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Coping Strategies and Defense Mechanisms: Mature Defenses

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

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.

As should be clear by now, not all coping is healthy coping. When people engage in more primitive, immature defense mechanisms, they tend to do so impulsively and unconsciously, without regard for consequences. By trying to help themselves in this manner, they frequently end up making their situation worse (e.g., by alienating friends and family, picking fights, getting into trouble with the law, etc.).

Take some time to figure out what defense mechanisms and coping strategies you use habitually. If you note that you tend to just react to problems and end up using defense mechanisms that make your life more difficult rather than easier, then see if you can't consciously get yourself to use sublimation, or humor, or some other proactive strategy as a means of coping with your pain instead.

Keep in mind that it is especially hard for people who use the more primitive defenses to become aware that they do use these defenses because the defenses are unconscious and thus invisible. Other people will know that you use them, but you yourself may not know. It is therefore a good idea to involve a trusted friend, therapist or confidant in your figuring-out process (someone who knows you and will not lie to you). Ask that person if they think you use any of these defense mechanisms, and take it seriously if they believe you do.