After trauma, betrayal, abandonment, sometimes being told you’re good at coping can be debilitating. There is no right way to respond to trauma. There are healthy and unhealthy ways of coping, but assigning ‘good’ to one thing implies the opposite is ‘bad’, often without knowing if that one way was actually healthy to begin with.
Being praised for keeping yourself together may mean you’re repressing pain and sadness you feel you can’t release without ruining the perception people have of you, this fragile idea of ‘handling things well’. This could result in concealing dangerous coping mechanisms such as substance abuse and self harm. Creating a dichotomy of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ builds shame for often unavoidable symptoms and side effects of trauma, making you believe what you’re going through is simply you ‘not handling things well’ rather than being a victim in need of help.
It may be easy to think certain sentiments are motivating and uplifting, that we’re being supportive, but it’s important to create open dialogue. Blanket statements that are assumptive can be stifling of comfortable confiding. If one is to mention the way someone’s coping, it’s often productive to follow up with questions and an assertion that anything can be told, that a safe space is available to disclose any problems.
Often, I find it difficult to be proud of how I’m healthily coping without ignoring or repressing unhealthy aspects of my recovery. For myself it’s been important to explore skills in dialectical behavioural therapy to build an awareness of ‘and’, the most powerful tool of all. I’m doing my best and I have more work to do.
There aren’t good or bad ways of handling things, simply healthy and unhealthy ways that look different from person to person. One friend’s need for space might mean introspection and journaling, another’s might mean a depressive spiral and weeklong drug binge. Someone’s anger might be a healthy expression, someone else’s might be an avoidance of other painful emotions.
Instead of offering blind praise, to support our loved ones in their journey to recovery we offer compassion, a willing to listen, validation, and a safe space to heal and be understood. Pushing too hard is counterintuitive and must be balanced with respect, praise of specifics, and trust.
Praise of specifics could mean mentioning that you’ve noticed they’ve been putting effort into being open, that you’re proud of them. Perhaps their introspective work has been obvious in the way they speak about themselves, telling them so can validate that they’re making progress.