When you think of “coping” with a problem, how do you define that term? Here are three definitions of “cope.” (1) To deal with and attempt to overcome problems and difficulties, (2) To deal effectively with something difficult, (3) To deal successfully with a difficult situation. Notice that in each of these definitions of coping, it is not simply enough to “deal with” a problem; the key is to do so in such a way as to “overcome” it “effectively” or “successfully.”
When you become aware of a problem in your life, what do you do? The problem might be a troubling present situation, or may be one that is coming, perhaps just around the corner. Viktor Frankl, a famous doctor, writer and concentration camp survivor, teaches us that there are some situations in which there is absolutely nothing we can do to alter a painful external situation (e.g., being in a concentration camp, being held hostage, etc.), and that in such a situation, one can still exert the “last of the human freedoms,” to alter one’s attitude toward one’s situation and one’s suffering. However, in most situations, we can most certainly make decisions and act in ways to make our problems dissipate or resolve.
Yet how many times do we find ourselves doing counterproductive things? We want for the situation to get better and to feel better, but we hesitate to do what is required of us in that situation. We make the mistakes of being in denial, avoiding, procrastinating, etc. While these avoidance techniques may help you to (temporarily) feel better, what they are also doing is allowing the problem to fester and perhaps get worse.
So, we need to get clear on what exactly the problem is, its’ scope and dimensions, and to do that we need to face it. After all, how can we solve a problem if we won’t allow ourselves to understand it. The goal is to figure out a solution, a way forward, to devise a plan, and then to execute the required steps to get there. So, ask yourself when you come across a situation that is a challenge or problem, “Do I want to solve this, or, not?” It seems to me that it is far preferable to do all that one can do to alter the actual situation so that the problem is successfully managed. We can all learn to cope better by sharpening our problem-solving skills, but remember, the most important idea here is that one must first be willing to face and directly confront our problems. If you will allow yourself do this, you are already on the road to coping better.
Steve Bailley, PhD