We use a coping mechanism when we want to hide the truth from our own eyes.
My plan was to move to Costa Rica to become part of an intentional community. It would have meant a financial commitment, but also a commitment to change everything about my life including leaving my home country.
The invitation was exciting, and seemed like the perfect next step after my move across the country a few years earlier. I was all for it.
Then, subtly, the idea started to weigh me down. Insights can land like a whack from a two by four, but more often they steal in like a shadow that we can only catch glimpses of out of the corner of the eye.
My behaviour should have been a clue that I was using my usual coping mechanism. However a coping mechanism is precisely what we use to hide the truth from our own eyes. That is, until we’re ready to see.
Coping strategies can be food, drugs, alcohol, work, shopping – anything that minimizes the stress and internal conflict over pushing ahead on a decision that deep down we know isn’t right for us.
I might have actually gone ahead with the plan to move except for one event that I couldn’t ignore or diminish with an every day coping strategy.
It was an all day meeting with the other people involved in the plan.
We met in my home to discuss what would have to happen step by step. Part way through the afternoon I wanted them to leave. At the end of the day I was exhausted.
It was not their fault. I just hadn’t admitted I was only attracted to the thought of moving, not to actually moving!
Once We See We Have to Choose Differently
Once we’ve committed to a path, once we’ve put energy, time and resources into it, it’s difficult to change direction. If we give up, we’re losers and cowards. And we have to admit we made a mistake! (Except there aren’t really any mistakes in the end.)
The internal messaging goes something like this:
“I’ve committed to this, I’ve given my promise, I’ve said yes and people are counting on me. If I bow out now it’s just because I have no guts.”
This is what keeps us forging ahead even as the truth lurks in the shadows.
What saved me in the end was the memory of something I heard at a training years before. The seminar leader said once you recognize a chosen path is not the right way you want to go, you can change direction by de-committing, not quitting.
The thought process is quite different and goes something like this:
“I can see now that this isn’t the way for me. I’m so glad I had the insight. I’m grateful I saw it in time before I put more time, energy and resources into it. I am choosing to let go of this idea that does not serve me, and I consciously de-commit from this project.”
Once I walked through this process, I started feeling lighter and lighter, with way more energy and way less anxiety.
How we feel is the tell.
In my lighter state I knew there was still a clean up I had to do after making my promise. I had to talk to my friends and tell them I’d changed my mind.
Before I spoke to them, I spent some time visioning that the intentional community would evolve with ease and grace, and the right people would show up in the right time. When I finally did tell them, there was no anger, only acceptance and best wishes.
Never Miss the Weekly Post
Creating Less Need for a Coping Mechanism
Granted, not all situations can be handled this way. We develop some coping strategies at a very young age to feel safe.
But as an adult, life is a journey of self discovery, and there are many benefits from looking back at challenges and reaping the wisdom. What difference would it make in life if we had less need for a coping mechanism to deal with stress and inner conflict?
It was after the events I described above that I realized I had a very clear process for handling the situation.
There is usually no rush to figure it out, and if there is, that in itself is a sign. Take your time making the decision if you have any doubts.
2. Pay attention to the tell
The tell is always how we feel -anxiety and worry vs peace and inner harmony. This doesn’t mean a right choice has no anxiety but if it’s right, it’s always mixed with excitement and creativity. Not dread!
Here’s something you can try right now. Think of a choice you made recently (start with something minor), and while thinking about it, say the first phrase from above. “I’ve committed to this, I’ve given my promise…. Now say the other one. “I can see now that this isn’t the way for me. I’m so glad…
How do you feel?
3. have a de-commitment ritual
Do something specific to de-commit, eg write it out and then burn the paper. Ritual makes it more meaningful.
4. Recognize your good is good for others too
It might not seem so at the time, but after the possibility of negative reactions, more times than not the others involved will see in the long run that your choice is good for them also. Pay attention to what happens weeks or months later for you and for anyone else effected by your decision.
5. find calm before letting others know
Be calm. When there are others involved, sincerely wish them the best outcome for the venture. Take that feeling of peace and calm into the conversation. Thank them.
6. Watch the space you’ve created
Nature abhors a vacuum. When you let go of a plan, there’s space for something new to come in. There’s no rush, but watch the space for new inspiration and ideas because they will happen.
A coping mechanism may have kept us out of danger in the past.
As an adult, though, they’re blessings, pointing us to what we’re not seeing.