Coping With Uncertainty: A Paradox
Seymour Levine Sandra G. Wiener Stanford University School of Medicine
When one examines the subject matter of this volume, coping with uncertainty, there is an initial intuitive gestalt. When one attempts to define the concepts and to discuss them in terms of available theoretical and scientific information, a world of confusing definitions is entered. There appear to be two basic approaches to the concept of coping. The first approach is probably best illustrated by the research of Lazarus ( Lazarus, 1966). He proposed a classification of coping based on whether the function of the coping response is to alter the disturbed person-environment interaction or to regulate emotion. Another classification is based on the coping mode that is utilized. Coping modes are classified into information seeking, direct action, inhibition of action, and various interpsychic modes. These classifications are somewhat diffuse and it is not altogether certain whether they reflect dimensions that relate in any way to outcome. Lazarus, Averill, and Opton ( 1974) defined coping as follows: "Coping involves problem solving efforts made by an individual when the demands he faces are highly relevant to his welfare, that is, a situation of considerable jeopardy or promise, and when these demands tax his adaptive resources" (pp. 250-251). Such a definition does several things: First, it emphasizes the importance of the emotional context in coping; second, it allows inclusion of both a negative or stress side of emotions, as well as a positive side of potential fulfillment or gratification; third, it recognizes the overlap between problem solving and coping; and fourth, it emphasizes tasks that are not routine or automatized, that is, those in which the outcomes are uncertain and in which the limits of the individual's adaptive skills are approached.
What is clear from the definition proposed by Lazarus is that some coping processes may increase the risk of maladaptive behaviors, whereas others may