Healing vs. Coping
“Coping is DEALING with an issue, Healing is working THROUGH it. Coping is the reliance on short term fixes while healing is the reliance on long term actions that bring permanent wholeness. Are you healing or are you coping?” LaShawntelle Carson-Pops, Founder of REVIVE Mental Health Organization Inc.
Life is hard at times. We face challenges and traumas that can leave us feeling hopeless, broken, worthless, frustrated, pessimistic, and skeptical. When we face similar challenges time and time again, they begin to shape our being and affect how we respond to future encounters. We may walk around bitter and envious, we may become angry and doubtful, we might not trust the same, we may have a nonchalant attitude towards everything, or we may even begin to question God and question ourselves.
While only some will admit to holding grudges or living in the past, the rest of us swear from up and down that we’ve moved on from those situations and “let it go”. But just because our lives have moved forward and on the surface, we appear to be doing okay for ourselves, it doesn’t mean our past struggles don’t still have their grip on us. In reality, we tend to walk through life doing one of two things: coping with our day to day symptoms or working through our past. Both of these are necessary, but if we only cope and never heal, we’ll be coping for the rest of our lives.
Coping is more of a band-aid approach. It provides temporary relief from the challenges we face. Typically, when we hear the word “cope”, we may automatically think of unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drinking, smoking, meaningless sex, overeating, and overspending. While these are forms of coping, there are other common and acceptable means of coping as well. In the context of this post, coping is anything you may use to try and distract yourself from deeper issues. Strategies such as binge watching Netflix, reading fiction novels, exercising, spending time with friends, and many other stress relievers are also forms of coping. Please note that coping is not bad. In fact, having effective coping strategies is absolutely essential to our well-being, but they are merely distractions. It can relieve stress, relieve pressure, and help to manage the pain, but coping is like taking a pill because you are not ready to commit to making the lifestyle change you really need. Pills aren’t meant to be forever. They are meant to help manage your symptoms while you heal.
Another problem with merely coping is that we can develop a higher tolerance to our methods over time. There comes a point where certain stress relievers and distractions just don’t work the same as they use to. What happens when painting doesn’t calm you like it once did, or you don’t feel like writing? What would you do if physical activity was your main source of distracting yourself from a certain issue but you injure yourself and can’t go for that run? How would you manage your frustrations when your friends are no longer as close as they use to be? While having these healthy outlets are necessary, it is important that they don’t replace healing.
Healing requires work. When I sprained my knee, the doctors told me to take ibuprofen as needed until the pain subsided. Meanwhile, they also gave me instructions for healing my sprain: Ice and elevate the knee. Wear a brace. Stretch. Go to physical therapy. Use crutches. Take it slow. I didn’t always follow these instructions however, because the stretches hurt, trying to sleep with an elevated leg was uncomfortable, the crutches were slowing me down, my therapist made me push through my pain, and the process in general was rough. But I wanted to get better. I didn’t want to rely on the pills forever and I wanted to feel like me again – running and doing all the things I use to do before the injury. We always want the outcome but never want to undergo the work required to get there.
The process of healing internally is the same. It’s uncomfortable, it hurts, it can bring about feelings of shame and embarrassment, and it takes time. But once you finally put in the work and endure the process, you will be glad you did. It will be worth it. You’ll feel whole, you feel stronger, and certain things won’t bother you the way they use to. You’ll no longer be carrying around that dead weight of your past. You’ll no longer be operating out of a place of brokenness. Your responses will be different. You’ll love differently. You’ll glow differently. You and everyone around you will know you’ve healed. You’ll be free. No more living in bondage.
Once you really grasp the importance of healing, the next question may be “where do I start?” The first thing would be to admit you need it. We all do. Healing and growth go hand in hand. Healing is returning to a place of wholeness while growth is reaching new potential. However, many of us have never experienced wholeness to begin with so our healing process is yet another avenue of growth. Healing is growing out of what we’ve been through. Healing is growing past who hurt us. Healing is growing into the person we know we can be and surpassing any level we’ve previously reached. Healing is righting our wrongs, forgiving ourselves, and forgiving those who have brought harm against us. Healing is admitting we are not perfect while still aiming to be more like Jesus every day. Healing is taking the time to explore why we are the way we are; it is coming face to face with all of our shortcomings, identifying why we operate in that manner, and committing to rectifying those areas. Healing is not about the person who wronged you or the situations that left you feeling defeated. Healing is about who you want to be and where you want to go from here. Healing is about your future. Healing is all about you. And you deserve it.
The second step would be to identify what specifically you are healing from and what the specific behaviors or thought processes are that have manifested themselves in your life as a result. Was there a specific incident or a series of trauma? Is it something so deeply rooted that you do not know where it comes from or is it something that built up over time. Are there multiple things you need to heal from or just one specific area you want to focus on? Another good starting place for this step would be to consider what your shortcomings or toxic characteristics are, and begin to think about when they started to show up in your life. Is it necessary to dig up skeletons from your past? Not necessarily, but sometimes if we don’t, we only begin to scratch the surface of true healing.
After identifying what you’re healing from and what thoughts and behaviors you’re transforming, a third step is to begin visualizing where you want to be. What is the goal? Are you going from envious to celebrating others? Controlling to being more open minded? Aggressive to diligent? Hopeless to hopeful? Feelings of inadequacy to having confidence? What are you hoping to attain by going through a process of healing? Begin to speak those things into existence. Begin to operate in that manner even if you feel like you are pretending. It’ll start to feel more natural with time. Without visualizing where we want to be, we have no end point to work towards and we have no way to measure our progress. Being able to see your growth along the way will be so important for keeping you motivated during this journey.
Now that you’ve admitted you need to heal, you’ve identified what you are healing from, and you’ve begun visualizing what you’re working towards, it’s time to start putting all of that work into action. With every new situation that comes your way, remind yourself of where you came from and where you’re going. If desperation was your problem in the past and you’re ready to reclaim your worth, the next time you’re faced with a situation where it is tempting to put yourself out there, say no. If you’re overcoming anger and your co-worker says something wrong to you, take that opportunity to be slow to respond and have a mental conversation with yourself about whether or not it’s worth it to go off. We pray for growth but don’t appreciate or pass the tests. Healing doesn’t mean we’re going to be perfect during the process, but it does mean we’re putting forth intentional effort to try! It won’t be easy, but this is where the true growth happens. Healing requires a ton of intentionality.
Finally, celebrate your wins! Every time you are faced with a situation and you’re able to respond differently, that is a key indicator that you are indeed healing. It won’t always be evident immediately, but with time you’ll begin to see the growth. It may help to journal about your progress or even keep a good friend around that can point out your growth for you when you can’t see it. Whatever you do, be sure to give yourself credit where credit is due.
Your healing is important. You are important.