Coping is typically thought to be adaptive if it reduces immediate distress and promotes well-being. However, coping strategies might appear beneficial in a given situation, but when considered in the broader stressor context, those situational benefits may actually undermine well-being. Two studies (N = 473 and N = 80 women) demonstrated that, in the context of psychologically or physically abusive dating relationships, coping orientations were rooted in women's stressor history (prior assault trauma) and elevated emotion-focused and lower problem-focused efforts were predictive of greater depressive symptoms. Yet, in response to a stressor video that acted as a reminder of women's abusive experiences (but not to a stressor video unrelated to abuse), affective benefits (lower hostility, higher positive agency) were associated with abused women's emotion-focused coping endorsements, but were not linked to problem-focused coping. It seems that in some contexts, reduced distress might limit active efforts to alter a dysfunctional situation.

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Department of Psychology

Matheson, K, Skomorovsky, A. (Alla), Fiocco, A. (Alexandra), & Anisman, H. (2007). The limits of 'adaptive' coping: Well-being and mood reactions to stressors among women in abusive dating relationships. Stress, 10(1), 75–91. doi:10.1080/10253890701208313