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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

More on Compensatory Mechanisms 

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. 

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9 thoughts on “More on Compensatory Mechanisms 

  1. Are compensatory mechanisms that are good for you, still compensatory mechanisms? I am totally capable of browsing Facebook for hours, binge-watching Netflix, whatever you want, but these are in lieu of walking, which is what I really want to do to recover from things. First get somewhere really pleasant, then walk long distances.

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  2. “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?”

    From interacting with people who were not brain dead, not authoritarian, not trying to drain my resources. Or people who mirror back to me a positive image of myself, I suppose. From reading something really smart, that put things in perspective. From art exhibits. Lots of things, but usually, something that is intellectually sharpening and not authoritarian.

    But so everything fun is a compensatory mechanism?

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    • No, only the stuff that gives you a burst of energy. For instance, I love public speaking. It’s a lot of fun. But I’m drained afterwards.

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      • There are people who have the gift to recharge the energy of others without even meaning to. You are such person, for instance. Also, my sister is like that.

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        • Yes, this is what people tell me. I recharge and inspire them, when from my perspective I did nothing. Actually, I am also able to do this for myself but trained myself out of it, because psychotherapy said I did not have the right to be that healthy, or something along those lines. (Hm. This is something interesting to think about.)

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          • And then there are people who drain the energy of others without meaning to or knowing about it. You talk to them for 30 mins and then feel like a 3 hour nap. I feel bad for them because they might not even know why everybody avoids them.

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    • Oh, wait, here is a better one on that: saying no to something I really don’t want to do, despite thinking I had to do it. There is nothing better than that.

      Liked by 1 person

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