Self-defense is among the fundamental instinctive capacities in most organisms including the human species. When something threatening comes along, humans will react in rapid and even superhuman ways in order to protect themselves; this also applies to emotional threats. Just as physical danger threatens to harm the physical body and even cause death, emotional threats can harm the psychological being and also lead to death or serious harm to human hence the instinctive reactions. This reactions are referred to as coping mechanisms and by their very nature, coupled with the application stratagem thereof, they may be adaptive or maladaptive leading to either solving the problem or exacerbating it.
Normally, there are two general forms of reactions to stressful situations, the direct reactions where the individual acknowledges the situation and tries to deal with it and the defense mechanisms where the individual either refuses to acknowledge the situation or adopts ways and means to forget the situation exists without actually dealing with it. Further, there are two main elements to a stressful situation, the particulars of the situation itself and the particulars and nature of the individual’s reaction. It is the combination of these two elements that create the stress in an individual and determine the level of this stress. For example, when a person learns that they have a potentially terminal disease, the situation may be seemingly constant but the individual maybe broken down at one moment and strong at another moment despite the fact that the situation remains constant, the variation in this case is created by the reaction to the situation (Korabel et al., 2013). The level of reaction will also be determined by the magnitude of the situation which makes both interrelated.
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Among the most common direct reactions to a problem is endeavoring to solve it whether it is solvable or not. This is a reactive coping mechanism where the individual averts worry and stress by working towards a solution to the problem. This coping mechanism is positive in either one or two ways depending on the solvability of the problems and the nature of solution pursued. The first positive effect is the avoidance of stress as the individual will keep the mind occupied with the obligations relating to the solving of the problem while the second positive effect lies in the fact that if the problem is solvable, this coping mechanism will actually solve both the stress and the problem. If the problem is unsolvable or if the wrong solving strategy is applied, this coping mechanism will exacerbate the problem and in due course, the stress too.
Another direct coping mechanism is praying for guidance and strength. Even a person who does not believe in divinity can be seen applying this mechanism when a serious situation arises like being diagnosed with terminal illness or the loss of a loved one. Whereas this reactionary coping mechanism may not have an effect on the situation itself it may reduce the psychological damage that the existence of the stress may have on the individual in a placebo effect form (Korabel et al., 2013). It may make a difference more so when combined with the problem solving mechanism.
Another reaction coping mechanism involves the keeping of a journal: this may include the writing of a gratitude diary which encompasses focusing either on the positive aspects of a situation or any improvements of a dire situation. The journal could also be a form of rationalizing the situation itself as deciphered. Journaling can have an actual effect on the situation as its analytic nature assist in finding a solution and even when it does not, just like prayers, it can have a placebo effect on the individual practicing it.
Some individuals will however prefer not to handle a situation perhaps because the nature of the situation is too embarrassing or overpowering or because the individual is either too young or weak to content with the situation which leads to the development of defense mechanism. One of the most common defense mechanisms is distraction where an individual attempts to keep themselves too busy to either acknowledge or deal with the problem and is mostly a maladaptive coping mechanisms as it can only create temporary relief. It is also worthy of notice that the direct reactive mechanisms including those outlined above can if mishandled evolve into the defensive mechanism of distraction when the said coping mechanism gets so much focus that it blurs the main problem.
Korabel, H., Grabski, B., Dudek, D., Jaworek, A., Gierowski, J. K., Kiejna, A., & Wojas-Pelc, A. (2013). Stress coping mechanisms in patients with chronic dermatoses. Archives of Psychiatry & Psychotherapy, 15 (3), 33-39.