How to deal with different coping styles

When Carolyn Parse Rizzo from Interval Coaching talked about coping styles on the FIGT (Families in Global Transition) facebook group, I thought about what coping styles my family and I have.

We may all experience that family members, friends, colleagues etc. are dealing with the current COVID19 situation, or any kind of difficult and unforeseeable situation in a variety of ways, and it can be very challenging for us to work and live with people who have different coping styles.

I always find it useful to know why things are like they are, and explore ways to make them more bearable for everyone.

This is why I want to briefly introduce you to the different coping styles Carolyn mentioned, and that are based on a study about coping styles of children undergoing surgery. The following description is taken from the post Coping styles in children ; the suggestions about how to address people in the different groups are mine.


The catastrophizer collects detailed information, but in a way that is not comforting for him or her. In fact, it rather exacerbates their anxiety and they imagine the worst-case scenario. Especially when the person had a previous negative experience related it will affect her ability to cope.

What approach to take with a catastrophizer

As catastrophizers are usually overwhelmed by the situation. They have the fight or flight reaction that makes it difficult to get them focus on anything else. You can offer the person a chance to talk about it and even try to direct their attention to similar situations they have experienced previously, and let them explore what was helpful for her/him then.

You can try to “distract” the person through activities and let her/him talk about it, while being active. Movement and focusing on something else can help shift the attention and access the situation and the thoughts a catastrophizer has, from another perspective.

If you feel overwhelmed and the situation is draining your energy, it is better if you reach out for help.

How to talk to a catastrophizer 

First of all, don’t let yourself get involved in the way a catastrophizer sees the situation. Try to take an (inner) step back and listen to what the person thinks, what makes her/him worry and what former experiences she/he associates with what is currently happening.

Tune into what the person is thinking and saying in an empathetic way, like “I understand that you…”, “What you say is…” and let the person lead you.

It can be helpful for the person to look at the situation from different perspectives. Please don’t minimize what she/he is saying and surely don’t judge (!) – avoid saying “you are exaggerating” / “you are taking this too seriously/personally” etc. but acknowledge her fear and worries. Many catastrophizers become calmer when they share their worries verbally or their focus is shifted thanks to an activity that involves physical movement.


The sensitizer is a person who requests detailed information and searches for it. When they get the answers to their questions, it seems to help them deal with feelings of anxiety.

What approach to take with a sensitizer 

Provide the person with information. Let her/him take the lead and guide her/him through the process of filtering what is helping and what not. Make sure to check in once the information has been given, to make sure he/she is continuing to process the information in a healthy way.

How to talk to a sensitizer

Listen attentively to what information the sensitizer needs right now. Take him/her seriously and help him/her to find answers. “So, you would like to know how/when/where….”; “What the *** says is that in 40% of the cases…”. – What can help is to find studies and statistics to consolidate and confirm facts. A sensitizer is not happy with “maybe” answers.

The minimizer downplays the information to cope with their anxiety and uncertainty, and processes the information in small pieces as this is more manageable. If he/she is left on her/his own, she/he will come to you with questions over time when ready to take more information in.

What approach to take with a minimizer 

Be prepared to share key components but not all of the details at once. Provide the person with information as requested, but let her/him take the lead! If you confront a minimizer with a whole plan, steps to take etc. he/she will be easily overwhelmed and be more prone to withdraw instead of facing the situation.

How to talk to a minimizer 

A minimizer needs to get the information and help in little chunks of specific aspects. If she/he is ready to talk, don’t expect long conversations and don’t force the person to get into details if she is not asking for it. Think of it like a short conversation where you tune into the other person who most probably wants to share and understand one particular aspect of the problem. Be prepared that the whole process of accepting and dealing with the situation will require more time. 


The denier pushes the information out of his/her mind. He/she doesn’t want to think about it, and may ask not to talk about it in order to protect her/himself.

What approach to take with a denier

Provide small pieces of information at a time. What deniers don’t know can be more worrisome than what they do know.

Let the person process the situation in his/her own way and his/her very own pace. If you are tempted to confront a denier with hard facts, be prepared to experience resistance. 

