Adjusting and Adapting: Which is More Your Style?

Posted By Tina Dubin, Ph.D. on August 16, 2013 at 5:03pm | Tina's Musings
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When one of life’s situations isn’t as you would wish, are you more likely to:

Adapt yourself to the ways things are by – altering your perspective; soothing yourself by going for a walk; rationalizing the situation so you can be more tolerant; making do with what is.

Or are you more likely to:

Adjust your environment – figure out what can be done with the situation; seek change or help; repair the glitch; clean the house; change your job; organize your sock drawer.

Of course, life requires both.  But, depending on your talents, your personality, your history and the circumstances, you may rely more on one coping style than another.

Organizing the house might be easier for some of you than meditating.  This is true for 2 of my friends, one an interior decorator and the other a social worker.  Both focus a lot in their work on modifying environments.  When I need to choose a dress for a wedding or a paint color for my kitchen, I call on them.  My talents do not lie there.

As a psychologist, I tend to focus a lot on adapting.  I’m likely to consider how to look at things differently; how to better manage emotions; how to understand the other so as to be more tolerant.*

There are advantages and disadvantages to both coping styles:

Being able to adapt yourself  to new circumstances, the demands of a difficult situation, the plans of others, messy transitions or the quirky behavior of your beloved can be very useful.  But too much adapting, tolerating and self-soothing can end you up like the frog in frog soup who adapts to the heat of the water little by little  – and loses herself (literally in this case).  And being overly adaptive can  keep you too focused on your anxiety, because you’re more used to dealing with feelings than with changing the environment.

Adjusting, arranging, repairing and maintaining one’s environment – both physical and social – is obviously important to make it through life.  But when you’re used to being a doer and a fixer, it can be difficult when you just can’t alter the environment, the situation or the other and you have to find ways to deal within yourself.

All of this is meant to be a reminder  to be aware of and develop that other side of yourself.

Adapters:  Take a cooking class or one in auto mechanics.  Act on your environment, don’t just think about it.  Create something out there where people can see it.  Bring some influence to bear – in a positive way, of course.

Adjusters:  Find ways to sit quietly with yourself.  To go along with the other person’s idea even if it’s different from yours.  Get into going with the flow for a period of time.  Spend time making do with what you have – and enjoy it!

*My sister as a Special Ed teacher, has always been an Adjuster par excellence.  She decided one day that the furniture in my bedroom needed to be moved around – for Fung Swayish reasons.  Something that never would have occurred to me.  Plus I, of course, had adapted to how the room was already laid out. I tried to dissuade her as there was no one around to help us.  She said “let me just start removing the drawers.  Sure enough, by the end of the day my bedroom furniture was re-arranged.

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Posted by Tina Dubin, Ph.D.

I received my doctoral degree in Psychology from the University of Kansas in 1977. I completed my post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin Counseling Center. Since then, I have been a research associate at the Institute of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Texas, a founding associate of Family Eldercare, and have been in private practice with my husband, Dr. William Dubin, at Psychological ARTS since 1980.

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