From Our Resiliency Blog Series: The Science & Spirit Of Resiliency: Building A Stronger You (Full list of 8 blogs)
Understanding the motivations driving coping styles is crucial for enhancing our resilience strategies.
Discerning between controllable and uncontrollable aspects is hence important. Surrendering involves accepting the present moment without manipulation.
Positive psychology (PP) emphasizes active coping driven by beliefs in efficacy and resonance with personal values.
Overall, recognizing the motivational underpinnings enables effective coping and embracing positive moments.
Understanding the driving forces behind diverse coping styles is crucial for enhancing our coping strategies. Next, we delve into the key motivations that lead individuals to adopt various coping approaches, shedding light on the practical foundation for refining our coping techniques.
Personal Life Example: Similar to understanding your choices in varying conditions in life, comprehending coping motivations is key.
Why do people choose ineffective or harmful coping styles like overcontrol and passive coping? Below I describe what motivates people to engage in these maladaptive coping styles according to PP literature.
Over control – often originates from fear, notably the fear of vulnerability to others, making errors, or facing rejection.
These fears compel individuals towards disproportionate and detrimental control methods. The apprehension of losing control drives a fixation on personal control. Frequently, the need for control leads individuals to seek controllable aspects in the external world, even when control is partial or absent.
Diverse factors drive this heightened focus on control, including:
Excessive control is observable in behaviors such as micromanaging others, strict dietary regimens, and meticulous planning. Often, the fear underpinning overcontrol magnifies the perceived costs of relinquishing it. For instance, someone who doubts their ability to find a new partner might excessively control their spouse to prevent infidelity. Similarly, fearing job loss due to subpar performance might lead to exhaustive checking and rechecking of work.
Overemphasis on control can also stem from misconceptions about personal influence
Overcontrol, by definition, involves exerting more control than feasible over an event. If an individual incorrectly perceives greater control, it can drive excessive control efforts. Notably, events with limited controllability facilitate over-control. Consequently, events deemed uncontrollable have a pronounced impact on individuals with unrealistically elevated control beliefs.
Research aligns with this notion, indicating that those who overestimate their control over challenging life events encounter greater difficulty adapting when such events occur. One study suggests that individuals with inflated personal control notions or extensive experience controlling life events find it challenging to accept uncontrollable outcomes. Part of this resistance might arise from an underdeveloped ability to relinquish control. Limited exposure to uncontrollable events hinders the practice of letting go. Learning to differentiate controllable and uncontrollable events necessitates time and experience.
Consequently, someone with heightened control beliefs might persist with strategies that previously succeeded but are now ineffective under current circumstances. For those who perceive life events as controllable, encountering the confines of control can be interpreted as personal defeat, potentially misconstrued as self-failure (“I should have averted this”). Subsequently, intensified efforts to control the event might ensue, leading to heightened frustration and repeated clashes with control’s limitations.
Individuals often underinvest in controlling manageable aspects due to diverse factors.
Passive coping can result from insufficient or excessive exposure to life stressors. Dienstbier’s resilience theory suggests that facing stressors with intermittent recovery fosters a perception of manageability, yielding effective coping. Research supports this, linking moderate adversity to fewer posttraumatic stress symptoms, reduced distress, improved functionality, and heightened life satisfaction.
Another PP study proposes that challenging experiences bolster resilience and fortitude, shaping subsequent negative encounter management. Limited stress exposure hampers skill development and mastery. Such individuals resort to passive coping when facing stress due to a lack of acquired active engagement. Essentially, lacking prior active coping experiences can result in avoidance of challenging situations.
For overcontrol tendencies, promoting awareness of control limitations can be beneficial. Reflecting on past or present events, discerning elements one can fully control versus those beyond control. This improved distinction aids in curbing overcontrol tendencies.
Notably, acknowledging our restricted influence over events can be challenging, especially if one has invested significant effort into futile control attempts. Thus, it’s important to note the aim of recognizing controllable and uncontrollable aspects isn’t to evoke fear or helplessness, but to guide energy allocation for enhanced well-being. Therefore, spotlighting actionable behaviors within one’s realm of personal control is crucial.
