The Coping Process: An Alternative to Traditional Formulations (Lazarus & Folkman)
-Coping as constantly changing cognitive behavioural efforts to manage specific external and/or internal
demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person (process- oriented)
-Limits coping to conditions of psychological stress
-Coping includes anything that the person does or thinks, regardless of how well or badly it works
Coping as a Process
-Observations and assessments are concerned with what the person actually thinks or does
-Coping is a shifting process in which a person must, at certain times, relay more heavily on one form of
coping, say defensives strategies, and at other times on problem-solving strategies, as the status of the
person-environment relationship changes
-Re-evaluation process or reappraisal, in turn influences subsequent coping efforts. The coping process
is thus continuously mediated by cognitive reappraisals (follow and modify an earlier appraisal)
Stages of the Coping Process
-Strange Situation: protest, despair, detachment
-Shontz coping stages for those dealing with a physical illness: shock, encounter, retreat, reality testing
-When the coping process has been successfully and completed, the cycle occurs less frequently and
-Reactance: when a behaviour is restricted, people respond with anger and increased motivation to
overcome the resistance to their freedom of action
-Each patient faces a particular set of circumstances within the context of a unique personal history and
to understand the personal significance of the disease on needs to plate the illness crisis in the context
of that life history
-Some patterns may be more common than others because of shared cultural ways of responding
-The disaster literature highlights stages of events rather than stages of coping: anticipatory or warning,
impact or confrontational, and postimpact or postconfrontation
-Secondary appraisal: can it be prevented? In what ways? (reappraisals)
-Though the stressful encounter has ended, it brings a new set of anticipatory processes
The Multiple Functions of Coping
1. A coping function refers to the purpose a strategy serves; outcome refers to the effect a strategy
2. A strategy can have a given function, for example avoidance, but not result in avoidance
3. Keep securing adequate information about the environment
4. Maintain satisfactory internal conditions both for action and for processing information
5. Dealing with social and environmental demands, creating the motivation to meet those
demands and maintaining a state of psychological equilibrium in order to direct energy and skill
toward external demands
-There are also coping functions that pertain to specific contexts such as health/illness, exam taking,
political crises... 2
Emotion-focused forms of Coping
-Lessening emotional distress: avoidance, minimization, distancing..
-Increasing emotional distress: some need to feel worse before they feel better, or psych themselves up
(e.g. an athlete before a competition)
-Threat is diminished by changing the meaning of the situation – a coping effort qua reappraisal
-Behavioural strategies such as engaging in physical exercise to get one’s mind off of problem can lead
to reappraisals, but are not reappraisals
-Use it to maintain hope an optimism, to refuse to acknowledge the worst
-Cognitive appraisals need not be conscious
Problem-focused Forms of Coping
-Directed at defining the problem, generating alternative solutions, weighting the alternatives in terms
of their costs and benefits, choosing among them, and acting
-Those directed at the environment (altering environmental pressures, barriers, resources) and those
directed at the self (shifting level of aspiration, reducing ego involvement)
-Emotion-focused and problem-focused coping often occur concurrently
-100 Middle aged community member adults
-Coping behaviour: thoughts and behaviours relevant to “defining, attacking and meeting the task”
-Defense: the maintenance of the integration of personality and the control of feeling states (emotion)
-Students do compromise between their coping and defense needs
-Reported 14 stressful episodes and completed a 68 item checklist
-Use both problem and emotion focused strategies
-Coping is determined by cognitive appraisals
-Secondary appraisal: “what can I do?” (dependent on resources are available to them and constraints
that inhibit use of these resources in the context of the specific encounter)
-Resources as buffers of stress, and we see them as factors that precede and influence coping which in
turn mediate stress
-Four main categories:
1. Health & Energy: facilitate coping efforts, it is easier to cope when one is feeling well than when
one is not – people who are ill and enervated can usually mobilize sufficiently to cope when the
stakes are high enough
2. Positive Beliefs: viewing oneself positively, general and specific beliefs that serve as a basis for
hope and sustain coping efforts in the face of most adverse conditions, belief of justice, free will
-not all beliefs serve as coping resources, some beliefs can dampen or inhibit coping
-inward behaviour (e.g. Helplessness) is related to external locus of control and outward
behaviour (e.g. aggression) is related to internal locus of control
3. Problem-Solving Skills: the ability to search for info, analyze situations, create a plan of action
-drawn from other resources: wide range of experiences, the persons store of
knowledge, their ability to use the knowledge and the capacity for self-control 3
4. Social Skills: facilitate problem-solving in conjunction with other people, increase the likelihood
of being able to enlist their cooperation or support, and in general give the individual greater
control over social interactions
-ability to communicate and behave with others in ways that are socially appropriate and
Social Support: having people from whom one receives emotional, informational and/or tangible
Material Support: money, goods and services (e.g. effective access to legal, medical, financial and other
Constraints Against Utilizing Coping Resources
1. Personal Constraints: Internalized cultural values and beliefs that proscribe certain types of
action or feeling, and psychological deficits that are a product of the persons unique
-individuals differ in the extent to which they comply with the norms
-depend on the ability and willingness of people to work together
2. Environmental Constraints: competing demands for the same resources, choices have to be
made as to how to allocate them
3) Level of Threat: minimal (little stress) and maximal (fear)
-a function of their evaluation of coping resources and the constraints inhibiting use
-knowing when to stop trying to achieve a goal that is unattainable
-coping resources are usually not constant over time, expand and contract, adaptation
-primary control: attempt to change the environment
-secondary control: the attempt to fit in with the environment or “flow with the
-predictive, illusionary, vicarious and interpretive control 4
Positive Illusions (Shelley)
-Dispositional Optimism: global expectations, relatively stable across time and context that one will
experience generally good as opposed to bad outcomes in life.
