Life presents us with conflict, stress, and change, so we develop (often unconscious) defensive habits to deal with this pain.
There is compelling evidence* suggesting that the maturity of our defenses can determine the extent to which we develop psychosocial health.
Here are some mature defenses (articulated in the DSM-IV).
(1) Altruism – Taking action to decrease the world’s suffering
(2) Anticipation – Holding future pain in awareness (i.e. memento mori)
(3) Humor – Being able to laugh at oneself and the vicissitudes of life
(4) Sublimation – Engaging healthy, gratifying alternatives to an opportunity denied
(5) Suppression – Stoicism (i.e. “If you are going through hell, keep going.”)
Development of these habits is not a matter of will power. They are cultivated in the context of significant relationships, drawn out of us in empathy and safety.
*For more, check out Chapter 8 (entitled “Resilience and Unconscious Coping”) of this fascinating book reflecting on the Harvard Study of Adult Development.