Defense mechanisms are automatic psychological processes that protect an individual from anxiety and the awareness of internal or external threats or stressors. People are often unaware of these processes as they operate (although others may be painfully aware of them!). Defense mechanisms can be classified into groups or levels that indicate how they affect an individual’s functioning.
High Adaptive Level: Defense mechanisms in this group result in optimal adaptation to stress. The defenses usually maximize feelings of well being and do not interfere with the conscious awareness of feelings, ideas, and their consequences.
•Affiliation involves dealing with stressors by turning to others for help or support. This involves sharing problems with others but not trying to make someone else responsible for them.
•Altruism involves dealing with stressors by dedicating yourself to meeting the needs of others. The individual receives satisfaction vicariously or from the response of others.
•Anticipation involves dealing with stressors by anticipating the consequences and feelings associated with possible future events and considering realistic solutions.
•Humor involves dealing with stress by emphasizing the amusing or ironic aspects of the situation.
•Self-Assertion involves dealing with stress by expressing your feelings and thoughts directly in a way that is not aggressive, coercive, or manipulative.
•Self-Observation involves dealing with stress by reflecting on your own thoughts, feelings, motivation, and behavior, and then responding appropriately.
•Sublimation involves dealing with stress by channeling potentially disruptive feelings or impulses into socially acceptable behavior (e.g., playing sport to channel angry impulses).
•Suppression involves dealing with stress by intentionally avoiding thinking about disturbing problems, wishes, feelings, or experiences.
(Adapted from DSM-IV Adaptive Functioning Scale, American Psychiatric Association, 1994)
Copyright 2010 Jim Biederman
Last revised on August 10, 2010
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