Are We Dealing with Conflicts and Problems in a Healthy Way?
Most people are well aware that they have their own defense mechanisms. And although we use this term on a daily basis, the question is, do we really understand what defense mechanisms are?
The definition might be different from what many people would expect, and even is the one they thought of, they should question whether these defense mechanisms are healthy.
Don’t get confused. Let’s start with the main question: “What are defense mechanisms?”
You should know that they are psychological strategies unconsciously used by a specific person to protect themselves from anxiety due to unacceptable feelings or thoughts.
It is said that people use defense mechanisms to defend themselves from guilt and anxiety, which occur because we feel intimidated or due to the fact that our superego is too demanding.
These defense mechanisms are not voluntaristic and are under our conscious control.
Freud and His Opinion on Defense Mechanisms
Freud believed that people need defense mechanism for protection from becoming aware that people are possessed by aggressive and sexual drives. But, defense mechanisms are accepted for adaptive purposes.
Having healthy defense mechanisms might help keep in check your feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, despair over losses, and frustrations.
Studies on This Topic
One team of scientists seeks to find out the truth behind people’s tendencies to hide the truth from no one else but ourselves.
George Vaillant, a psychiatrist, found many years ago that when it comes to psychological health in adulthood, the key is to use mature defense mechanisms. (1)
As a matter of fact, George Vaillant’s taxonomy of defense mechanisms actually became the premise for the classification of personality disorders in American psychiatry.
The classification ranges from a dramatic cluster and acting out all the way to the restrained cluster where the pathology of people is less expressed (paranoid and schizoid).
Furthermore, it is said that having a good defense mechanism machine could help keep both your mental and physical health.
According to one study, midlife men who can maintain their emotions in check might have more people who want to be around them and enjoy their company. (2)
The support from these people might help midlife men stay healthier, physically, and mentally, and last but not least add years to their life. This shows how crucial mature defense mechanisms are.
But the inevitable question comes, and that is:” Can you develop these qualities?” To answer that question, let’s look at the defense mechanism in the Vaillant framework and find out how you measure up.
In the Malone investigation, 2 raters assessed questionnaires and interviews by participants between the 47 and 63 years old among 3 main domains. Those domains are immature, mature, and intermediate.
As a matter of fact, within every category, the raters divided eight possible points, with the rate of every domain from 1 to 5. You might have a 5:2:1 ratio if you immature defenses the least and mature ones most often.
In case the scale tips to 1:2:4, that means you are mainly immature when it comes to your approach to the daily life stresses. You need to try to be objective as you score yourself using a 1 to 5 rating.
Types of Defense Mechanisms
Denial – You cannot face reality in case of bad situations
Projection – people tend to be negative and mean to you
Acting Out – in times when you are annoyed you do impulsive things such as a shopping spree
Passive Aggression – in case someone annoys or bothers you, you deliberately do something bad to them just to hurt them, such as shrinking their favorite item in the wash.
Anticipation – When you are aware that you will have to face a challenging or stressful situation, you plan and prepare ahead so you won’t end up being overwhelmed.
Sublimation – when you are anxious, you tend to do something constructive like woodworking, cleaning, or cooking.
Humor – you do your best to see the funny side of every situation, even if they are upsetting or stressful
Suppression – in case you’re bothered by someone or something, you try to control your feelings, since if you would let them you know that might interfere with your goals
Altruism – you experience real pleasure from helping others, and if you are in a situation where you can’t help, you are depressed
Reaction Formation – you show the opposite behavior and not how you feel towards someone
Repression – You cannot remember past unpleasant experiences
Displacement – you don’t show your anger to the person you are really angry at so you won’t get in trouble, but you convert that to someone or something which is less threatening
Look through this scale, and if you are true to yourself, you can discover your defense mechanism and those of people around you. Don’t confront people, who you believe are immature, instead use this scale to gain insight into what makes this person tick.
Use it for your own benefit. As one great quote goes when you know yourself you’re empowered, but when you accept yourself, well then you’re invincible.