Our Defenses Affect Our Flourishing – Part I

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.