Factors for Coping: Buffers vs. Magnifiers

There’s a concept from the world of psychology that all professionals can easily put to use when dealing with stressed-out clients: buffers and magnifiers. These are our positive and negative coping mechanisms, which once understood, can be harnessed to help provide targeted support through a stressful experience. 

Clinically, buffers are positive coping factors that increase resiliency (ex. having a network of peers, the ability to settle oneself, exercise, etc.), and magnifiers are negative factors that decrease resiliency (ex. trouble sleeping, being sad, substance abuse, etc.)

Because we have personal relationships with our clients, we likely already have an inventory of buffers and magnifiers for individuals in our minds. When stressful situations like market volatility or life events occur, we don’t just want to exclusively throw data and statistics at them without first considering which coping mechanisms they have in place. Think of them as gates that our advice and guidance have to pass through in order to even register in their minds. Telling someone, “you’ll be fine, just have patience and stay the course,” won’t work if they someone can’t even entertain that possibility.  When we know what aspects of their life are contributing to their emotional state, then we can better use the data to help guide them forward.  “Don’t worry,” becomes “don’t worry, let’s talk about how this applies to your family and why it’s going to be OK,” or “I know you’re worried because you just moved to a new town, let’s separate how these fears are feeding off of each other.”

With practice, we can learn to see not just the outstanding life events, but the tapestry that surrounds them. Retirement can be pleasant when moving on to spend more time with friends, and terrifying if that same network doesn’t exist outside of the office. If we add negative shocks like a big market decline or a loss of a pension, these details compound. We have to look for the psychological and sociological networks that exist behind these feelings.

It should not be a surprise that this is precisely where we can really add value – by focusing on the psychology of what it means to live in a complex world of compound events. Good advice and guidance are always going to be based on seeing through the fog, and knowing these factors is a key tool for navigation. By showing an awareness for the buffers and magnifiers within our client’s lives, we can actually make a real difference.

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