When we talk about spirituality as a coping mechanism, it is important to remember that spirituality means different things to different people.
Some equate it with religion, whereas for others, it is a very different thing. For the purpose of this article, let us define spirituality as a belief in something which is greater than ourselves. Whatever individual beliefs we have, we want to work with them, to make it one of the tools to help us deal with the turbulences of life.
As we go through life, we develop different ways to deal with the stresses and problems that arise. Some of them are brilliant and work well, until they don’t. And that is okay! We change, our problems change. We therefore need to re-visit, re-invent and update our coping mechanisms all the time. In essence, we never stop growing, developing, learning and changing – and so should our coping mechanisms.
Imagine that we all have an imaginary tool belt around our waist (like a builder) which we carry with us everywhere. The more coping mechanisms we have in that belt, the better we are able to fix, manage, or cope with whatever problem arises. Therefore, learning new coping mechanisms and practising using them is a good idea.
How to Know if your Strategy is a Good One
A coping mechanism should help you reduce the negative effects (or ideally eliminate) the problematic experience you are having, without creating new negative outcomes for you or anyone else.
If you are working on learning and practising a new way to handle an issue in your life, give the new strategy a chance. Use it a few times in different circumstances. Then make your decision whether to keep it (then it gets added to your tool belt), or discard it and work on a new one.
Spirituality as a Coping Mechanism
Spirituality can be one of those helpful tools in your belt if you wish; it is completely up to you how you use it. Here are a few ideas and examples of how other people use spirituality as their coping mechanism which you may borrow if it resonates with you:
Praying or Meditation: Praying is probably one of the most ancient spiritual practices. People use it to connect to that meaningful aspect of life/existence (whether it is GOD, The Source, Universe, their Higher Self, Soul, Ancestors, Energy, Collective Consciousness etc) to seek answers, healing, guidance, peace etc. Meditation works in similar ways. There are lots of different ways people choose to pray or meditate.
There is a lot of Mindfulness in praying and meditation, which is also part of modern psychology and is linked with a variety of beneficial effects on our health and wellbeing. (Mindfulness, in short, is when we focus on specific things in our present experience, such as our thoughts, feelings or physical sensations, and stay with them without judgment or attachment to outcomes.)
Specific Spiritual Practices and Rituals: People use candles, burning of certain materials for smell (sage leaves, incense, wood etc), sounds (meditation bowls, church bells, humming etc), music and dance. These practices are done either individually, with meaningful others or even in very large groups. The details of the practice are not essential (although it might be in some religious groups).
The active ingredient of this coping strategy is the mindful connection to something bigger than yourself, connection to people, and to meaningful values in one’s life. It is a sort of a statement to ourselves saying, “My life is meaningful, I am in control of some aspects of my life, I choose to handle my problems in the best way that I can, I believe and trust that things can get better …”
You can make up your own practice or ritual according to your own beliefs, as long as you are conscious of its purpose and desired effect. For example, one of my clients goes out to her garden after a stressful day, puts on her favourite music and dances with bare feet while stomping on the ground at times. Her intention is to release the stress from her mind and body and allow nature to ‘take away’ her negative energy (then recycle it, and possibly even grow a new tree!).
Reflections to find Meaning: People use their spiritual beliefs to reflect on complex and painful experiences such as death, grief and loss, change, uncertainty, loneliness and suffering, to help them manage, come to terms with or better understand and explain the phenomena and their difficult experiences.
The active ingredient in this strategy, is finding meaning and purpose in your experience. You may notice an important lesson, take a meaningful learning, see a helpful guidance that helps to steer you in the right direction, and use your suffering as a helpful force to a more meaningful and rewarding life.
We may sometimes need guidance to help us work through the painful experience first, to acknowledge and process the feelings. Only then are we ready to draw out the meaning and those helpful aspects of the experience later on. It requires patience and support throughout this process; don’t feel bad about asking for help! We all help one another. One person builds our house, another takes care of our kids, another grows our food etc. We all benefit from each other’s skills, abilities and desire to be of service.
Connecting with others and being of service: We have all heard of grieving parents who have lost a child, becoming advocates to try to prevent or support others through a similar tragic experience. A recovering drug addict may become a guide and advocate to help others struggling with addictions; while a person who struggled on their career journey, chooses to become a career coach.
Many people choose to speak about their painful experiences, reaching out and connecting with people, thus putting themselves in a position to be of service to others.
This strategy may meet a few important human needs: feelings of belonging; that we are contributing to the world in meaningful ways; have a meaningful positive effect on others, leaving an important legacy behind.
It is hard to deal with grief and suffering when it strikes. We may therefore require help, such as the love and nurture of our family and friends or the wise guidance of elders, healers, educators, counsellors and spiritual leaders. Suffering and emotional pain is not a sign of weakness or a failure; rather it is a sign of our humanity.
If you would like to find out more about spirituality as a coping mechanism and what that might look like for you, please feel free to book an appointment with me.
Author: Ilana Gorovoy, B.Arts (Psych), B. Arts (Hons.)(Psychology), MPsych (Couns.)
With a Master’s in Counselling, Brisbane Psychologist Ilana Gorovoy draws on therapeutic approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Existential and Strengths-based approaches, Person-Centred and Positive Psychology, to assist her clients to become conscious of their strengths and difficulties, design and reach their goals, live a life of meaning and purpose, and reach their full potential through empowerment.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Ilana Gorovoy, try Online Booking – Wishart. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology (Wishart) on (07) 3088 5422.