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Coping Strategies and Defense Mechanisms: Mature Defenses

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 26th 2016

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".

There are many other forms of mature coping besides these few examples. Any conscious efforts that a person takes towards making sure their basic needs for food, shelter, safety and belonging are fulfilled can be considered mature coping, for instance, as can any significant self-help effort you decide to take on. Using self-soothing exercises is mature coping, as is working a cognitive restructuring exercise If you choose it so as to better yourself, and it is a healthy thing for you to do, it is mature coping.


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