Healthy coping strategies are important. They take time to develop. We adjust over time because our situations change, and we (hopefully) grow. We start early. Our families help. Our friends help. Our teachers help. Our employers help. People provide coping strategies for us to use, and they create situations in which we need to find and apply coping strategies—in just about every area of life: communications, relationships, formal and informal education, emotions, obstacles, and so much more. If we don’t cope well, we suffer, and others suffer around us.
We are always honing our coping strategies, so if you’re starting to second guess yourself and see all your shortcomings, pause. You’re not alone. (If you’re not coming up with some of your weaknesses and areas that need to grow, you need to pause, too, because you might not be facing the reality of where you are and where you can be.) Here’s something I’ve noticed recently with our coping strategies: we too often project them onto others. As we become aware of how we can best cope with something, we can expect others to adopt or meet our needs and wants in the ways we’ve found are best for us. Should we communicate our coping strategies to those close to us? Of course. But expect them and others to circle around us and do things our way? I don’t think so.
Sometimes our coping strategy means we need to remove ourselves from a situation. Sometimes it is to flee for safety, but most of the time, we step away with intentionality simply to be healthy. We do what we can in the situation or relationship, but at some point, it is healthier for us to remove ourselves. It’s not an avoidance issue. It’s not healthy to refuse to deal with something or someone important. But the emotional or relationship stress might need to be alleviated, and when others don’t respond to our attempts to authentically share, listen, and problem solve, we might have to say “time out for now.” It’s not a cruel thing. It’s not disrespectful, revengeful, or mean-spirited. It is humble, wise, and healthy.
Here’s what a healthy coping strategy is not: bossing others. We cannot expect everyone around us to change to meet our needs. Do we hope the people closest to us will be patient and kind with us? Absolutely. But should we demand it? If we do, demands become part of our coping strategies. And how effective is a coping strategy in a long haul that demands others meet us where we are? When we expect them to meet us where we want, refrain from (or engage in) tastes and sounds we struggle with, or believe or reject what we prefer, our coping strategy of projection begins to eclipse other coping strategies that help us process and consider things differently. Our demands and expectations crowd out patience, listening, and other important skills.
Most people who do this can’t tell they do it, or they justify what they’re doing. But it’s important to note we can all do it even in subtle ways. Even if we don’t say something, the way we glance or sigh at someone reveals the truth. And many people might not notice the subtleties. The ones who do are usually sensitive and patient enough to not make a big fuss about it. Always keep in mind: Coping strategies are not for manipulating a situation to get our way but to deal healthily with it all when we don’t.