For people who have experienced the death of a loved one, it is common to rely on coping mechanisms. While most people will end up discovering useful techniques that will help them process their emotions and grief, there are also people who find themselves stuck in a cycle of pain. This results in people engaging in negative coping, which takes a toll on their health emotionally, mentally and even physically. Such patterns of behaviour will prevent these people from truly coping with the entirety of their grief.
What exactly is negative coping? Negative coping refers to any sort of behaviour that is used by someone to try and avoid confronting painful emotions. It is seen as a quick fix, however it is merely a temporary method and does not contribute to the appropriate healing of emotional grief. Negative coping numbs the person’s pain for a period of time, much like what aspirin does to an ill person. As a result, the person’s stress and grief ends up much worse as it is not properly treated and processed. Grief is not simply an emotion, it is also an experience. One has to get through it and process it in its fullness, so that they are able to move forward in life.
Grief encompasses a wide range of emotions and memories. It is the worries and anxieties that can manifest and keep you up at night. It is the feelings and thoughts of guilt, shame, hopelessness and helplessness that can be triggered out of the blue and possibly overwhelm you. It is very easy and tempting, therefore, for someone to feel like avoiding grief and the pain that follows it.
At the core of negative coping is avoidance. Why do people start to develop negative coping mechanisms? The answer is simple. Through the avoidance of grief, they are able to function within the family and the society. To some extent, avoidance is useful. However, avoidance becomes unhealthy and maladaptive when it becomes a cycle that prevents the person from healing. When someone is stuck in a cycle of behavioural patterns that they use to numb or avoid the pain of grief, that is where negative coping comes about.
Some common examples of negative coping may include: working overtime, substance abuse, isolating oneself from friends and family, apathy or feeling emotionally disconnected, and even trivialising your own emotions by saying “it’s fine”. Avoidance on an experiential level can also manifest when the person grieving attempts to block out specific memories and moments that remind them of the deceased. It is well advised that you are able to identify these problematic traits and patterns, so that you will not fall under the illusion of negative coping.
Bereavement support, aside from the arrangement of funeral services. When one is faced with the reality of a death, it is crucial to seek help and be surrounded by a supportive network. Everyone needs an appropriate manner to grieve and release their emotions via a healthy outlet.