How to talk to a denier

Don’t confront a denier with “reality” and hard facts and avoid exploring the small pieces of information you give. Rather opt for a careful “planting seeds” tactic. Instead of giving information, make the denier think and reflect on the situation. Ask him/her about what she/he would do if…, exploring similar fictive (or non fictive) situations, and guide him/her slowly and gently to the situation he/she should be dealing with. Don’t show the connections between the two, but let the denier discover them him/herself. 

Listen and observe how much the denier can “take in” at a time. Ask “would you like us to talk about…”, or “what do you think about…” and let the person lead the conversation. 

It is important to know that one person can have different coping styles depending on the situation!

And she/he can change it while coping with a situation. Therefore you may want to adjust the way to support her throughout the whole process. A very powerful way to manage different coping styles is to engage everyone to find solutions for others. By directing the attention to someone else – not from the family, it can even be a made-up person! – can help to process the situation from another perspective and when we reflect about a problem that is not about ourselves, we come up with solutions. We are also more prone to self-reflect and adapt the solution to our personal situation. But it takes time…

All of the coping styles show that managing uncertainty is a challenge that needs to be taken seriously.

Don’t ask a person who is having a hard time, to “brush it off” or don’t assume that because a person was doing “fine” one day, she or he will do so in the coming days or weeks.

Worries come in waves and sometimes in the most unpredictable moments – for example while actually doing something fun.

What does this mean for families in the current situation?

Keep some structure in your daily life, because structure and patterns in our every day life are like anchors: they make us feel safe!  Especially if you notice that someone in your family is experiencing anxiety! For example:

  • have breakfast with the whole family at the same time every day;
  • a friend suggested to have laugh-lunches: i.e. you tell jokes and share fun facts during lunch time etc.

For parents working from home, or not…: there is a lot of pressure on parents (not to loose the job, how to make ends meet if you just lost your job or you can’t work and don’t have an income and worry about the future):

  • For those who are working from home: don’t expect to have the whole family accommodate your needs! Schedule your online meetings when it suits your life at home, not the other way round! Make it clear to clients, superiors, colleagues what you can do, in what time frame. It is an exceptional situation and requires a flexible way to cope with it. You need to stay healthy and sane…
    Be ready to NOT be able to work 100%, not even 80%: you are home and your family and children need you – and you need them.
  • For those who can’t work from home: try to focus on what you can do.
    • Use this time to first adjust to the situation and take care of your children, your family and yourself.
    • Find something that you always wanted to do and never had time for: now is that time!
    • Make weekly plans with things you want to get done (from cleaning, cooking that new recipe, helping your child with French (maybe learning French alongside your child, as you are on it), sign up for the online course etc.)
  • For everyone – children included! – : Keep a journal where you write down all you are doing. Focus more on what was good, worked, was pleasant to do, enjoyable. And then look at what you need help with or what was difficult. How did you manage to cope with the difficult one and who can help you with the other.
  • For those who are helping their children with remote learning: decide what you can do to help them, and how to do it. What works for you and your children (if you need help to find out and to find strategies, don’t hesitate to contact me at
    • You can NOT replace the teacher (unless you are one)
    • If you notice that the work load is too much for your child: inform the teacher and ask for support! Don’t wait to do so. The earlier the teacher and schools knows about what works and what not, the faster they can make changes!
    • Make sure that your child takes breaks! It is not healthy to be constantly studying! It can help some children cope with the situation, but it can also be a way for them to hide their feelings and actually avoid coping with the situation.
    • Tell your child that this is not a normal school day situation! Our children grieve their friends: they are not allowed to hang out with them. For our children it is very difficult to cope with this kind of isolation. Allow your children to have facetime meetings with friends, or via skype, zoom, or other means, on a regular basis. But monitor their reaction, the way this all works because, like in “normal times”, some children might feel left out, not up to date about things happening etc….
    • Define with your family what is “enough”: how much work is enough these days and weeks. If your child (or you) are not sleeping well, this can affect the whole day/week: don’t push too much. Your health is more important than ever.

I could go on and on, but I stop here.

Please make sure that you take the time to slow down, listen to each other, and give your support in an empathetic (not sympathetic!) way.

I wish you all to stay healthy and to look at this period of time like a chance to connect in new ways with your family and friends.

– How are you coping with the situation?
– What are you finding most difficult?
– How can I help you?

Further reading about this topic:

You can watch Carolyn’s video in her fb group here

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  1. Pingback: Caring for Your Family in an Ongoing Crisis – World Family Education

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