-Illusions of Control: the perception of oneself as having more control over environmental occurrences
than is actually the case.
-Mental Health: those qualities thought to be essential to healthy psychological and social functioning,
including the ability to be happy or contended; the ability to form and maintain social relationships; the
ability to change and grow and to deal effectively with stress; and the ability to engage in creative and
-Positive Illusions: Perceptions of one’s personal characteristics, one’s degree of control over the
environment, and a view of the future that are more positive than objective estimates suggest is
-Highly prevalent in normal thought and predictive of the criteria traditionally associated with
-These positive illusions consist of three mildly self-aggrandizing biases:
-People view themselves in unrealistically positive terms
-They believe they have greater control over environmental events than is true
-They hold views of the future that are rosier than reasonable estimates can justify.
-Self-Aggrandizement: the tendency to regard oneself in more positive and less negative terms than is
actually the case or than one regards other people.
-Unrealistic Optimism: the perception that the future will be better, especially for oneself than is
Mentally healthy person
-Maslow argued that healthy people accept themselves with all of their discrepancies from their ideal
image, acknowledging their frailties and weakness willingly, if without satisfaction.
-Mentally healthy people perceiving reality accurately has been incorporated into textbooks and
also by psychological health care professionals.
-In contrast, theory and research on positive illusions suggest that accurate perceptions of oneself, the
world and the future are not essential to mental health.
-Mildly positive distortions of one’s personal characteristics may be psychologically adaptive than
-The ability to be happy or relatively content and the ability to develop caring relationships with others
has been a central criterion of mental health.
-The ability to grow from change and to cope with the inevitable stressors is also an important aspect of
being mentally healthy.
-The ability to engage in creative and productive work and maintain motivation, persistence and
performance in the face of setbacks is an important component of the mentally healthy lifestyle.
-People consistently regard themselves more positively and less negatively than they regard others.
-People choose to evaluate themselves on dimensions in which they are certain to appear more
-While this may seem troubling, it is associated with psychological well-being.
-The ability to be happy or content is complete through self-aggrandizing.
-People who feel good about themselves are more certain about their self-appraisals and appear
to have a good understanding of their personal characteristics. 5
-People who feel good about themselves also have more internally consistent self-perceptions
than people who think poorly of themselves.
-People who think poorly about themselves may have a higher emotional reactivity than others
because they know less about themselves.
-Positive self-perceptions buffer one against both the daily stressors of life and are helpful when people
encounter traumatic life events.
-Bandura argues that when people overestimate their abilities, they may strive harder to reach potential
goals (that they set higher, too).
-Positive self-perceptions aid in language development, problem solving skills and motor skills of
-Their inflated self-perception allows them to try new tasks.
-While some inflated self-perception is good, too much can be maladaptive and interfere with
-High self-esteem individuals tend to take more risks.
-May lash out at others who criticize themselves.
The Illusion of Control
-Studies suggest that an illusion of control (inflated sense of how much personal control one has over
their environment) helps people to adjust to forthcoming lab stressors.
-May have low generalizability however.
-Someone who has HIV or advanced stage cancer may initially believe they can control the fate of their
disease, perhaps finding a cure, however, these perceptions eventually shift to perceptions of control
over smaller items like today’s symptoms or daily activities.
-A mild illusion of control often exists in normal individuals and appears generally to be associated with
good psychological adjustment.
-A good sense of control is important in childhood.
-Typically, people will overestimate the likelihood that they will experience a wide variety of positive
events (like getting a job, having a child, getting married, etc) in comparison to others.
