How Our Defense Mechanisms Can Affect Our Emotional and Mental Well-Being

Having healthy emotions and thoughts are essential to an abundant life. If our mentalities and emotional state of mind are unhealthy and out of sync with reality, then our bodies, our minds, and our relationships can be dangerously affected. Are you aware of that? That the ways you cope with situations and people can directly affect your emotional and mental well-being? (1) The coping techniques you use are called defense mechanisms and are continuously used. Whether it’s an awkward, confrontational conversation with an in-law, an argument with a spouse, a pay decrease, or a group of people that you don’t feel comfortable around, all of these situations force us to find a way to cope with the awkwardness, fear, and tension. In this article, our goal is to discuss what these coping mechanisms are and how they are used to affect our emotions and mind. We will, in turn, talk about how to find our own coping tools and how to change them for emotional and mental health, growth, and maturity. Let’s begin.

Defining a Defense Mechanism

The dictionary rightly defines a defense mechanism as “a mental process (e.g., repression or projection) initiated, typically unconsciously, to avoid conscious conflict or anxiety.” It’s a coping tactic that we use to protect ourselves when we’re feeling anxious, afraid, or when a situation is risky or unclear. We also utilize these coping mechanisms when we are feeling extremely emotional. This topic has been studied for years, even dating back to the psychotherapist, Sigmund Freud. Initially, these mechanisms were analyzed concerning mental health and how primitive or unhealthy coping tools encouraged mental illness, while non-primitive or healthy defense techniques led to better mental health. Some might think that the topic that we’re focusing on in this article is unhealthy because it has the word “defense” in it, but like we just mentioned, there can be healthy and unhealthy coping techniques. Let’s go more in-depth as to how these can be determined.

Some Common Defense Mechanisms and Examples

When talking about primitive and non-primitive coping mechanisms, it’s easiest to illustrate through examples. Let’s start with some unhealthy ones:

Denial

You are having marital issues, and your spouse speaks out about them often, but you refuse to acknowledge that they exist.

Passive Aggression

Rather than verbally expressing your anger to your close friend, you indirectly express your anger by “forgetting” her birthday party. And here are some intermediate healthy ones:

Repression

An individual was abused while young and has chosen to forget about the act and not process the emotions or fears of the event.

Displacement

A friend has made you unhappy, and rather than confronting them and processing your anger, you instead exert your frustrations out on a family member or another friend. And finally, some healthy ones:

Thought Suppression

Allowing yourself to focus on the unpleasant emotions and thoughts you are having rather than pushing them away and not handling them.

Sublimation

A child channels his frustrations and aggressive behavior into something proactive such as a sport or role-playing. (2)

Negative Effects of Bad Defense Mechanisms

Depending on the coping techniques you constantly use, especially if you’ve relied on it since childhood, it could lead to mental illness, phobias, increased anxiety, and stress. All of these can lead to a decrease in your emotional and mental health, which will include deterioration of relationships, fulfillment, and happiness in life. For example, if your defense mechanism is denial, although it may feel good at the moment, the long-term effects can be disastrous. It teaches you to live in a false reality which can lead to mental problems. Or if you cope by projecting the feelings you have towards someone and actually believe that the other individual has those feelings towards you, this can lead to paranoia and anxiety. Not all coping techniques are harmful as we previously mentioned. Let’s talk about how helpful ones can play a positive role in our emotions and mind.

Positive Effects of Good Defense Mechanisms

Knowing and maintaining healthy defense mechanisms can help with handling stress, worry, fear, depression. We face each of these emotions day in and day out at work, with family, in romantic relationships, with deaths, or job losses. If we are aware of how we react to those types of events and can have a healthy reaction to them, then our emotions and mind will be better off. George Vaillant, an American psychiatrist, summarized this theory well by saying that the key to psychological health in adulthood is the use of mature defense mechanisms. He has been doing studies over the last few decades and is showing that those who have mature defense techniques have better physical and mental health.

Find Healthy Defense Mechanisms

When we have healthy, mature ways to cope such as patience, empathy, or thought suppression, it allows us to work through our responses to anxiety and fear and can lead to deeper relationships, a healthy mind, and understood emotions. If you realize that your coping mechanisms are harmful and are adding increased intensity and pressure to your mind and emotions, it’s important to begin to tackle them and pursue mature, healthy coping mechanisms. The best way to begin the process of turning to positive mechanisms to change how they affect our emotional and mental well being is to truly acknowledge where you are struggling. Another important thing is to be able to just dwell in the uncomfortable feelings or emotions. Don’t run away from them. Residing with emotions such as rejection, grief, or distress allows you to find different methods to cope with those than what you have previously done. And you don’t have to walk the journey alone. Find a loved one to help you on this path of identifying your coping mechanisms and how to change them for a more fulfilling life. Send us an email so that we can chat with you about finding abundance in life rather than living in fear and anxiety. That is our primary goal and why we exist. We want you to have a healthy and joy-filled life, which directly includes your emotions and your mind.

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