by Michelle Morand, MA RCC, Founder and Director of The Centre
One of the key tools that allows my clients to rapidly get where they want to go in their recovery process is what I call "The Coping Strategy Flow Chart" (csfc for short)- fancy name I know, and it’s the basis of all the work I do and of my own personal philosophy of life.
In essence, the csfc allows us to remind ourselves at a glance that all thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are not leading us to a peaceful state in the moment are merely coping strategies.
They are thoughts, feelings, or behaviours that are designed to either: alert us to needs that aren’t being met in that moment; or to protect us from the awareness that we have needs that aren’t being met. We particularly use the last option if we carry a belief that we are undeserving or unworthy or incapable of getting what we need. It’s too painful from that perspective to be conscious that we have a need that isn’t getting met when at a gut level we believe there’s no way to meet it. So we keep ourselves in the dark through the use of a variety of coping strategies such as old core beliefs (a thought level coping strategy); bad body thoughts (another thought level coping strategy); anxiety, depression, anger; sadness (all feeling level coping strategies); and binging, purging, restricting and isolating (all behavioural level coping strategies).
These coping strategy thoughts, feelings and behaviours allow us to be unaware that we even have a need let alone be conscious of what it might be, and for those of us who believe we’re undeserving or not good enough to have a need met by ourselves or others, being unconscious feels like the safest place to be.
The problem with this way of living is that, because our underlying needs never get met, and because we keep using harmful coping strategies to keep us tuned out to the fact that we even have needs, we continue daily to add to the mountain of unfinished business and unmet needs that leads us to need to use food and bad body thoughts and depression to cope. And so we go round and round in circles thinking less of ourselves, feeling more depressed and hopeless, and harming ourselves with food when each of those things is really just a coping strategy and never was the real problem. And the solution to this big mess is a lot simpler than you’d imagine.
- Recognize when you’re using one of your primary coping strategies
- Name it as a coping strategy (ie. Rather than just letting a bad body thought sit – say "this is one of my main coping strategies – this means I have needs that aren’t being met.")
- Acknowledge that your use of the coping strategy means that you have needs that aren’t being met.
- Get out your needs list (e-mail us for copies if you’re without) and identify the need(s) you have in that moment that aren’t being met
- Take steps to meet those needs yourself or to ask someone to support you in the meeting of those needs.
That’s it – That’s the framework for the entire recovery process. Once you’ve proven to yourself (don’t just take my word for it) that your focus on food and body image are just coping strategies it will immediately lose so much of its charge and you’ll be able to focus on the underlying triggers – those unmet needs and how to meet them. When it all comes down to it, that is the real issue. Those underlying needs, that you didn’t know how to meet way back when and that created overwhelming feelings and thoughts, led you to use food and body image focus to cope with life. Now, if you’re ready to reclaim your life, to live YOUR life and no one else’s, you can do so by learning to identify your needs in the moment and learn some simple, life enhancing ways of meeting those needs.
If you want to check this out for yourself, pick one of your primary coping strategies (ie. Use of food to cope or bad body thoughts) and invite yourself to be on the look out for when you use it. When you catch yourself using it at any time over the next month run through steps one – five above and see what happens.