Life Limiting Adaptations

A life limiting adaptation represented by a man walking on Crutches with a broken leg.
Life Limiting Adaptations

Life comes full force, knocking us back, challenging us to respond. We usually survive these blows. We meet the energy, find ways to survive, and move forward—most of the time. Not all adaptations are equal. Many choices adapt to limitations through accepting a weakness, and finding ways around it. I call these compensatory adaptations which, basically, are life limiting adaptations. Other times, we see the weakness and address it, making weak places strong. This way is better when possible.

Complexity  and Adaptation

Let me be clear. There is no simple answers. No simple rule for adapting to the variety of challenges life throws at us. Our resilience depends on our flexibility to move, find new answers, and respond with courage.

Effective adapting to life is a mixture of self-confidence, flexibility, reliable resources, and persistence. And then, even when we weather the storm, we should evaluate our response, learning from the experience, and make adjustments, lest we slip into unhealthy, life limiting patterns.

Life Limiting Adaptations and Patterns

Let me offer a a few simple examples of life limiting patterns. Healthy recovery of a leg injury requires crutches. We keep the weight off our leg, giving the muscles, bones and cartilage a chance to heal. The weight and movement reinjures the leg and healing is prolonged. However, as the tissue begins to heal, movement becomes necessary to aid in restrengthening the leg. We assist healing through physical therapy. The crutches were a compensatory adaptation to the injury.

However, at some point, the crutches no longer assist but delay recovery. A life limiting practice would be to hold onto to the crutch.

​Some, unfortunately, cannot let go of compensatory adaptations. They adopt psychological defenses that protect during vulnerable moments, perhaps even necessary, but as they mature and have available resources to abandon psychological crutches, they resist, limiting their lives. 

“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.”

~H. G. Wells

Range of Motion and Adaptation

A common ailment to our aging bodies is a loss of range of motion. Our muscles shorten, joints get stiff, and scar tissue invades. The range of motion in the inflicted joints begins to shorten. Reaching above our heads becomes a challenge. Tying our shoes is an adventure. We are forced to adapt to work through the inconvenience. We buy step ladders to help reach the higher shelves, by slip on shoes to avoid the nasty reminders of our inflexibility, and stop activities requiring greater movement. Yet these compensatory adaptations ignore the problem, they skirt around the problem instead of addressing it. A better solution is to work on improving our range of motion. Stretching, exercise, and physical therapy often provide a healthy solution, regaining the lost movement, and vastly improving our lives.

Range of motion applies to psychological adaptations as well. Emotions continually denied, repressed, and rejected don’t fade away. They live on. Accordingly, our psychological adaptations intrude and limit life and love. Consequently, our reactions to life becomes a life limiting adaptations. Biases are another psychological inhibitor. Difficult issues often are relegated to mental heuristics, shortcuts in thinking. We rely on tired interpretations, limited options, and unfair judgements. These biased thought patterns limit psychological range of motion and impair our lives. 

T. Franklin Murphy wrote, “we achieve greater wellness when we can take the current situation, our momentary flashes of emotion, and conform our behavioral response to fit values and achieve long-term goals” (2021).

Compensatory Adaptations

Compensatory adaptations are not wrong. In many cases, we need them. Life charges at us and we must respond—immediately. We don’t have time to develop new skills, repair tired muscles, or practice new techniques. We react the best we can and survive. When the dust settles, we can reevaluate and make life sustaining changes. Although, some grasp onto these immediate adaptations, refusing to let go. Over time, these patterns become life limiting adaptations, interfering with our goals and dreams.

Other times, compensatory adaptations are all that are available. Some weaknesses are not passing states that we can cure. However, we also may be inflicted with biological limitations that are immune to all our creative attempts to heal. Sensitive systems may never let go of heightened anxiety, firing intense pangs of fear at every new challenge.

In these stubborn cases we must develop compensatory skills, learning how to manage despite the limitation. We can’t just give up in helplessness, citing the illness of an excuse. We should, however, respect the limitation for what it is, find compensatory adaptations, and continue chasing our dreams within the range of our abilities

A Few Final Words

As we work through life problems, we gain a clearer vision of the things we can change, the things we can’t change, and the things we should just avoid. Our vision and adaptation to the inevitable challenges of life will create our futures.

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Murphy, T. Franklin (2021). Psychological Flexibility. Psychology Fanatic. Published 6-23.2021. Accessed 4-2-2022.

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