Sample Essay On Defense Mechanisms: Purpose And Maturity
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Defense mechanisms are mental strategies used to combat, or defend against, anxiety. Although individuals are aware of their actions they are not aware of underlying defense mechanisms which may be the cause of their actions. When individuals face experiences or information that cause too much anxiety or threaten self-esteem, they unconsciously utilize defense mechanisms to reduce anxiety or protect their sense of self. This can be helpful or maladaptive depending on which defense mechanisms are relied on, and as individuals mature so should their use of defense mechanisms. According to Cramer (2002), who has performed multiple studies examining defense mechanisms, the use of immature defense mechanisms in young adults are correlated with immature behavior and negative emotionality. Whereas, using mature defense mechanisms are more likely to coincide with mature behavior and positive affect, particularly for women (Cramer, 2002).
One of the most primitive defense mechanisms is denial which is commonly used by very young children, although it is an extreme and maladaptive defense for adults. Denial is insisting that certain facts are not true, regardless of all of the opposing evidence, by either refusing to see reality or distorting personal memories. Young children often use this defense to reduce the anxiety from negative experiences such as failure; and research shows that children who use denial after traumatic experiences are not as psychologically distressed (Cramer, 2000). Most adults develop more mature defense mechanisms because they learn that simply denying facts is not helpful. However, some adults may still use denial after extreme trauma such as sexual assault, but it signifies a loss of touch with reality. According to Cramer (2000), denial is a dysfunctional defense for adults except for in rare, very severe cases of psychopathology.
One of the mature defense mechanisms is sublimation. Sublimation is when the threatening impulses that are inadvertently caused by anxiety are expressed through socially acceptable behaviors. For example, many young men sublimate aggressive impulses by playing aggressive sports, or an expecting mother may sublimate her increasing anxiety by cleaning or preparing a nursery. Studies show that mature defense mechanisms such as sublimation can be used as an indicator of emotional maturity, and are related to positive functioning (Cramer, 2000).
Cramer, P. (2000). Defense mechanisms in psychology today: Further processes for adaptation. American Psychologist, 55(6), 637.
Cramer, P. (2002). Defense mechanisms, behavior, and affect in young adulthood. Journal of Personality, 70(1), 103-126.
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