How Your Trauma Explains Your Coping Mechanisms

Renowned psychologist and theorist Carl Jung once famously said, “Until we are able to make the unconscious conscious, it will direct you life and you will call it fate.” 

That’s the value of self-awareness; the more aware we become of our own flaws, struggles, and shortcomings, the better we are at adapting, evolving, and flourishing in life. Even just a little bit more self-awareness can do wonders for your life. Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t come easy to a lot of us.

Introspection can be scary because it forces us to confront things about ourselves and our past we may not know how to deal with. But as they always say, the first step to overcoming any problem is to acknowledge it. And the same is true for a lot of the emotional baggage we still carry with us today. 

So if you’d like to start taking that first step towards better understanding yourself, here are some of the most common types of coping mechanisms and how they relate to certain types of traumatic experiences:

1. Abuse/Exploitation

Have you ever had someone you trust purposely hurt, abuse, or take advantage of you? Have you ever been humiliated, cheated, lied to, or manipulated by someone you once considered a friend or a loved one? For most people who have and still have unhealed trauma because of it, their coping mechanism is likely to mistrust or always be suspicious of other people and their intentions (Gavin, 2011). Does that sound like you?

2. Abandonment

Whether it was a parent who walked out on you, a romantic partner who ghosted you out of the blue, or growing up in the system and moving around from one family to another, experiences of being abandoned, especially at a young age, can easily leave us with lasting emotional damage.They often erode our sense of self-worth and negatively impact our view of others as well. So if you have a deep-seated fear of abandonment, it’s most likely that your coping mechanism is to keep people at an emotional distance and leave before you get left (Tuval-Mashiach, et al., 2004).

3. Emotional Deprivation

Similar to the last point, even if the significant people in your life were physically and actually there for you, their emotional neglect and deprivation can be just as traumatizing, too. Were they never attentive or affectionate with you? Did they deprive you of empathy, understanding, and emotional connection? Did you often feel alone and unsupported? Experiences of emotional deprivation often lead to an overreliance on oneself and inability to ask for help or show weakness to others. 

man and woman in brown leather coat standing on brown soil

4. Shame/Unworthiness

Anyone who’s had to deal with a difficult person in their lives knows the psychological and emotional toll it takes to listen to their criticisms every day. And when we’re constantly made to feel like nothing we do will ever be good enough, it’s hard not to internalize their rejection and resort to self-blame. People who have this particular trauma tend to be timid, overly apologetic, and hypersensitive. They are often prone to perfectionism and overachieving, and are likely to be overly self-critical as well (Claesson, & Sohlberg, 2002).

5. Dependence/Incompetence

While being criticized and scrutinized can certainly tear down anyone’s self-esteem, always being coddled and overprotected can actually have the same effect, too. Why? Because when everyone in your life is always acting like you can’t ever do anything by yourself and exaggerate how much you need them, it can lead to enmeshment and an underdeveloped sense of self. That’s why people who are spoiled and entitled also have very fragile egos. Those who’ve experienced this are most likely to struggle with a lot of self-doubt. Hidden insecurity, and easily fall victim to emotionally codependent relationships.

6. Approval- or Recognition-Seeking

While it might not seem so traumatic at first glance, an overemphasis on one’s status, appearance, or achievement can make us overly approval- and recognition-seeking, making our sense of self-worth entirely dependent on external rather than internal validation. Thus, those with this kind of emotional trauma often end up people pleasers and pushovers, and tend to struggle with a lack of authenticity in their sense of self and unsatisfying relationships.

7. Emotional Inhibition

Last but certainly not the least, people who have been punished or invalidated for their emotions — told things like, “That’s nothing to get upset about, just get over it” or “Why are you even crying? It’s not a big deal, you’re just a crybaby” — often end up emotionally stunted and resort to suppression, avoidance, and denial to deal with their problems. Because they were taught early on that expressing one’s emotions is inherently negative, they will often just bottle up their feelings and ignore them until they can’t anymore. These people are prone to emotional outbursts, anger management problems, and difficulty expressing or communicating their feeling (Friedberg & Malefakis, 2018).

So, do you relate to any of the things we’ve mentioned here? Has reading this list made you realize how your own traumatic experiences have influenced the ways in which you try to cope? 

If you feel overwhelmed right now and would like to begin healing from your trauma and learn better, healthier ways of coping, the best thing you can do for yourself is reach out and talk to someone about it. Seeking help from a mental healthcare professional can provide you with the support and information you need to improve the overall quality of your life.


  • Gavin, H. (2011). Sticks and stones may break my bones: The effects of emotional abuse. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 20(5), 503-529.
  • Claesson, K., & Sohlberg, S. (2002). Internalized shame and early interactions characterized by indifference, abandonment and rejection: Replicated findings. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy: An International Journal of Theory & Practice, 9(4), 277-284.
  • Tuval-Mashiach, R., Freedman, S., Bargai, N., Boker, R., Hadar, H., & Shalev, A. Y. (2004). Coping with trauma: Narrative and cognitive perspectives. Psychiatry: Interpersonal and Biological Processes, 67(3), 280-293.
  • Friedberg, A., & Malefakis, D. (2018). Resilience, trauma, and coping. Psychodynamic psychiatry, 46(1), 81-113.

Related Articles

Trauma 101

  Hi, Psych2Go-ers!  What brought you here today?  Maybe you’ve seen the recent Psych2Go video on 9 Signs of Unhealed Trauma, or checked out the…


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment may take some time to appear.