TRIGGER WARNING: mentions of self harm and substance abuse.
I know. Once you find a coping skill that works for you, it can be hard to move away from it. However, some of the coping skills you think are healthy might do more harm than good.
You might be wondering: What exactly makes a coping skill unhealthy? Well, a coping skill can be unhealthy in several ways. If the skill has one or more of these factors, it can be deemed maladaptive (or unhealthy):
The question still stands: If some coping mechanisms are so bad, why are we attracted to them? Once again, there are numerous reasons for this. In a simple explanation, people turn to defective ways to cope, rather than beneficial mechanisms, because it provides both instant results and short-term “help”. These coping skills only temporarily mask the difficult emotions, while adaptive coping skills take longer to learn and get used to through practice. Healthy coping skills will help tremendously in the long run while also equipping you with the ability to handle stress, whereas unhealthy coping skills will only postpone the problem for a later time.
Some common examples of unhealthy coping mechanisms are, but aren’t limited to substance abuse (ex. Excessive drug or alcohol usage), self mutilation/sabotage, and acts of violence (ex. Harming others).
If you struggle, or have struggled with bad coping mechanisms - similar to the ones listed or different - chances are you have been seeking out alternatives in an attempt to free yourself of them. Alternatives such as these include finding other ways to feel the ‘sensation’, such as snapping a rubber band against your wrist to resist the urge to cut yourself, trying different ways to feel ‘intoxicated’ without actually consuming drugs or alcohol, and taking your anger out on a pillow instead of a wall or another person.
While these alternatives don’t cause direct harm, that doesn’t mean they are healthy. Things such as these can be potentially helpful with the process of moving away from negative coping mechanisms, however they’re not something you should stick with for longer than necessary.
Why are these coping skills unhealthy, exactly? Well, even though you’re not actively harming yourself, that is still the implication of acts such as these, is it not?
Though it keeps you from enduring serious harm, what will you do if these sensations are not enough? Or if you can’t use these methods? These are rhetorical questions since the answers are quite obvious: you will more than likely fall back onto those original coping mechanisms; anything to feel those sensations.
That’s why it’s best to distance yourself from the concept of them entirely. Ideally, you shouldn’t be inflicting harm upon yourself, getting violent, or feeling high. Instead, you should be focused on practicing healthy ways to relieve those intense emotions.
If you have suffered from these maladaptive habits, you have probably found yourself saying: “I can’t stop.”
Though it may seem so, this is not a fact. You can stop, but it’s going to be a hard hill to climb. This doesn’t mean you should jump straight to the conclusion that you will never overcome what you’re going through.
The best way to start removing these addictions from your habits is by ridding yourself of those things that tempt you. Remove all sharp objects that can trigger your urges, like razor blades, knives and pencil sharpeners away from your presence. If you can’t hide certain things, avoid directing your attention onto them. If you can’t do that, either, there are additional resources to support you - crisis lines, rehabilitation centres, support groups - anything you can think of. If you have someone to help you, make sure to keep open communication with them about your urges and emotions. By doing this, they can help you to the best of their abilities.
There are additional steps you can take to shift your focus away from those sensations, rather than focusing on different ways to feel them. I know from experience that taking care of yourself can be difficult, and becoming clean isn’t so easy -especially when it feels like nothing or nobody can help you. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and recognizing your unhealthy habits is the starting point of your marathon towards it.
Some of the best coping mechanisms I’ve developed over time are writing and drawing. These help me express my emotions adequately. There are various healthy coping skills out there.
I wish you the best of luck on your recovery journey, and I hope you’ll take what I said to heart. Practice self-nurturing! There are plenty of sources to help you, even if you don't have access to a therapist or direct help from professionals. There are several websites to both encourage and assist with your well-being and recovery, including helplines, hotlines, therapy aids, and us - Teenagers With Experience.
There will always be people who care, something to get clean for. Even if it seems like you’re always stuck in the dark, there will always be some light.