Further, inadequate exposure to stressors can trigger passive coping, akin to the consequences of prolonged exposure to stressors.
Continuous exposure may lead to overwhelming feelings, potentially fostering learned helplessness. This theory posits that uncontrollable experiences diminish subsequent task performance. Over time, ones repeated but futile control attempts can lead them to perceive their efforts as futile, dampening their motivation. Subsequently, their willingness to engage in future control endeavors diminishes due to the belief that their actions hold no impact – leading to a “Why try?” mindset.
While influencing outcomes is positive, personal mastery carries the weight of responsibility. Abstaining from change efforts eliminates potential accountability for failure. In essence, denying agency can feel safer than demonstrating it. In summary, reluctance to exert control can stem from a fear of failure and the accompanying responsibility.
Addressing hesitations about tackling challenges directly holds value.
While one shouldn’t force change, exploring the pros and cons of one’s current passive coping approach can help clarify your motivation for change.
Individuals can often lack drive due to focusing solely on action’s drawbacks or inaction’s benefits. Broadening one’s perspective to encompass active coping’s merits enhances motivation.
Preserving a Victim Identity – Another avenue of not exerting control involves safeguarding a victim identity. Exposure to negative life events can prompt individuals to perceive themselves as victims. They internalize the notion that life has treated them unfairly, with past adversities woven into their self-narrative. Curiously, despite the negative undertone, advantages accompany this self-perception. The victim’s role can garner attention, care, and even financial support. Often, individuals are unaware that this victim image is essentially a mental construct, and they fiercely defend it. A common defense is reacting with anger when others overlook their problems or claim more significant issues. To uphold this victim identity, they shun behaviors inconsistent with the role, such as attempting to modify or control situations.
Positive psychology aims to uncover human strengths that counter stressors and boost well-being.
This involves fostering adept coping strategies and addressing why some individuals manage difficulties skillfully. Why do they act when needed and relinquish control when ineffective?
In the following sections, we explore potential answers.
A key driver for embracing active coping in adversity is the belief that ones efforts can make a difference.
In contrast to learned helplessness, learned hopefulness is feeling empowered to tackle (uncontrollable) situations, based on past evidence of capability. When people repeatedly experience that they can deal with difficult and uncontrollable circumstances it bolsters their autonomy and self-efficacy.
Prior encounters could have honed effective strategies through direct experience, observing others, or modeling behaviors. Skills span – communicating their needs, effectively regulating their emotions, managing time, organizing themselves, or working with others toward a common goal, enriching coping options for managing uncontrollable event results.
Additionally, resonance with personal values propels active coping with stress.
Values, life’s guideposts, epitomize individual significance. Values like responsibility, achievement, altruism, ambition, creativity, and autonomy act as beacons, guiding even during life’s deviations.
Personal Life Example: Being driven by values to confront life’s challenges parallels you steadfastly navigating a difficult situation because of a clear desired direction in life you have identified. You acknowledge that taking control of yourself or the direction of the situation is essential to support and guide your life through the difficulty, ensuring alignment with your intended direction. This understanding propels you to brave adverse conditions, propelled by the knowledge of your desired path.
Previous research underscores how connecting to personal values boosts resilience against stressors.
Affirming values diminishes perceived threats, curbs post-failure rumination and reduces defensive reactions to threats.
One study revealed that reflecting on personal values dampened physiological and psychological stress responses during a controlled challenge. In the study, participants engaged in value-affirmation or control tasks before a lab-based stress test. Value-affirmation participants showed reduced cortisol responses compared to controls. This highlights that contemplating values restrains neuroendocrine and psychological stress reactions.
Notably, even brief writing exercises yield lasting effects. Another study found a fifteen-minute values affirmation exercise continued to diminish relationship insecurity for four weeks post the initial exercise.
Embracing the paradox of surrendering poses a unique challenge, as its essence defies explanation and action. It’s the art of “not doing.” Trying to surrender or being overly motivated contradicts the very concept, as they suggest an eagerness to induce an outcome. Engaging in attempts to surrender, paradoxically, resists true surrender by aiming to manipulate its occurrence.
