We often talk about eating disorders as “Maladaptive Coping Behaviors,” so we created this short video to explain what that means.
When we are in a normal state, various feelings circulate in and out of our minds rapidly. However, when we have depression or anxiety, our feelings begin to get stuck in our orbit. Then, negative feelings become larger, while positive feelings become smaller.
At this point, some of us engage maladaptive coping mechanisms in an attempt to protect ourselves from these negative emotions. Unfortunately, when we use these coping mechanisms, we minimize and keep out positive emotions even more than before.
Maladaptive coping mechanisms are behaviors that make us feel better in the short term, but in the long-term they are very harmful. They include eating disorders, self-harm, alcohol & substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, shoplifting, risk-taking behavior and compulsive lying.
Once we become dependent on our maladaptive coping mechanisms, we become emotionally weaker, and even less able to withstand negative emotions. But our maladaptive coping mechanisms convince us that they are the solution to our pain.
Even as our maladaptive coping mechanisms bring us to our knees, we are unable to see how they are perpetuating the pain we are trying to avoid.
Adaptive, or healthy coping mechanisms, are skills that we must learn in order to overcome our maladaptive coping mechanisms. If we try to stop our maladaptive behavior without learning healthy skills, we are unlikely to succeed. Healthy coping skills include learning to process emotions, learning to care for ourselves, and being assertive about our needs.
As we slowly learn these skills, we gain strength against the maladaptive coping behavior, slowly integrating our new tools for managing negative emotions. As we do this, positive feelings become more present in our lives. Over time, our feelings begin to circulate again. Even as this happens, and even as we begin to feel positive emotions again, we must be vigilant about practicing our healthy skills to ensure we can make a full transition and become truly recovered.
Recovery means that we can live in the world and experience a broad variety of emotions, both positive and negative, and we no longer need to rely on our maladaptive coping behavior to feel safe and secure.