The Two Different Styles of Coping: Explosion and Implosion

Methods of managing our feelings - when everyday matters are distressing.

Posted Sep 28, 2013

There was an incident at work recently which involved the well-being of a patient that left both a colleague and me incensed. There was a huge chasm in how we each dealt with it.

It had been a long Friday and Sarah (not her real name) and I decided to grab a bite to eat at a local Italian place down the block from our office. Sarah ranted over her shrimp and pasta in garlic sauce about the injustice of it all while I stared morosely into my ziti with chicken and broccoli.

I heard what she was saying, but I was only half-listening. I was lost in my own reverie and besides listening to people rant makes me uncomfortable. My father liked to go on drunken outbursts when my brother and I were growing up and I learned early on how to fake paying attention while going somewhere else in my head. I am disciplined enough not to do it in session with my patients, but occasionally I find myself slipping back into the habit when friends and/or family members are lecturing or giving a discourse.

While Sarah was speaking and sopping up her garlic sauce with the Italian bread, I was absorbed by my thoughts regarding the incident. I felt sympathy for our patient and angry that the system had let him down. I was picking at my food and to her credit Sarah noticed. She knew of my background of anorexia and urged me to eat.  I found it difficult to stimulate my appetite though; I was so enraged by the situation of several hours ago.


Why is it that some of my patients when they’re dealing with an issue that is upsetting them, come into my office and start emphatically speaking, perhaps gesturing, sometimes staying on topic, sometimes wandering? There are literally times that I open my mouth to ask a question, make a comment and I must be forceful in my interruption in order to make my presence known.

And other patients stay relatively silent, staring at the rug (which has no pattern), or staring at the activity out of the lone window, but I can almost see the whirlwind inside their head, the bevy of activity, of words, of thoughts that are forming. Questions, statements that fall just short of being processed into words.

"What comes to mind?" I ask them, prompting them.  I may get them to turn away from the window, but their response is almost always a muted "Nothing."  Sometimes it is better to sit for a while in silence while ideas generate. 

Two different styles. Two extremes on a continuum. There are approaches closer to the middle of the continuum as well. What forms how a person reacts to a situation is complicated and stems from many factors such as temperament, upbringing, age, and life experience, just to name a few.

I used to internalize everything. It wasn’t good for my physical or mental health, nor is it good for anyone else’s. I’m learning through techniques in therapy, my yoga practice and my interactions with supportive friends that I don’t need to do that any longer.

 Whether one blows up a building or lets it crumble upon iself in a controlled fall — the end result of both is destruction.  It's better to continue to let the building stand and be used for what it was originally intended, be it housing or an office building. 

Let's let our bodies and our minds stand healthy and strong as well.



More Posts