Common thoughts in this counterproductive process include “I must surrender,” “I need to release this,” and “I’m not feeling better yet.” Notably, these thoughts focus on achieving a goal.
In essence, surrender doesn’t follow a goal-oriented path bridging what’s happening now (“I’m not surrendering”) and a desired future state (“I am surrendering”).
Instead, surrender unfolds in the present, by releasing efforts to alter the moment. It involves acknowledging the present and deeply understanding the inability to change it.
This realization often emerges through experience. Individuals with a history of control or denial, rather than acceptance and surrender, can understand surrender. They’ve learned that relinquishing control becomes the only viable choice.
Surrender emerges from a past encounter with personal control’s limitations. This confrontation challenges unrealistic control beliefs, aiding in distinguishing between personal control and the beyond.
While positive events are less challenging than negative ones, research reveals that not everyone excels at deriving positivity from them.
In this section, we explore factors causing reduced motivation to savor positive moments.
Research shows that threat and distress can impede savoring positive moments. Amid negative events, appreciating positives becomes challenging. Some negative events demand attention, leaving less for engaging with positives.
Impatience, affecting pleasurable experience enjoyment, was explored in a study of fast food’s impact on savoring in three experiments. Study 1: Fast-food-rich neighborhoods reduced savoring. Study 2: Fast-food cues lowered happiness from nature images. Study 3: Fast-food symbols lessened music enjoyment. Interestingly, these individuals felt the music lasted longer.
Impatience leads to rushed activities, diminishing full engagement.
Prosperity also hampers savoring. Despite financial concerns and desires for more resources, wealthier individuals surprisingly struggle with savoring. In a study, money images reduced chocolate enjoyment compared to neutral images. Although money motivates work, it can diminish the urge to savor.”
Personal abundance diminishes savoring, shown in research that explored how abundant positive experiences hinder appreciating simpler joys. Study 1: Well-traveled individuals savor ordinary trips less. Study 2: Those feeling well-traveled spent less time at attractions. Abundance detracts from valuing everyday positives; rich experiences set high comparison standards against mundane moments.”
Minimizing or undervaluing a positive event diminishes its associated positive emotions. Depressive thoughts, like fixating on event flaws or wishing for earlier or longer duration, are linked with depression. Interestingly, in East Asian cultures, deliberate use of joy-dampening thoughts is observed to align with social norms and cultural scripts. In essence, some cultural norms and scripts can drive efforts to curtail savoring.
This next section explores key motivational factors.
Numerous findings highlight scarcity’s impact on attention allocation.
Some studies concluded that having less elicits greater focus.
Manipulating bullet availability in a shooting game, scarcity led participants with fewer bullets to aim more deliberately compared to abundance participants who fired without as much care.
Similar trends emerged in food contexts: hunger-induced scarcity heightened detection of briefly presented food-related words. Scarcity’s focus-inducing aspect aligns with savoring’s core process—full immersion in a positive event. Perceived scarcity is thus anticipated to enhance savoring.
Consistently, studies show college seniors savor their remaining college time more when it’s seen as limited. Another study revealed consumers savor more, eat slower, and achieve greater satiation when receiving fewer chocolates than expected, compared to those anticipating more chocolates. Further, abstinence from chocolate for a week, rather than abundant supply, heightened savoring and positive effect. Collectively, these findings suggest scarcity’s potential to amplify savoring motivations.
A substantial study involving around 15,000 adults by Croft, Dunn, and Quoidbach revealed that past adversity correlates with heightened present savoring. Those facing life-threatening diseases often report increased appreciation for life itself, while deep gratitude is often tied to challenging past events. These findings could elucidate the link between prior adversity and elevated life satisfaction. Potentially, those adept at overcoming hardship savor positive life events more effectively, contributing to greater life satisfaction.
Motivationally, experiencing hardship’s challenges might cultivate an awareness that positive events are not guaranteed, driving the motivation to savor them when they occur. Supporting this notion, it was found considering mortality enhanced gratitude compared to controls, emphasizing the value we hold for the reality of life.
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Until next blog, stay resilient and keep learning!
Written by Cynthia Aisha Meguid
Well-Being – Author, Educator, Consultant & Coach