What worked for you then might not work for you now

Whether my clients come in for help with depression, relationship problems or anything else, they come because at that point in their lives they realize they need professional help. They had been able to cope with all that life was throwing at them up until that point.

Indeed, we all have our ways to deal with stuff that happens to us. And let’s be honest, it does. Life is not an endless parade of amazing Instagram worthy pictures. We binge on sugar after a stressful week. We avoid certain places or things that bring back sad memories after a breakup. We practice mindfulness after our kids give us a hard time. We call our sister/mother/best friend every day after moving to a different city to deal with loneliness. We do all this to cope.

Sometimes though we learn long lasting behaviors out of necessity to deal with more intense situations with consequences to our inner self. It’s called self-preservation, and we learn to do these things to avert pain. For example, a child may learn to be quiet and not share her opinions because doing so will result in admonishment by her parents. A teenager will copy his buddies and engage in reckless behaviors so he doesn’t get bullied or shamed. A woman jilted one too many times, may break up with all her romantic partners right when things get serious so as not to be the one abandoned. A man might be constantly looking over his shoulder and be wary of everybody at work after being passed up for a promotion he deserved at his previous job.

However, many coping behaviors that work for you at one point in your life stop working as life evolves, relationships change, and your environments transforms. Being ruthless, working hard constantly, never taking a break probably got you to be really successful in your career, but you may not need to do all that now, and your work habits might be taking a toll on your social and emotional life. Same thing with relationships – perhaps you learned to tune out difficult people in your life, but now it’s not helping, and your partner doesn’t deserve to be treated that way. This discrepancy between how you are behaving and whether that is warranted now is often the cause of depression

As cliched as it may be, it’s worth repeating – change is the only constant in life. Everything changes, and you have to keep changing too. Obviously the first thing in changing maladaptive behaviors is to become aware of them, name them, and start the process of getting rid of them and replacing them with things that healthy and helpful.

Perhaps you are already aware of them, but it is hard for you to make shifts. This is when you might want process it with professional help. Sometimes you need to dig through painful stuff to see where and how you learned to self-preserve, and how that might be hurting you now. Personal change is possible. It takes time and is hard. But it can be done.

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