In an earlier post, I asked you to think about coping mechanisms. There are three common types:
- Self-righteousness or rebellion
Whether you realize it or not, coping mechanisms very often follow us out of childhood into our adult lives. Here’s how:
If You Were a Compliant Child
The compliant child worked hard to make sure everyone around her was ok, especially mom and dad. If everyone else was ok, the compliant child could be safe.
“One day,” she thought to herself, “I’ll earn my parents’ love through my obedience.”
As an adult, she still works hard to make sure everyone around her is ok. And she probably still feels like she has to earn the love of those people, even if she don’t always know how.
If You Were a Self-Righteous or Rebellious Child
The rebellious child got angry when people let him down. He reacted by rejecting the people around him, saying “I don’t need you anyway.” He became self-reliant, never really opening up to anyone, since he believed no one would help him if he didn’t learn to help himself.
“I’ll do it my way,” he thought to himself. “I’m better off by myself anyway.”
As an adult, he might still have a tendency to discard people, preferring instead to do things his own way.
If You Were a Withdrawn Child
The withdrawn child tucks herself away. She protects herself from a world that doesn’t have room for her. “If I keep to myself, no one will be bothered by me,” she thinks. “That way no one will be able to hurt me.”
As an adult, she probably still has a tendency to keep things inside, trying not to bother anyone, lest they feel like she was trying to impose her will upon them.
What It Looks Like to Break Free
One of the most beautiful parts of being a psychotherapist is seeing people break free from old habits and old coping mechanisms.
It should be said that for most people, coping mechanisms such as obedience, rebellion, and withdrawal were necessary, natural tools. As a child, if you did not receive an attuned response from the adults in your life during times of stress or pain, you developed these coping methods to help you survive the relationships and the environment you were in.
In most cases, those methods served you well.
However, as an adult, you have the opportunity to shed your childhood coping mechanisms in favor of something far better.
The Natural Child and the Spontaneous Adult
The “natural child” the one who is able to live without relying on coping mechanisms.
She is in touch with her needs. She maintains an awareness of what she’s feeling at any given time. And when needed, she reaches out to others in her life, asking them for their support and care any time she has a need.
And she maintains the hope that someone will be there to meet her needs by offering an attuned response.
The natural child grows into the spontaneous adult. She is in touch with fear, sadness, anger, joy, and celebration. She’s able to express her needs and feelings in a way that invites other people to respond to her with care and attention.
She is also well-equipped to show kindness and care for her own needs and feelings during times when those feelings arise and someone else can’t be there.
How to Find Your Natural Child and Spontaneous Adult, Regardless of Your Personal History
We were all born to be natural children and spontaneous adults. But somewhere along the line, that version of ourselves got lost. The relational failures of childhood caused us to develop coping mechanisms instead, and we learned to become compliant, rebellious, or withdrawn.
But no matter your background, I have great news to share with you:
You can find your natural child. And you can still grow into a spontaneous adult.
We all can.
You can learn new ways to understand yourself. You can discover that the world is a place where people really do care for you, and you can find that it really is safe to be yourself after all. It’s a very healing place to come from.
Learning this can—of course—be a lifelong task. And sometimes it helps to find a helping hand in the form of a professional therapist.
If that’s a journey you’d like some help with, we’d love to hear your story. Please just give us a call.