Communication & Coping

It seems that the number one indicator for success in relationships is good communication.  Furthermore, the number one indicator of good communication is problem-solving skills.  And, taking it one step beyond, I believe that those who are the best problem-solvers are those who understand and manage their defense mechanisms or coping skills.

Though it might be an oversimplification to think that those who know how to cope with problems are going to be the most successful people in our society, I think the formula generally applies to any enterprise on earth: marriage, business, school, running an office, a household, a parish, a sports team, a government… If you are a good communicator, you will experience a successful, healthy, and happy endeavor; if you are a bad communicator, you will experience failure.

Just as “community” refers to the common unity that we share and “communion” is about the common union that we seek, so is “communication” about the common action that we engage in to achieve more success in our ventures. Some people have, by nature or nurture, been blessed as good communicators; others have to work at it diligently.  Wherever you find yourself along the spectrum of good or bad communication, you would do well to spend some effort and energy understanding your natural tendencies when facing obstacles and comparing your natural tendencies with some other options that might make you a better problem-solver and communicator.  We each carry a bag of defense skills with us because we need them to deal with life’s hurdles.

Jesus, our primary model in all things, helps us to do this. Chief among His defense mechanisms was turning things back onto the persons that placed obstacles in His path via intelligence, common sense, and faith.  Coping skills like this help transform obstacles into opportunities.  Even Jesus’ final obstacle, the cross upon which He was crucified, got transformed by His love; the instrument of torture was transformed into the instrument of triumph.

In Psychology 101, we were introduced to basic defense mechanisms. We learned that some are primitive and immature, e.g., denial of reality, regression into childish behavior, acting-out in tantrums, or projection, i.e., blaming things on others.  Some are a bit more mature, e.g., repression of thoughts until we are able to deal with them in a healthier manner, displacement of our frustrations onto something inanimate, rationalizing our behavior based on our unique circumstances, or intellectualizing the situation.  Others may be more appropriate sometimes, e.g., suppressing feelings rather than acting on them, acquiescing or giving in for the time being, affiliating or seeking wise counsel, sublimating through exercise or hobbies or prayer, expressing why we act as we do in certain situations, internal reflection as a means to self-understanding and self-improvement, strategizing for the next time we face similar obstacles, or turning our attention from ourselves to someone in greater need.  For us, mere humans, there are numerous coping skills and several variations of each.  We do well when we understand how our preferred tendencies work while we seek even better ways to cope.

Whether spouses, classmates, co-workers, or neighbors, we want to enjoy other people and we want to communicate well with them. Maybe by tuning in to our coping mechanisms we will become better problem-solvers; and as better problem-solvers we may become better communicators.  Let’s remember Jesus’ example of transforming obstacles into opportunities and torture into triumph.  Let His example help us commune better with one another in our earthly endeavors and with Him in our heavenly pursuits.