Maladaptive Coping Strategies: Definition & Examples

Maladaptive Coping Strategies: Definition & Examples
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  • 0:00 Coping and Stress
  • 0:45 Adaptive and…
  • 4:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

In this lesson, we'll learn about maladaptive coping strategies and look at the different ways people cope with stress. We'll also look at what happens when we use maladaptive rather than adaptive coping strategies.

Coping and Stress

Henry is a 30-year-old unemployed engineer. He'd been working for his previous employer for 15 years before the company downsized and laid him off. Henry has tried for months to find a new job without any success. Due to the reduction in his income, Henry can no longer afford to send his kids to private school and had to cancel all family vacations. Last month, his car was repossessed.

Henry finds unemployment highly stressful. In an effort to feel better, Henry drinks a pint of liquor each night. During the day, he's often hostile toward his wife and children and rarely socializes with friends. Whether he realizes it or not, Henry is using several maladaptive coping strategies to deal with his stress.

Adaptive and Maladaptive Coping

We have all encountered a stressful situation at one time or another. Maybe you've lost a loved one, been through a bad breakup, or experienced financial problems. The way in which we deal with or manage stress is called coping. We can cope with stress in ways that are either adaptive or maladaptive. Adaptive coping strategies are those that increase our functioning while decreasing the perceived level of stress; they include exercise, meditation, sleep, and writing in a journal.

Maladaptive coping strategies do not increase our functioning. Rather, they temporarily decrease the symptoms while the stressor maintains its strength or becomes more stressful. For example, getting drunk allows Henry to forget about the stress related to being unemployed, but the effects of alcohol are only temporary. Once he sobers up, Henry remembers that he is unemployed, and his situation continues to be stressful, or worse, becomes more stressful over time.

There are many different types of maladaptive coping strategies. They include:

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