According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the unconscious defence mechanisms we employ to help us deal with stress can be split into four main types; these are :
- psychotic defence mechanisms.
- immature defence mechanisms.
- intermediate/neurotic defence mechanisms.
- mature defence mechanisms.
If we have suffered severe and protracted childhood trauma which has led to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) / complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD), we are more likely than average to develop psychotic and immature defences rather than intermediate and mature ones.
Psychotic Defense Mechanisms :
Those who have been so affected by their traumatic experiences that they have developed PTSD or personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) are liable to develop psychotic defence mechanisms; these include :
- psychotic denial.
- psychotic distortion,
- psychotic projection,
All of these defence mechanisms are maladaptive.
Immature Defense Mechanisms :
Complex PTSD / PTSD sufferers are also prone to developing immature defence mechanisms; these include :
- – dissociation
- – autistic fantasy
- – passive aggression
- – projection (paranoia)
These defence mechanisms are also maladaptive and occur commonly in those suffering personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder (BPD).
Intermediate / Neurotic Defense Mechanisms :
Mature Defense Mechanisms :
Whilst immature defence mechanisms are maladaptive, mature defence mechanisms can be adaptive and healthy by, for example, helping to reduce our levels of anxiety, raising our levels of self-esteem and increasing our resilience and coping ability in times of crisis.
STUDY ON THE ADAPTIVE NATURE OF MATURE DEFENSE MECHANISMS :
Indeed, a study conducted by Malone et al., (2013), investigated the type of defence mechanisms being used by a group of individuals (all male) aged between 47 years and 63 years (specifically, the researchers were interested in THE LEVEL OF MATURITY OF THESE DEFENSE MECHANISMS).
The researchers then followed up these same individuals to assess the state of their health at the ages of 70, 75 and 80.
It was found those individuals who used defence mechanisms that were mature tended to have a higher level of social support and better health in later life than those who used less mature defence mechanisms.
This, then, suggests that mature defence mechanisms can help to improve not only mental health but physical health, too.
Two reasons why mature coping mechanisms may improve physical health are :
- People who use mature defence mechanisms are better socially integrated than those who use immature ones (see above) and it is the commensurate social support they receive that benefits their health.
- Those who use immature defence mechanisms suffer greater levels of stress than their psychologically healthier counterparts and it is this increased stress that harms their health.
If we can develop healthier and more mature defence mechanisms, then, based on the above research it would seem possible that we might become easier to be around, leading to increased social integration and more social support, leading to reduced stress and improved mental and physical health.
If you would like to see the full and detailed list of defence mechanisms taken into account in the study referred to above, click this link: FULL LIST OF DEFENSE MECHANISMS.
Malone JC, Cohen S, Liu SR, Vaillant GE, Waldinger RJ. Adaptive midlife defence mechanisms and late-life health. Pers Individ Dif. 2013;55(2):85-89. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2013.01.025
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)