What is A Common Unhealthy Coping Mechanism?

When I think about the upbringing, I had in the quaint little yet large community, I think of upper middle class (my family was working class), new construction neighborhoods (we lived in a townhouse), sidewalks, and kids everywhere in my age group. We were, as a generation, didn’t matter what “class” we were, the typical early 80s -90s type of demographic; we were given free rein and enjoyed:

  • Riding our bikes for miles and miles (part sidewalks/part side of the main road) to get to a friend’s house
  • Staying up all night playing the original Nintendo Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong, Punchout, and Atari’s Centipede
  • Campouts in each other’s backyards
  • Connecting as many kids’ slip-and-slides as possible somewhere in the middle of the neighborhood
  • Playing outside after dark during summer vacation
  • All-night skating parties for Jerry Lewis Easter Seals telethon

Unfortunately, with all the free reign, higher incomes, and a high school as big as a college campus, addiction infiltrated Plymouth, the quaint little, white-collar community where “it’s safe to raise your children.” Teen sex, drug, and alcohol use ran rampant and was a coping mechanism for many. There are so many that some are not alive today, and those that are alive are dying of alcoholism or addiction, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.

Addiction does not discriminate based on factors such as race, religion, gender, wealth, fame, or social status— it doesn’t give a rat’s a$$ and can affect anyone, regardless of their background or circumstances.

According to psychology experts, “Unhealthy coping mechanisms involve behaviors that provide short-term relief but may exacerbate distress in the long run. Substance abuse, avoidance, self-harm, and negative self-talk are among the most common examples of unhelpful coping strategies (Klonsky, 2007; Skinner et al., 2003),”.

In other words, people trade long-term discomfort for short-term relief. It’s not a healthy, happy, or comfortable way to live. Nor does it work. But there is hope; I have seen it. I have seen it among those kids I grew up with. I have seen them be taken from the despair of self-harm and unhealthy mechanisms to be pillars of their communities. They regain the respect of their family, work, and peers, build valuable lives, and help others who are in the same demoralizing pit they were once in. Some people call them modern-day miracles. I certainly cannot explain how they went from wanting to end their lives to living lives of hope and purpose.

5 unhealthy coping mechanisms

Of course, there are far more than five unhealthy coping mechanisms out there; let’s start with these five examples:

  1. Substance abuse: Drugs, alcohol, or inhalants
  2. Self-harm; Aggression; Smoking, Acting out sexually
  3. Avoidance: Isolation, Social withdrawal, Avoiding emotions, Avoiding issues, Catastrophizing, or Sleeping too much
  4. Emotional eating: Overeating, under-eating, binge eating
  5. Compulsive behaviors; Gambling, Overworking; Impulsive spending

The cycle of unhealthy coping mechanisms can often feel like a black hole, sucking individuals deeper into despair and further away from any sense of control or inner peace. It’s a slippery slope, where the temporary relief or numbness provided by these behaviors only serves to mask the underlying issues, ultimately exacerbating them over time.

Substance abuse, for instance, may seem like a quick fix to escape from reality or numb emotional pain, but in reality, it only creates a vicious cycle of dependence and worsening mental health. Self-harm, whether through physical harm or risky behaviors, may offer a momentary release of tension or overwhelming emotions but are left with deeper psychological scars and a distorted sense of self-worth.

Avoidance, in its various forms, can lead to a life of isolation and disconnection from others, perpetuating feelings of loneliness and alienation. Emotional eating, as a coping mechanism, may provide temporary comfort or distraction. Still, it ultimately leads to a strained relationship with food and one’s body, contributing to a host of physical and emotional health issues.

Compulsive behaviors such as gambling, overworking, or impulsive spending offer a false sense of control or distraction from underlying issues, only to lead to financial, emotional, and interpersonal consequences down the line. These behaviors may seem like the path of least resistance at the moment. Still, they ultimately rob individuals of the opportunity to confront their emotions, heal from past trauma, and cultivate healthier coping strategies.

Breaking free from the grip of unhealthy coping mechanisms requires courage, self-awareness, and a willingness to seek help and support. It’s a journey of self-discovery and self-compassion, where individuals can learn to tune into their emotions, develop healthier coping skills, and rebuild a sense of agency and empowerment in their lives.

With the necessary support, guidance, willingness, open-mindedness, and honesty, there is hope in recovering from reaching for unhealthy coping mechanisms. A person can be free to move towards a life of authenticity, strength, and emotional well-being, knowing every step towards healing is a significant accomplishment, highlighting inner strength and resilience.

Is sleeping a bad coping mechanism?

Okay, so maybe sloth is a character flaw of mine that needs some work. Well, maybe overhauling is a more accurate action that’s needed! However I have to give myself a break and remember not to beat myself up. Because I already have – literally. Through many years of playing sports, I have accumulated multiple injuries that are rearing their ugly heads each year I age, thus causing many disruptions in my sleep.

Too much sleep, however, can be a way of escaping your feelings or situations in life. Recovery is an exhausting process and can be uncomfortable and challenging at times. It is easy to want to escape to peaceful sleep, but sleep is not a healthy escape if it interferes with your daily life. If I got up earlier, I could get more done. But then here we are again. Am I treading into overworking territory? Balance my friends, balance…

What is a common unhealthy coping mechanism?

In wrapping up, it’s clear that unhealthy coping mechanisms may provide temporary relief but ultimately exacerbate mental health issues. Overcoming these destructive patterns demands self-reflection, bravery, and asking for help to develop healthier coping strategies. While using sleep as an escape is tempting, striking a balance is crucial to avoid it becoming a harmful crutch. By embracing growth and seeking support, individuals can break free from destructive habits and move towards a life of resilience and genuine well-being.

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