Compensatory mechanisms are the fuel that propels you through life. You know those days when you just can’t get going, you’ve got no energy, and it feels as if you were bogged down in sand? This feeling tells you that you haven’t refueled in a while, and your engine is sputtering.
It will never cease to amaze me that people fill their lists of resolutions with promises to sacrifice every single compensatory mechanism they use. It’s like saying, “My car will be unstoppable if I never fill up the tank.” Right you are! Nobody will stop it because it won’t start moving in the first place.
A compensatory mechanism is everything that gives you energy to live. Some are shared by many people but some are very individual. The problem is that people castrate their own compensatory mechanisms by feeling guilty for them. And they end up in a constant struggle between trying to get energy from the mechanisms and wasting it on the guilt.
You can figure out what your compensatory mechanisms are by looking closely at the days when you were on fire, super energetic and productive. What happened right before that? Where did the jolt of energy come from? Before doing this exercise, though, resolve to avoid feelings of guilt and refuse to berate yourself for whatever you discover about the mechanisms.
The compensatory mechanisms don’t seem to have much connection with the nature of the trauma you are compensating (and everybody’s got trauma). They come from very early learned patterns of behavior. So for instance if two people were in a car crash, one might compensate by smoking a pack of cigarettes and another by calling 40 friends on the phone and relating the story to them (and what’s curious is that both of these compensatory mechanisms come from the same source, but that’s too arcane to discuss here). Yet another person might compensate by writing poetry about the crash or by a blackout drinking binge.
And if you just automatically classified these examples into “good” and “bad”, I’ll guess that you often suffer from feelings of guilt and inadequacy. And that’s the worst energy drain of all. This is what makes you feel tired at the end of the day and prevents you from doing more in your life. And please don’t take this statement as a prompt to feel even more guilty.