Coping skills are basically the methods we use to help us manage our emotions. Coping skills are often talked about as being either “healthy” or “unhealthy”. “Unhealthy” coping skills typically refer to those ways of dealing with our emotions that cause either others or ourselves harm in the process of temporarily calming, shifting, numbing or discharging our emotions. Examples could include various addictive/compulsive behaviors (substance use, sex, shopping, excessive exercise, gaming, work, etc), violence/aggression, self-harm, dissociating/shutting down, among others. It’s not that these behaviors don’t ‘work’; it’s that they also carry negative consequences and don’t allow for movement through healing. Any control or empowerment we may seem to derive from using them is typically an illusion and always fleeting, and they do not help us better relate directly with our feelings.
“Healthy” coping tools are those that allow us to experience a more genuine sense of self-empowerment in our relationship with our emotions. They help us find ways to more actively engage with our feelings, and to do so in ways that do not also cause harm to ourselves or others in the process. There are a wide range of behaviors and thought tools that are examples of healthy coping, including: breath and meditation practices, journaling, affirmation practices, boundary-identification and setting, direct communication, various forms of movement and exercise, self-care strategies, among others.
The therapy relationship can be a safe place to unpack and recognize our use of more unhealthy coping strategies and then to identify, learn and practice healthy coping strategies that are right for us.