Childhood Trauma Leading To Psychotic And Immature Defense Mechanisms

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According to the  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the unconscious defense mechanisms we employ to help us deal with stress can be split into three main types ; these are :

  • psychotic defense mechanisms.
  • immature defense mechanisms.
  • intermediate / neurotic defense mechanisms.
  • mature defense 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 defenses 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 defense mechanisms ; these include :

  • psychotic denial.
  • psychotic distortion,
  • psychotic projection,

All of these defense mechanisms are maladaptive.

Immature Defense Mechanisms :

Complex PTSD / PTSD sufferers are also prone to developing immature defense mechanisms; these include :

  • dissociation
  • – autistic fantasy
  • – passive aggression
  • – projection (paranoia)

These defense mechanisms are also maladaptive and also occur commonly in those suffering personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Intermediate / Neurotic Defense Mechanisms :

  • displacement
  • regression
  • isolation

Mature Defense Mechanisms :

  • suppression
  • sublimation
  • altruism
  • humoanticipation
  • affiliation

mature-defense-mechanisms

Whilst immature defense mechanisms are maladaptive, mature defense 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 abillity 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 defense 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 defense 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 defense mechanisms.

This, then, suggests that mature defense mechanisms can help to improve not only mental health, but physical health, too.

Two reasons why mature coping mechanisms may improve physical health are :

  1. People who use mature defense 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.
  2. Those who use immature defense mechanisms suffer greater levels of stress than their psychologically healthier counterparts and it is this increased stress that harms their health.

Conclusion :

If we can develop healthier and more mature defense 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 defense mechanisms taken into account in the study referred to above, click this link : FULL LIST OF DEFENSE MECHANISMS.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

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About David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Psychologist, researcher and educationalist.

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