The Circle Line

The 5 Ways We Cope


What is your coping style?

There are 5 universal themes – have you learnt yours?

There are lots of everyday things we do when life gets to us. We work as hard as possible to keep afloat, we help everyone around us, we go into information overload or baking overdrive… The list could go on.

We learnt our ways of being, or coping, a long time ago; when we were children. The thoughts and feelings we experienced as kids produce in us our key approaches to work and life – there are only so many ways we can deal with life and we picked the ones that worked in our families.

We then take them into our long-term plans and our day-to-day attitude later in life. But they are developed at a young age, by what we understood what was approved and disapproved of by the grownups around us, picking this up from both verbal messages and all the non-verbal signals we received as kids. We adopted these coping styles to ensure acceptance (and therefore survival), and to feel ok. 

Decades of psychotherapeutic study has shown these “working styles” or “drivers” to be universal.

They all carry positives and negatives, and we often use and display a variety of the below styles, sometimes flipping styles throughout the day, or within a single conversation. Often though, we tend to favour two main styles – and this becomes the way we approach life as whole.

See if you recognise yourself below…

1. PLEASE OTHERS (when it’s ok to also please myself)

When in Please Others mode, we cope with the situation by ensuring we are liked, needed and making others happy. We are social beings, and this mode helps us relate, cooperate and care for each other. However, we mustn’t forget about ourselves in the process.


You tend to be understanding and empathic; considerate of others feelings. You’re probably a good team player, enjoy working with others and aiming to please without asking. You often use your intuition and notice body language and other subtle signals. You appreciate and often develop harmony in groups and amongst teams and will often notice and invite quieter members into discussion.


You may avoid any risk of upsetting someone and therefore challenging ideas or behaviour (even if justified). You may be cautious with criticism, allow others to interrupt, and tend to present your own views as questions, and so be overlooked. You may also appear to lack some commitment and assertiveness, critical faculties and the courage of your convictions. It’s likely you take criticism personally even if constructive. Tries to mind-read instead of asking for necessary information and feeling misunderstood when others don’t like the results.

How can I spot it?

You reach out to others. You offer your help. You try to please. In person, you’ll tend to widen your eyes, raise your eyebrows, nod, show a big toothy smile. Horizontal lines on your forehead tend to appear, as you look up with head down; the intonation of your voice may tend to go up at the end of a sentence; and you use qualifying words (sort of, kind of, ok). When interacting you make gestures with open palms, often leaning in or reaching forwards.

2. BE PERFECT (nope, good is good enough)

When in Be Perfect mode, we cope with the situation by seeking, well, perfection. To be the best we can possibly be and do everything perfectly. This style can help us improve and excel, when used in moderation… as obviously it’s impossible to be perfect.

A person adjusts their tie as they get ready to go to work


Your work is accurate and reliable, you pay attention to detail, and you checks facts thoroughly. You tend to look ahead and prepare well. You care about how things look and often present things beautifully. You’re usually well-organised and plan well with contingency plans. You tend to like things in life to be smooth, efficient and well-co-ordinated with progress monitored. 


Producing work to deadlines may be a challenge as you may tend to check too carefully and too often for mistakes – keeps asking for minor changes and doing drafts rather than final versions. You may find it difficult to incorporate others’ input or be critical of it. You may also misjudge and over-do the level of detail needed. You apply high standards, always to self and others, sometimes not recognising when good enough is good enough. You may demotivates people in this way and have problems delegating. When not “perfect” it can lead you to question your worth and feel dissatisfied.

How can I spot it?

Your posture is generally good – upright, erect. You tend to use words accurately and precisely speaking with an even, steady tone. Often you include a lot of detail and use parentheses and qualifiers such as saying “exactly”, “roughly”. You frequently kook up to the right and your mouth goes slightly out and your gestures include counting on your fingers and steepling your hands. 

3. BE STRONG (when actually, it’s ok to be open and to say what we need)

By Being Strong, we cope by putting our needs and our emotions aside. We may need this style of managing at times, particularly in crisis, but it’s unhealthy when used always or long-term – we are all human. And decisions become easier as we allow ourselves to feel as well as to think.

