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Common Coping Myths and Mistakes

Common Coping Myths and Mistakes

The "I don’t care" coping solution.

Many adolescents (as well as adults) make the mistake of trying to cope with stress and emotional pain by adopting the “I don’t care” approach. One of the most common mistakes we make when stressed by upsetting experiences is to try to shut off our awareness of emotional brain’s ability to sense what we are feeling, including emotional pain. If our feelings are hurt, it seems natural to just stop paying attention to our instinctive emotional brain’s ability to sense our feelings. The problem with this is we may lose our "ability to care" which leads to many more problems throughout our life. It is potentially dangerous to stop caring about how we or others feel. People who are not in touch with their feelings lose the ability to cope and recover from emotional wounds! Secondly, we can lose the ability to care in a positive way, such as having an emotional connection with others, feeling sympathy or reaching out for help when we have difficulty coping with painful feelings. Third, we may become insensitive to hurting other people with our words or actions. This means the "I don't care" attitude results in having few or no close friends. Without access to our feelings, "I don't care" keeps us from knowing why we feel so lonely.

Not realizing reptilian brain automatically taking over when we’re stressed and hurting

Our oldest and strongest automatic coping response is from reptilian brain, which senses when we are physically (or emotionally) threatened by “danger.” We know this partly because reptilian brain has a limited survival response – to attack or hide when threatened. So when we can’t deal with stress or upsets using our thinking brain, we may be ruled by anger and controlled by reptilian impulses. Because our brain tends to take the easiest path for dealing with problems, reptilian brain often takes control over how we act when our feelings get hurt. D-ANGER is a sign of reptilian survival brain response. The smart way to use our brain is by using the neocortex thinking ability to decide how we should be coping to get over emotional upsets.

Instinctive brain coping can become an easy habit.

Sometimes the brain lumps all kinds of stressful or upsetting experiences into a single way of coping. For example, we may get mad or sad out of habit. This means we automatically react the same way even though an "emotional wound" or upset requires a different kind of coping skill than avoiding "physical injury." We need our neocortex to figure out the best way of coping with each type of fear or upset. If we react to stress by always allowing our instinctive coping brains (reptilian or emotional) to automatically deal with a problem, we never learn the thinking skills or use neocortex tools like expressing how we feel by using words. Words are coping tools that help us to understand how to react when we are upset. Habits can be changed by making thoughtful choices. Not using thinking coping skills allows instinctive brain reactions to take the “easy” coping road rather than a more grown-up coping response. Be aware of developing “automatic” coping habits that let instincts take control away from your thinking brain’s “figuring out,” problem-solving ability.
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