Coping skills are the things we learn in order to survive in the forest of life. They are how we “saw” our way though the knotty problems in the “timber of life” without breaking the saw, damaging the tender new growth, or cutting ourselves or others to pieces. They are “tools” we use to mend or prevent cracks in our relations with others.
Examples of coping skills are: cajoling others into doing what we want done, letting others think they thought of it first, reasoning, ignoring unkind words and behaviors of others toward us, solving problems, co-operating.
Some people develop their skills into a high level of art: persuading until all are pleased with a decision; criticizing so that the person receiving the criticism genuinely says, “Thank you;” negotiating significant differences with everyone winning and no one feeling cheated; and, confronting others while taking one’s own responsibility, such as, “I heard your comment and wonder if I have done something unknowingly that is bothering you?,” then listening to the answer and responding with a plan by which both gain.
Coping skills are strengths we have developed to protect and provide for ourselves and others. Coping methods that are rooted in wisdom from the Bible include:
Listening and learning from instruction. Proverbs 19:20 and 27:5
Refusing to be offended and giving a soft answer to those who are angry. Proverbs 15:1 and 17:24
Withdrawing by disengaging and looking for an escape. I Corinthians 10:13
Avoiding. Proverbs 4:14, 15 22:24,25 27:12.
Not resisting evil, and loving our enemies. Matthew 5:39-48.
The latter is an ideal that few have had the moral strength to use. It is the basis for Ghandi’s principle of “passive resistance” that was widely used during demonstrations against Great Britain in gaining independence for India. The civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States was based on Ghandi’s example.
The Coin of Strength and Weakness
Strengths and weaknesses tend to be opposite sides of the same coin. We may “buy” and “sell” with the threat or credit of our strengths. We may be “suckers” due to our weaknesses, or turn a weakness into a strength. We may “collect debts” playing on other’s guilt and pity with our weaknesses. We “cope” with our strengths. We can use or “defend” our weaknesses. Our defenses can become great strengths or cripple us.
We discover many nice things about ourselves when we ask people to critique our strengths. We are less eager to learn about our weaknesses. But, if someone says you are “too soft” on others, you know that you have a great capacity for tolerance. I’m sure you can think of many opposites that describe your strengths and weaknesses. It would be a good idea to stop now and write them down. Use one column for strengths and the opposite column for weaknesses. Which do you think of first?
Now look at the other side of the coin of your strengths and again of your weaknesses, and fill in the opposite column. When we have a clear view of both our strengths and weaknesses, we have a realistic self-concept and can work better to improve the things we don’t like about ourselves. Or, we can accept those unlikable things, because they are part of the likeable aspects of ourselves!
Which of the strengths and weaknesses on your list do you want to improve? Which ones accept? You might mark them on your list and offer them all to God as they are now, without changing anything about yourself. You see, God loves us AS WE ARE. And God will help us BECOME what we are meant to be, a many faceted, polished gem of beauty and value in God’s kingdom in heaven and on earth.
Coping with Criticism
I have mentioned that often we do not realize what we have been doing. One of the ways we can learn more about what we are doing is to ask others for their criticism. Criticism is easier to take when we ask for it ourselves, than when it is freely offered and not requested. For some, it may be easier to take if we call it “feedback.” Remember to ask for your strengths as well as your areas of weakness.
When you are being criticized by someone else, whether fairly or unfairly, it helps to respond in a low-key. Actually, you are receiving a gift to be appreciated. “Let me see if I understand what you are concerned about. When I…………….., you think (or feel)……….., and you want me to …………instead. Thank you for the suggestion.”
This response gives you a chance to think about the situation and find a better way to handle it. Very often there is something happening, that you are not aware of, between the two of you. Sometimes it is more connected with each other’s past experiences than to what is actually happening now. Whether or not you choose to explore it further is up to you. If it continues to bother you, further exploration is needed. If you find that you cannot change, you will need a way to put it behind you. If you can change without harming yourself or others, you may choose to make a “gift” to the other by changing your behavior.
When the other persists in digging into the situation over and over, you need to listen if time is available. If not, you can gently say, “I know this is very important to you, but I cannot concentrate on it now and do what I have to do now. Please let it drop for the present.”
If the relationship is important, you will need to set aside time to allow further discussion. In either case, the importance of the other person’s feelings need to be recognized by you in words in order to preserve a working relationship.
When we feel like giving criticism or feedback, it is smart to ask if it is wanted. We may be able to “save our breath” and keep a valuable relationship healthy. Criticism isn’t always welcomed. Some people are hyper-sensitive to criticism and need to have it toned down in order to accept it and use it constructively.
When you are asked for criticism please be kind enough to give it to the one asking. If you have a suggestion of how to overcome the problem you see, this would be a good time to offer it. Be kind.
Avoid the temptation to “let them have it,” like a loaded gun, set and ready to go off at the first sight of the target.
How do we “be kind”? It is a good question. What ideas do you have on the subject? If you want help, a child may be able to give you suggestions. Some children are said to know how to enter the kingdom of God, so listen carefully. We may begin with touching gently and speaking softly.
A characteristic of children is to question “Why?” In professional terms, we ask people to clarify, or to describe in more detail, tell us what they think, feel, want, and what they do and say in their troubling times so that we can understand why instead of assuming and forming an inadequate, faulty, often negative impression. We accurately reflect their thoughts, feelings, and actions back to them rather than blame them for their thoughts, feelings, and actions. We monitor and control our own feelings, thoughts, and speech. We aim to help, rather than hurt. We help them explore what they can do differently. Then, help them evaluate those options so they, individually, will be able to choose a better course; one with which they can be happier, and does not hurt themselves or others.
These and additional skills are called “therapeutic communications.” It is a “kind,” “respectful,” “caring,” “healing” way of communicating. Any of us can learn to be kind, respectful, caring, healing, and “therapeutic” in our relationships. A way to begin is by practicing therapeutic communications.
We are at our best when we are kind. Perhaps one of the best recipes for kindness is “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”