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  • Writer's pictureSarah Hindle

Coping that Becomes Clinical

We might be tempted to think that much of our coping is harmless, however when clients present to therapy what often emerges is an awareness that the over-reliance on a coping style has actually played a significant part in the development clinical issues.




See the following examples that can lead to common clinical diagnoses:

  • Detached self-soothing in the form of Netflix, alcohol, gaming, porn, staying in bed (aka 'bed-rotting') can lead to loneliness, numbness and dissociation, low-resilience, depression and addictions.

  • Overcompensating in the form of excessive research, checking/editing, reassurance-seeking, overanalysing, difficulties with delegation, 'worrying-ahead'/, perfectionism and positive-image projection can lead to anxiety, panic, stress and burnout, personality issues, and obsessive-compulsive difficulties.

  • Avoidance of situations, thoughts, memories, emotions, relationships, intimacy or deadlines can lead to the development of low resilience, dependence, anxiety, panic obsessive-compulsive difficulties, depression and personality issues.

  • Surrendering (or compliance) to the wishes of others, be they your partner, boss, friend, family-member or even a stranger can lead to difficulties tolerating feedback, differences of opinion, exercising autonomy, holding awareness of your own needs, a vulnerability to dynamics of coercive control or abuse, co-dependency, anxiety, burnout and depression.

  • Aggression and attack when feeling threatened or taken advantage of can lead to challenges regulating emotion, increased physical risk, connection and relational safety issues (due to feeling unsafe around others, or them around you), stress, loneliness, personality difficulties and depression. This coping style is also often seen in forensic populations.

Our coping styles map onto basic survival responses (fight, flight, freeze, fawn) in response to stressors, and there are usually historical origins, a temperamental component, and a pathway of reinforcement over time. By exploring the origins of your coping style and evaluating its current impact on clinical issues, you can help to provide motivation and readiness for change.


Perhaps next time you notice a coping response is triggered, you could ask yourself (in the moment or later):


  1. How does my coping style protect me?

  2. When did I first learn that this as a way to respond to stress?

  3. How can I empathise with that younger person, who developed this way of responding to stress?

  4. Can I use this insight to exercise healthy awareness and choice next time I'm feeling triggered?


For a fascinating exploration on the neurobiology of stress and coping, Widen the Window (Elizabeth A. Stanley, PhD) is a detailed resource.

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