The Secret Ingredient That Helps Me Thrive
From Coping to Thriving is a six-week journey that will teach you how to turn your coping strategies into self-caring behaviours, leaving behind struggle and learning to thrive. This post is part of the Thriving Blog Tour, which is spreading self-kindness to the masses. To learn more and join us, click here. As I've reflected on my own (long and meandering) journey towards thriving, one key ingredient stands out as the defining feature that has helped me shift from coping to caring:The belief that I am capable of meeting my own needs.In this post, I want to share a little more about my journey, what changed, and what I've learned as a result. It feels important to mention that I'm still on this journey now (and maybe always will be). The key ingredient that has changed my perspective, however, has been learning to recognise that I don't need to rely on coping strategies. I am totally capable of meeting my needs myself.
For most of my life, I sought external approval and needed daily validation, otherwise I'd feel my sense of purpose and worthiness start to slip. I followed what people said I was good at, rather than what I really enjoyed. In my early 20s, I felt frustrated with my situation (I had no real sense of who I was or what my purpose was in life). At the same time, I didn't trust myself to create a life that was meaningful, fulfilled, and happy. Consequently, I waited for someone to come and—for want of a less clichéd way of putting it—rescue me.Of course, as anyone who has become stuck in that holding pattern knows in hindsight:
No one is coming to save us. It's up to us to create the lives we want.
But I didn't get that at the time, and when these mysterious people who were somehow going to meet my needs for me didn't appear, I turned to coping strategies.A lot of coping strategies.My personal brand of coping ranged from socially acceptable, even encouraged, behaviours like drinking too much and smoking, to socially very unacceptable behaviours like self-harm and a codeine addiction. Not to mention multiple facial piercings (11, to be precise).
False starts and new directions
Things started to shift in 2007. In the beginning, it was other people's opinions that led me to change my behaviour. My then-boyfriend became frustrated and anxious about my self-harming and frequent medicating, and asked me to stop. Walking to work in Camden one day, a woman tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around, and she said "Oh, never mind." When I asked her what she'd wanted, she said that she was a model scout, but that "You can't have all this", she gestured around her face, referencing my piercings, before turning her back on me.Even though I had developed my coping strategies to mask feelings of pain, rejection, and loneliness, they were actually causing more of these things: more strife, more heartache, and more self-loathing.So I started changing them. I took most of my piercings out, I stopped self-harming, and I felt the sense of lightness and relief that comes with drawing a line and saying "enough". Even though I initially did these things as a continuation of my desire for external validation, in the process I realised that even without these coping strategies, I was OK.
In fact, I felt more like me.
This was around the same time that I became interested in personal development and starting reading Alice Miller, M. Scott Peck, and Carl Rogers. As I learned more about psychology, development, and authenticity, I started to question why I was doing the things I was doing. I also started learning about things that hadn't even been on my radar before, like empathy and self-care.Slowly, but surely, my motivation to thrive changed from wanting to please others to wanting the best for myself. Over the next four years, I started shifting my coping strategies one by one and, in the process, became a very different person.And that's where I am now. Do I still feel the urge to use coping strategies? Yes. But my strategies now are far more benign than they used to be. I feel better equipped to respond to what life throws at me in a healthy way, and I trust that I will make the best choices for myself.
What I've learned about how to thrive
1. Thriving is based on trusting that we can meet our own needs. We don't need other people to come rescue us in order to thrive, we don't need chemicals, stimulants, or anything that alters our emotional state to survive. We're stronger than we give ourselves credit for.2. We think that feeling precedes action, but really it's the other way around. I needed to take a leap of faith and act as though I could trust myself to meet my needs before that trust actually existed. Counter-intuitive, but true.3. Thriving is not a linear process. We don't reach a point where we're like "oh hey, I'm thriving now" and that's it. It's a lifelong journey based on our day-to-day decisions. It involves twists, turns, relapses, learning, and living consciously.4. Even when you're in the darkest hour of the deepest feeling, it will pass and you will be stronger as a result. Sitting with ourselves and with our (very human) discomfort is hard. Pouring another glass of wine, heading to the fridge, or lighting up another cigarette is a lot easier. The more we learn to sit with these feelings, however, the more we actively engage in hearing and understanding them, the less intense they become, and the less we feel the need to rely on coping strategies.Again, it's a question of trust. Trust in ourselves to meet our own needs, trust in ourselves to deal with life's challenges. Most importantly, trust in ourselves to create a life based on not just surviving, but thriving.
No one cares about our happiness as much as we do.
It's up to us to create a life that reflects this. And that's how we thrive.Further reading: Are you surviving or thriving? & 10 powerful books on self-care that will enrich your lifeImage: Kyson Dana