Coping Strategies and Defense Mechanisms: Mature Defenses Examples

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The Mature defenses are defined by a healthy and conscious relationship with reality. Reality is accepted even when it is not appreciated. Uncomfortable feelings and thoughts are deliberately transformed into less threatening forms rather than being pushed aside. People decide and choose to cope using mature defense mechanisms; they don't just occur spontaneously.

  • Suppression is a conscious form of repression. You choose to not engage or talk about distressing feelings or thoughts. You are aware of them and not intimidated by them overly, but just decide to put off dealing with them for a while. For example: "I'm mad at my mom, but it won't help to tell her that at this family party. I'll save this revelation for a time when we can speak about it privately".
  • Sublimation; Uncomfortable feelings and thoughts are transformed when a person chooses to take the energy behind these feelings and thoughts and put it towards a different, constructive purpose. For example: "I'm mad at my father, but instead of yelling at him (which won't help things), I'm going to get out my paints and paint a picture." "I'm worried about dying of cancer, so I'm going to start making sure I eat lots of vegetables every day so I minimize my chances of actually dying of cancer".
  • Altruism; Another means of transforming uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, this time by helping others suffering from similar feelings and thoughts who are less far along in dealing with them than myself. "I'm a recovering alcoholic and every day is a small struggle to remain sober. I help myself stay in control by being a sponsor for other Alcoholics who are less stable in their sobriety than myself".
  • Distraction; A means of consciously deciding to put off thinking or feeling distressing thoughts or feelings by temporarily focusing your attention towards something less threatening. For example, "I can't sleep for worry about whether the tests will show I have an illness. I'll turn on the TV for a while so that I can get my mind off of this this negative track".

Best Times to Use Each Defense Mechanism


Deciding on the optimal time to employ a mature defense mechanism depends on the specific situation and one’s emotional capacity. Each mechanism serves its purpose under different circumstances.

  • Suppression is best used when immediate emotional expression is not feasible or might escalate the situation negatively. It is beneficial in professional settings where emotional detachment is necessary, or in personal scenarios where timing for a discussion needs careful consideration for a constructive outcome.
  • Sublimation should be utilized when there's a powerful emotion or impulse that could be harmful if expressed in its original form. This mechanism is particularly effective for individuals who experience intense emotions or urges and are searching for a healthy outlet such as art, exercise, or other creative endeavors.
  • Altruism is most effective during personal crises or after overcoming a challenging phase in life. It's not only a way to give back but also reinforces one’s strength and resilience by helping others. It is especially suitable for individuals who have found stability in their recovery process and seek to support others in similar situations.
  • Distraction is a valuable tool during acute stress or anxiety episodes, providing a temporary relief from overwhelming emotions. It's best applied when faced with stressors that cannot be immediately resolved and when a short mental break can prevent negative spiraling.

Selecting the right defense mechanism at the right time can lead to healthier ways of coping with life's challenges, promoting emotional well-being and personal growth.

The Differences Between Mature and Less Mature Defense Mechanisms

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While mature defense mechanisms are characterized by conscious awareness and a healthy relationship with reality, less mature defense mechanisms, in contrast, often involve some level of distortion of reality or unconscious denial of reality. Less mature defenses are frequently automatic responses that are not chosen consciously and can lead to problems in functioning or relationships. For instance, denial, a less mature defense mechanism, involves refusing to accept reality or facts, leading to a temporary alleviation of anxiety by refusing to acknowledge the source of distress. Unlike suppression, where an individual consciously chooses to delay addressing an issue, denial involves an unconscious refusal to see the problem at all.

Another example is projection, where individuals attribute their own unwanted thoughts, feelings, or motivations to someone else, without awareness. This stands in sharp contrast to sublimation, where the individual is fully aware of their feelings and deliberately decides to channel them into a more acceptable or productive outlet.

Professional Intervention: When and Why It Matters

Seeking professional intervention becomes a critical step when an individual feels overwhelmed by their emotions and finds it difficult to cope using mature defense mechanisms alone. It is an important consideration when persistent emotional distress disrupts daily functioning, relationships, or when coping strategies lead to unhealthy or destructive behaviors.

Professional support, from therapists or counselors, can provide a safe space to explore underlying issues contributing to distress, offering guidance on developing healthier coping mechanisms. These professionals can help in identifying patterns or triggers of stress and anxiety, fostering self-awareness, and facilitating personal growth and healing.

Additionally, professional intervention is key in situations where there may be underlying mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety disorders, or trauma-related issues, that require more specialized therapeutic approaches. Early intervention by a professional can prevent the escalation of these issues, improving long-term emotional and psychological well-being.

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