Childhood trauma: Self-defeating Coping Strategies Worksheet

The Self-defeating Coping Strategies Worksheet helps you to see the cost of unsuitable, though understandable, coping strategies. When emotional and physical pain feels more intense and occurs more frequently than it does for other people, the ensuing distress comes on more quickly and feels like an overwhelming tidal wave, and it never seems to end. Then, there seems to exist no way to end this emotional or physical pain. We will call these overwhelming emotions emotional flashbacks.

Emotional flashbacks cause cognitions and feelings of danger, helplessness and hopelessness that characterized the original abandonment during childhood when there was no safe parental figure to go to for comfort and support.

Struggling with emotional flashbacks often leads to unhealthy, unsuccessful coping strategies because childhood trauma survivors don’t know what else to do. Under the onslaught of emotional pain, it is hard to think rationally and find an adequate solution. Therefore, these coping strategies only make problems worse.

Here is a list of some common coping strategies used by people dealing with this problem. Check the ones that you use to cope with your stressful situations:

  • You spend a great deal of time thinking about past pains, mistakes, and problems.
  • You get anxious, worrying about possible future pains, mistakes, and problems.
  • You isolate yourself from other people to avoid distressing situations.
  • You make yourself feel numb with alcohol or drugs.
  • You take your feelings out on other people by getting excessively angry at them or trying to control them.
  • You engage in potentially dangerous behaviours, such as cutting, hitting, scratching, picking at, burning, or pulling out your hair.
  • You engage in unsafe sexual activities, such as having sex with strangers or having frequent unprotected sex.
  • You avoid dealing with the causes of your problems, such as an abusive or dysfunctional relationship.
  • You use food to punish or control yourself by eating too much, not eating at all, or by throwing up what you do eat.
  • You attempt suicide or engage in high-risk activities, like reckless driving or taking dangerous amounts of alcohol and drugs.
  • You avoid pleasant activities, such as social events and exercise, maybe because you don’t think that you deserve to feel better.
  • You surrender to your pain and resign yourself to living a miserable and unfulfilling life.

The Self-defeating Coping Strategies Worksheet

Note the strategies that you personally use, adding all their costs that you can think of. At the end of the worksheet, add any of your own missing from the sheet.

Self-Defeating Coping Strategy Possible Costs 
1. You spend a great deal of time thinking about past pain, mistakes, and problems. Miss good things that might be happening now and then regret missing those things too; depression about the past 
2. You worry about possible future pain, mistakes, and problems. Miss good things that might be happening now; anxiety about the future 
3. You isolate yourself to avoid possible pain. Spend more time alone and, as a result, feel even more depressed 
4. You use alcohol and drugs to numb yourself. Addiction; loss of money; work problems; legal problems; relationship problems; health consequences 
5. You take your painful feelings out on others. Loss of friendships, romantic relationships, and family members; other people avoiding you; loneliness; feeling bad about hurting other people; legal consequences of your actions 
6. You engage in dangerous behaviours, like cutting, burning, scratching, pulling out hair, and self-mutilation. Possible death; infection; scarring; disfigurement; shame; physical pain 
7. You engage in unsafe sexual activity, like unprotected sex or frequent sex with strangers. Sexually transmitted diseases, some life-threatening; pregnancy; shame; embarrassment 
8. You avoid dealing with the causes of your problems. Put up with destructive relationships; get burned out doing things for other people; don’t get any of your own needs met; depression 
9. You eat too much, restrict your eating, or throw up what you eat. Weight gain; anorexia; bulimia; health consequences; medical treatment; embarrassment; shame; depression 
10. You have attempted suicide or engaged in other nearly fatal activities. Possible death; hospitalization; embarrassment; shame; depression; long-term medical complications 
11. You avoid pleasant activities, like social events and exercise. Lack of enjoyment; lack of exercise; depression; shame; isolation 
12. You surrender to your pain and live an unfulfilling life. Lots of pain and distress; regrets about your life; depression Other: 

The Self-defeating Coping Strategies Worksheet Download

Download the worksheet as PDF here:


Matthew McKay, Jeffrey C. Wood, and Jeffrey Brantley: The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook.

Walker, Pete: The Tao of Fully Feeling.

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