Comfort Shows and Coping Mechanisms
I’m currently rewatching the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer for maybe the 4th time. You could say it’s one of my comfort shows. I have 3 main comfort shows: Buffy, Alias and Gilmore Girls.
You’ll notice my theme is a strong female lead character. It’s a character I can relate to and admire, but also the storyline and other supporting characters are what draw me in.
Do you have a favorite comfort show or movie? A show or movie that you could watch again and again and never really get tired of it? You notice it brings you so much joy and comfort because you know all the lines and the scenes like the back of your hand. You’ve fallen in love with the characters and can even picture yourself knowing the characters and what they’d say or do in any given situation.
I think part of what connects us to a show or movie that we take comfort in is familiarity. Once we’ve become attached to the show and its characters, there’s some predictability and a sense of certainty.
Do you ever find yourself trying to discover a new show or movie to watch, but it brings up feelings of anxiety or uncertainty because you just won’t know what to expect? Will it be good or will it be a waste of your time?
When faced with this choice, it can feel easier to just default back to watching your comfort show or movie because you know it will be good every time. Doing this makes sense. It’s a way to comfort ourselves and there really isn’t much of a downside to doing it.
Coping mechanisms are like this. Throughout our lifetime we discover ways to cope with emotions, stress, trauma and uncertainty so that we can go about our lives without falling apart. A therapist told me that if we didn’t have coping mechanisms, we’d be having to deal with our emotions all day, every day- something that would be just too hard to handle.
I think it’s easy to believe that having coping mechanisms is bad or wrong. You might have the belief that you should just move on with your life and not try to worry or stress about things, but we all need coping mechanisms because processing emotions and trauma is really hard. It takes time, skills, privilege, safety, patience and more to be able to handle them. (And most of us haven’t really been taught how to understand and communicate our emotions either!)
Even the coping mechanisms that are maladaptive in nature provide comfort and “work” to a certain extent. That’s why we typically keep doing them. Behaviors like dieting, restriction, controlling, over-exercising, binging, procrastinating, self-criticism, judging, comparing yourself to others and body checking are all coping mechanisms.
Which is why it’s important to acknowledge the comfort and safety that these behaviors have brought you in times of distress. If you’re trying to change how you cope and learn the skills to process emotions, you can first offer yourself a moment of gratitude much like how Marie Kondo advocates for when saying goodbye to items that no longer serve you.
As you’re working on recovery and healthier coping patterns, it’s to be expected that you will want to turn back and will turn back to the coping tools you’ve used in the past. After all, they’re most familiar to you, just like your favorite comfort show.
If you're in a place where you'd like you'd like to explore what having a healthier relationship with food could look like for you, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how we can work together.
Photo above is by Mollie Sivaram on Unsplash