Coping Mechanism: The 3 different types you should know

In life, we go through things (both negative and positive) that stress us physically and mentally. An example of a negative event is being abused, losing someone and so on. A positive event could be getting married, a new job, moving. With all that happens in our lives, we find a way to manage and cope with these life stress and triggers. What we do to manage them is known as coping mechanism.

What are coping mechanisms?

coping mechanism

Coping mechanisms are the strategies people often use in the face of stress and/or trauma to help manage painful and difficult emotions. It can help people adjust to stressful events while helping them maintain their emotional well-being.

The different types of Coping Mechanisms

While I was reading about this, I came across different types/classes of coping mechanism. It did not have a definite type or classification. However, what I found out is that they are all related, no matter how they are classified. Below are the different types of coping mechanisms:

  • Active and Passive Coping Mechanism
  • Task-oriented, Emotion-oriented and Avoidance-oriented Coping Mechanism
  • Adaptive and Maladaptive Coping Mechanism

Active and Passive Coping Mechanism

coping mechanism, coping
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  • Active Coping Mechanism

Active coping is one in which a person works directly to control a stressor. With this type of coping, the person is aware of the stressor/trigger and finds a way to manage it positively. Active coping strategies are either behavioural or psychological responses designed to change the nature of the stressor itself or how one thinks about it.

For instance, if someone has been through a major loss, they make seek counseling and therapy to help them. Another one is if someone encountered a major debt, they use problem solving strategy to cope with the stress, so they might think of ways to come up with the money.

  • Passive Coping Mechanism

With passive coping, a person removes the responsibility of managing a stressor gives control of their problem to external resources such as other people and environmental factors. Those who use this coping method usually accept that nothing can be done about the stress, so they sometimes depend on others to control the stressor and this affects other areas of their life.

Usually, these kinds of people withdraw and avoid the stressor. They take no actions regarding the stressor; they simply do nothing about it and hope one day they will be fine or they wouldn’t have to face their stressor. This is unhealthy because it doesn’t solve the problem, neither does it help one’s mental state.

An example is having a health issue that is caused by obesity yet hoping that your health issue will be no more or that there is a drug that can help make you feel better. It’s like having malaria but taking antipyretic drugs instead of antimalarial. The antipyretic would help relieve you of the fever but it doesn’t remove the malaria parasite. That’s an analogy by the way; I hope you get the point.

Task-oriented, Emotion-oriented and Avoidance-oriented Coping Mechanism

coping mechanism, coping
Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels
  • Task-oriented Coping

Task-oriented coping involves putting up things in place to solve the situation. They require problem solving. This kind of coping is used when the situation is perceived as controllable. Meaning that if what caused the stress has a solution, then it should be put in place. It involves mental imagery, effort, thought control, seeking support, relaxation and logical analysis.

For instance, if someone got a new job that is quite stressful for them because they use a bus to go to work and they have to be stopped at every bus stop which makes them leave home early and get home late, only to do it all over the next day, the person might have to consider getting a car. To do so, they would have to plan their finances better in other to save for a car.

  • Emotion-oriented Coping

According to American Psychological Association (APA), emotion-oriented coping is a ‘stress-management strategy in which a person focuses on regulating his or her negative emotional reactions to a stressor. Rather than taking actions to change the stressor itself, the individual tries to control feelings using a variety of cognitive and behavioral tools, including meditation and other relaxation techniques, prayer, positive reframing, wishful thinking and other avoidance techniques, self-blame, seeking social support (or conversely engaging in social withdrawal), and talking with others (including mental health care professionals). It has been proposed that emotion-focused coping is used primarily when a person appraises a stressor as beyond his or her capacity to change’.

The difference between task-oriented and emotion-oriented coping is that task-oriented involves activities or logical reasoning put in place to deal with the stressor; it’s mostly physical whereas, emotion-oriented coping concerns the emotions.

  • Avoidance-oriented Coping

With this type of coping, the person ignores and avoids the problem. They don’t acknowledge it mainly because they don’t think they can handle it and so they move on as if there’s no problem. I wrote something about Avoidance Coping and you can read all about it here.

Adaptive and Maladaptive Coping

coping mechanism
Photo by luizclas from Pexels
  • Adaptive Coping

Adaptive coping are a set of coping methods that are used to manage the stress directly. They are adaptive as compared to maladaptive because they are healthy coping methods. The following are different forms of adaptive coping.

  1. Support: This involves looking for support. An example is talking to someone about what’s going on with you. It basically involves looking for someone you trust that can support you instead of keeping to oneself and/or internalizing the pain.
  2. Problem-solving: This involves action, doing something about the situation
  3. Relaxation: With relaxation, the person gets involved in relaxation activities such as sitting in nature, meditating, listening to calm music and so on. It helps relax the mind at the moment and somehow gives the person a new perspective on what is going on
  4. Humour: The person finds a way to make light the situation at hand. This helps to reduce the overwhelming nature of the situation.
  5. Physical activity: Physical activity involves running, swimming, taking a work and so on. Just like relaxation, it gives one the chance to think and brings a new perspective to the situation plus it has a way of making you feel better.
  • Maladaptive Coping

These are several unhealthy coping methods. They cause temporary relief but do not deal with the stressor. Again, remember the analogy about using an antipyretic drug for malaria? It helps with the fever but doesn’t get rid of the malaria. The following are the different forms of maladaptive coping.

  1. Escape – This involves keeping to oneself and engaging in activities that tend to distract. The person chooses to self-isolate and internalize what they are going through. They also engage in solitary act like, staying at home, watching TV, going offline etc.
  2. Unhealthy Self-soothing – the person engages in distracting activities to feel better. The activities alone are not necessarily unhealthy but overdoing them is what makes it unhealthy. An example is spending lots of hours on video games, TV and even binge eating. The reason for all these is to feel better about what’s happening around them.
  3. Numbing – This is quite similar to unhealthy self-soothing because both involve self-soothing, however, with numbing, they involve unhealthy activities. Examples are excessive junk food, excessive alcohol use, and using hard drugs and so on.
  4. Compulsions and risk-taking – An example is gambling, unsafe sex, recklessness, etc. These are very unhealthy coping styles as they can be dangerous too.
  5. Self-harm – with self-harm, people do that to feel something or as a way of punishing themselves for something they think is their fault.

With all the several coping mechanisms discussed, I would classify all of them into 2; Healthy coping mechanisms and Unhealthy coping mechanisms. Healthy coping would be the ones that involve dealing with the stressor and doing so in such a way that it doesn’t lead to a dangerous path, emotional garbage or anxiety and depression in the long run. Examples would be the active, task-oriented, adaptive and some form of emotion-oriented coping mechanisms.

Unhealthy coping mechanisms on the other hand are forms of coping used to avoid the stress and get immediate relief with no plan of dealing with the problem. Examples are passive, avoidance and maladaptive coping mechanisms.

As humans, sometimes we engage in unhealthy coping mechanism because it’s easier and provides immediate relief. Over time, it doesn’t help us and we build a lot of emotional stress. If we don’t face our problems, they will show up again and this time, stronger.

As Christians,

We know that we have the life of Christ and we have a Father that loves and cares for us. We also have the Holy Spirit as a helper. Whatever stress; negative or positive, we know that we can deal with them because our Father has given us his Spirit to help us. Our Father has also put things in place for us. We know we are not hopeless, we also know that God is not without a plan and we recognize that all we do is by God’s strength.

God is always with you and He helps, whether you feel it, realize it or not. He loves you too.

Please follow me on instagram and twitter @theroyaldeviant


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