-Unrealistic optimism appears to be healthy from the traditional standpoint of the traditional criteria of
-It enhances positive moods, associated with high motivation to engage in productive work and
is associated with the ability to cope more successfully and recover from health-related
Positive Illusions and Trauma
-Positive illusions of self-aggrandizing self-perceptions, an illusion of control and unrealistic optimism
may be particularly helpful for enabling people to combat major life stressors.
-Women diagnosed with breast cancer who asserted that they had a high degree of control over
their cancer, believed that their lives had changed for the better, regardless of if they had a
good prognosis or not. Many had also expressed positive optimism of beating cancer (though
many of them died… just some uplifting shit for exams. Fuck).
-However, these women were associated with good psychological adjustment.
-Cancer patients, heart patients and people living with AIDS developed a belief that they were
coping better and generally better off than others in their same situation however, these people
reported positive changes in their lives more so than negative changes when asked what’s
changed since they were diagnosed. 6
-Overall, studies indicate that when people experience personal tragedies or setbacks, they respond
with cognitively adaptive efforts that may enable them to return to or exceed their previous level of
-They try to search for a meaning in the experience, try and regain a sense of mastery and attempt
to restore their positive sense of self.
-Optimists are more flexible in their use of coping strategies than pessimists.
Positive Illusions and Defense Mechanisms
-Repression: involuntary exclusion from consciousness of cognitions whose admission would be painful
for the individual.
-Repression is similar to the kinds of positive, upbeat beliefs represented by positive illusionists
(low anxiety, “everything is fine”).
-Repression however is maladaptive
-Often ignores/restricts their attention in response to a threat.
-Might be successful short-term (can minimize the distress one experiences) but has long term
-Are people with positive illusions repressors in disguise?
-No, it’s the exact opposite.
-People with positive illusions are associated with active coping strategies
**The final paragraph on page 246 that starts with the above question really summarizes the
article thus far quite well.
Reconciling Illusion and Reality
-If people ignore, minimize or explain away negative feedback, does this make them oblivious to
important sources of negative feedback, which then sets them up for disappointment, perhaps faulty
decision making and maybe even pursue activities that are ill advised?
-Positive illusionists are usually modest and depart only somewhat from the factors mentioned
in this article (self-perception, self-control, and future expectations)
-Their self-ratings, while inflated, tend to be fairly accurate.
-It is also unlikely that one’s social environment would tolerate a greatly exaggerated
sense of self (family, friends, co-workers will bring you back to reality), which keeps
positive illusions narrow.
-Deliberation: a period of time in which people debate over their goals and actions
-Carefully assess the possibility of completion of future goals and the feasibility (weigh pros and
-Used when someone is switching jobs for example, or getting divorced.
-Deliberation is a time when people’s positive illusions are temporarily suspended in
favour of processing more realistic information.
-Implementation: the mindset that occurs when people are attempting to bring about personal goals.
-Mustering motivation, resources and beliefs in a service of already decided-upon goals.
-Implementation is a period when people’s positive illusions are more exaggerated.
-People do experience “time outs” from positive illusions, during which they’re more honest with
Who Demonstrates Positive Illusions?
-Normal individuals with normal psychological functioning.
-94% of college students were shown to demonstrate positive illusions in one study.
-Positive illusions are more state-like than they are trait-like. 7
-The results discussed in this article may not be true for Eastern or Latin cultures.
-The positive illusions seen in Western cultures are often muted in others.
-The nature of self-concept is very much shaped by one’s culture.
-Western cultures may see positive illusions centering around self-perceptions, perceptions of control
and optimism about the future but collectivist societies may find these in self-perceptions of a group,
not an individual, the group’s power, etc.
-Future research is needed in other cultures. These results are not generalizable across cultures.
Positive Illusions, Mental Health and Physical Health
-Poor psychological health is documented at increasing the risk for poor physical health (and not just
due to an increase in some behaviours like drinking or smoking).
-You can read more about it. I chose to skip over this part, as I don’t think it’s relevant. (details what
psychological disorder is associated with what physical condition).
-Positive illusions, even when facing death from a terminal illness, are associated with better overall
-Those who realistically accepted the likelihood of death were more psychologically distressed and
died, on average, 9 months prior to those who had positive illusions.
Can Positive Illusions Be Taught?
-The present answer is unknown.
-Important for future research since positive illusions are beneficial.
-Cognitive therapy sometimes teaches something that’s close to positive illusions 8
Distant Memories: A Prospective Study of Vantage Point of Trauma Memories (Kenny, et al)
-Avoidance plays an important role in both the development and maintenance of PTSD.
-Avoidance limits the processing of the trauma and associated emotional reactions, which
-Individuals with PTSD are characterized by frequent recollections of their trauma though.
-It’s the recollection of these memories and the avoidance that does not result in the processing and
resolution of these memories.
-Individuals with PTSD become adept at minimizing the emotional impact of the memory