more problematic than others, for sure. Clients seek therapy to discover new and more adaptive ways of dealing with powerful feelings and emotions. Some common self-destructive coping mechanisms that create a vicious cycle of suffering are:
- Under-eating or over-eating
- Use and abuse of drugs and alcohol
- Excessive shopping and spending
- Over-dependence on physical exercise
- Over-sleeping or using sleep to avoid solving or dealing with problems or issues
- Self-harm behaviors such as cutting or overdosing
- Using manipulation to get needs met
- Developing somatic problems, illness or physical complaints instead of dealing with emotions
Now a bit about the vicious cycle. When you use these self-destructive coping mechanisms you end up feeling worse than before the original trigger that sent you into the downward spiral. Clients report "feeling bad" about themselves for relying on the negative behavior, which then makes them more likely to continue doing more of the "bad thing." It's like when you've eaten six Oreos, felt bad about that, and before you know it, you find yourself at "what the heck, might as well eat the whole bag!"
So how to break the cycle? Learn to make different choices in the moment. Try new things and develop a healthier coping style that will lead to a better outcome and reduce the shame and suffering. Learn to identify and understand thoughts and feelings in yourself, which will help you understand others. The cycle of shame, guilt and suffering may be rooted in earlier experiences and family dynamics, but like an addiction, it does not now have to hold you hostage. It can be powerful, but you can exert power over it.