Man with a face covered in different coloured paints stares into the camera


You stay calm under pressure and feel energised when having to cope. You’re good in a crisis and think logically when others panic, and deal well with stressed people. You keep your emotions in check, and are even tempered, preferring to focus on problem solving. You are able to make unpleasant decisions without torturing your soul. You’re seen as reliable and steady and handle others in the team firmly and fairly. You give honest feedback, and constructive criticism. 


You hate showing “weakness” (your humanity). You see failure to cope as a weakness. You may be uncomfortable with emotions, and others may sometimes find your lack of emotional responses challenging – finding it hard to get to know you, feeling you can be a little “robotic”, and that your smile may not always extend to your eyes as you tend to “wear a mask”. You tend to have a tidy appearance and tuck work (and life…) away. You are probably self-critical, and may become distant, absent-minded or withdraw. You fear your request for help will be refused, so instead you don’t ask for anything, in case it’s refused – this means you may be overlooked. 

How can I spot it?

You may speak with a monotone voice, with long pauses. You use short sentences such as “Fine” with an absence of feeling words. You use “one”, “it”, and distancing words like “you” rather than “I”. You have erect, stoical posture, your body may seem defended, still or rigid. You have fewer wrinkles from keeping your face calm and expressionless – through often putting on a mask.

4. TRY HARD (or… just do it!)

This style helps motivate us. We cope through effort and energy. However it can mean we struggle with things instead of completing them, and flap around the periphery without getting stuck in.

A man uses his phone to access our self help tools or therapy sessions


You tackle things enthusiastically and your energy peaks with something new to do. Others value your motivation and ability to get things off the ground, often making you popular. You’re a problem solver and often volunteer for new tasks. You tend to follow up all possibilities and find out the implications, paying attention to all aspects of a task, including what others overlook.


You’re more committed to trying than succeeding. Your initial interest tends to wear off before the task is finished. Others may resent not doing the interesting bits when they are left with the mundane bits. Sometimes you can make tasks impossibly large. This can create difficulty with time schedules and mean your written work contains lots of irrelevant details. Communication may be pained, strained and frowning – listeners become confused. You may ask too many questions – and the answers don’t relate to questions asked. You tend to gripe at the tea point.

How can I spot it?

Your tone of voice becomes a little strangled, tense, muffled or choked back. You use incomplete sentences and words such as try, hard, difficult, can’t think. In the moment, you often put your hand on the side of your cheek or behind your ear. You often “peer” – producing deepened, perhaps premature lines on your forehead and around your eyes as a result of a tending to screw-up your face.

5. HURRY UP (or… slow down, take your time)

Time is the great force in life for us all, and we all relate to it differently. In Hurry Up mode, however, it becomes the key driver. Slow down… enjoy the ride.


You work quickly and get a lot done in a short time. You respond well to short deadlines – your energy peaks under pressure. You seem to enjoy having too many things to do and tend to believe if you want something done give it to a busy person. You prepare quickly, save time on tasks wherever you can and “juggle” life.


You tend to delay things until the deadline is near. You may make mistakes in haste; and corrections can take time and so you miss the deadline. This means the quality of your work may suffer. You tend to come across as impatient. You rush around with a crammed diary, forgetting things. Sometimes you are reluctant to “waste” time getting to know people, which can affect relationships and leave you feeling like an outsider in some circumstances.

How can I spot it?

Your tone of voice will tend to be rapid and staccato and you use words such as quick, got to and words relating to time. You tend to fidget and use agitated gestures. You may screw up your face, with your eyes flitting around. And you’re checking the time, looking at your watch…

Taking the Driving Seat

We tend to go into “overdrive” in these ways when we are under pressure or going through a stressful period. If we are experiencing a crisis we may use these styles to the extreme – in a way that is not helping us.

When faced with challenges our underlying buried fears and negative beliefs can be triggered, and our copying style becomes more pronounced (for more on these underlying beliefs see here).

The important thing is recognising our own copying styles. And then we can choose whether we keep doing them (if they’re helping us and making us happy), or to ease off if they’re not. These behaviours then become optional. They become wheels perhaps, the dashboard trimming or go-faster stripes that we choose when and how to apply in life.

When we recognise them in ourselves, these ways of coping don’t have to always drive us; we can drive our own life. And sometimes we can allow us to simply be.

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