Starting today, I need to forget what’s gone,
Appreciate what still remains
And look forward to what’s coming next.
In my last post I wrote about grieving, mourning and bereavement because this is the stage of life I am in right now. Everywhere I go, everyone wants to know how I am coping with my loss so this week I’m focusing on coping – how am I coping? Am I coping?
Ways of Coping:
Research has taught us that various approaches used in the coping process are grouped into eight coping factors:
• Confrontive Coping: describes aggressive efforts to alter the situation and suggests some degree of hostility and risk-taking. (Anger)
• Distancing: describes cognitive efforts to detach oneself and to minimize the significance of the situation. (Denial)
• Self-Controlling: describes efforts to regulate one’s feelings and actions.
• Seeking Social Support: describes efforts to seek informational support, tangible support, and emotional support.
• Accepting Responsibility: acknowledges one’s own role in the problem with a concomitant theme of trying to put things right. (Acceptance)
• Escape-Avoidance: describes wishful thinking and behavioral efforts to escape or avoid the problem. Items on this scale contrast with those on the Distancing scale, which suggest detachment. (Bargaining)
• Planful Problem Solving: describes deliberate problem-focused efforts to alter the situation, coupled with an analytic approach to solving the problem. (Acceptance)
• Positive Reappraisal: describes efforts to create positive meaning by focusing on personal growth. It often also has a religious dimension.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her 1969 book On Death & Dying (http://www.amazon.com/On-Death-Dying-Doctors-Families/dp/1476775540) described the following five well-known stages of grief:
• Denial— “It can’t be happening.”—Ignore or discount the evidence.
• Anger— “Why me? It’s not fair!”—Highlight the injustice. Blame someone or something else for the loss.
• Bargaining— “Just let me live to see my children graduate.”—Negotiate a better deal, gain time.
• Depression— “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”—Act helpless.
• Acceptance— “It’s going to be OK.”—Acknowledge the problem, understand and accept what you can and cannot change, and move on.
Responses at each stage that illustrate each of these styles could, for example be:
• Confrontive coping approach: Shouting a profanity, slamming and kicking the refrigerator door before blaming someone (self, spouse, bad luck, always happens, the dog)
• A distancing approach could be: reading the newspaper, turning on the TV, shining shoes, or doing other things to delay and distract from acknowledging the problem.
• A self-controlling approach would be telling yourself: “now stay calm, it’s not the end of the world”, “it’s really no big deal” as you calm down enough to take problem-focused action.
• Seeking social support – you might ask your spouse or significant other for sympathy, understanding or help.
• Acknowledging approach – you accept responsibility for your actions which leads quickly to accurately recognising, acknowledging and solving the problem.
• Escape-avoidance approach – you might shout “help me” with the vague hope someone will hear and respond to your call for help.
• Planful Problem Solving – leads to the alternatives and solutions originally described above
• Positive reappraisal – you may remind yourself that “whatever does not kill you, makes you stronger” or that God is testing you with this challenge/problem/struggle.
Coping requires resources:
Our ability to cope depends on the resources (human and financial) we can apply to solving the problems. What might be trivial to someone with the necessary resources can become a matter of life and death to someone who does not have the necessary resources.
Resources to help in coping may include: intelligence, education, experience, creativity, money, tools, materials, social skills, emotional competency, perspective, perseverance, resolve, tranquility, serenity, tolerance, rest, supportive friends and family, charm, health and energy, optimism, time, patience, confidence, courage, judgment, ingenuity, and other personal strengths.
If resources are unavailable or become exhausted then coping becomes less effective, suspends, or stops altogether. Coping may resume if resources again become available.
A simple example of this is regaining strength and resolve from a good night’s sleep and hearty breakfast. A more complex example is the long wait for relief aid that refugees may face.
Stress is the word we use to describe the resources consumed by coping; these are the resources required to counteract a stressor.
So, how am I doing? I think I’m coping for now.
Life is not what it’s supposed to be
It is what it is
The way you cope with it is
What makes the difference.
– Virginia Satir
Two Aspects of Coping
There are two main aspects of coping:
1) Solving the material or physical problem (fixing what’s broken, in the case of illness – healing the person or moving heaven and earth to find a cure for whatever is causing the illness/pain/discomfort)
2) Addressing the accompanying emotions (an emotion-focussed coping approach) – this kicks in when the person who is ill cannot be cured/healed (chronic illness)
Effective coping accurately recognises what you can change (your behaviour/attitude/make the sick person as comfortable as possible etc) and what you cannot (you cannot cure/heal the sick person).
Ineffective coping confuses the two.
So, how have I been coping?
Well, I’ve been trying to get out into the wonderful South African sunshine as often as I can. I’ve been going for long drives along our coastline – my drives, however, are limited to weekends because during the week Monday – Friday I have a full time job which keeps me stuck in a concrete jungle for eight to nine hours per day.
One of the longest drives I’ve taken in the last few weeks has been to a little town called Darling.
Next, I visited a cousin on my mom’s side who lives in Gordon’s Bay . . .
This was followed by a trip to Simonstown . . .
The last drive taken last week was to Hout Bay . . .
When something bad happens you have three choices.
You can either let it define you, destroy you
Or you can let it strengthen you.
Stress and Emotion: A New Synthesis , by Richard S. Lazarus
Coping Theory and Research: Past, Present, and Future, Richard S. Lazarus, Psychosomatic Medicine 55:234-247 (1993)