What is Coping (Psychology)?

Introduction

Coping means to invest one’s own conscious effort, to solve personal and interpersonal problems, in order to try to master, minimise or tolerate stress and conflict.

The psychological coping mechanisms are commonly termed coping strategies or coping skills. The term coping generally refers to adaptive (constructive) coping strategies, that is, strategies which reduce stress. In contrast, other coping strategies may be coined as maladaptive, if they increase stress. Maladaptive coping is therefore also described, based on its outcome, as non-coping. Furthermore, the term coping generally refers to reactive coping, i.e. the coping response which follows the stressor. This differs from proactive coping, in which a coping response aims to neutralise a future stressor. Subconscious or unconscious strategies (e.g. defence mechanisms) are generally excluded from the area of coping.

The effectiveness of the coping effort depends on the type of stress, the individual, and the circumstances. Coping responses are partly controlled by personality (habitual traits), but also partly by the social environment, particularly the nature of the stressful environment.

Types of Coping Strategies

Hundreds of coping strategies have been identified. Classification of these strategies into a broader architecture has not been agreed upon. Researchers try to group coping responses rationally, empirically by factor analysis, or through a blend of both techniques. In the early days, Folkman and Lazarus split the coping strategies into four groups, namely problem-focused, emotion-focused, support-seeking, and meaning-making coping. Weiten has identified four types of coping strategies:

  1. Appraisal-focused (adaptive cognitive);
  2. Problem-focused (adaptive behavioural);
  3. Emotion-focused; and
  4. Occupation-focused coping.

Billings and Moos added avoidance coping as one of the emotion-focused coping. Some scholars have questioned the psychometric validity of forced categorisation as those strategies are not independent to each other. Besides, in reality, people can adopt multiple coping strategies simultaneously.

Typically, people use a mixture of several coping strategies, which may change over time. All these strategies can prove useful, but some claim that those using problem-focused coping strategies will adjust better to life. Problem-focused coping mechanisms may allow an individual greater perceived control over their problem, whereas emotion-focused coping may sometimes lead to a reduction in perceived control (maladaptive coping).

Lazarus “notes the connection between his idea of ‘defensive reappraisals’ or cognitive coping and Freud’s concept of ‘ego-defenses'”, coping strategies thus overlapping with a person’s defence mechanisms.

Appraisal-Focused Coping Strategies

Appraisal-focused (adaptive cognitive) strategies occur when the person modifies the way they think, for example: employing denial, or distancing oneself from the problem. People may alter the way they think about a problem by altering their goals and values, such as by seeing the humour in a situation: “some have suggested that humor may play a greater role as a stress moderator among women than men”.

Adaptive Behavioural Coping Strategies

People using problem-focused strategies try to deal with the cause of their problem. They do this by finding out information on the problem and learning new skills to manage the problem. Problem-focused coping is aimed at changing or eliminating the source of the stress. The three problem-focused coping strategies identified by Folkman and Lazarus are: taking control, information seeking, and evaluating the pros and cons. However, problem-focused coping may not be necessarily adaptive, especially in the uncontrollable case that one cannot make the problem go away.

Emotion-Focused Coping Strategies

Emotion-focused strategies involve:

  • Releasing pent-up emotions.
  • Distracting oneself.
  • Managing hostile feelings.
  • Meditating.
  • Mindfulness practices.
  • Using systematic relaxation procedures.

Emotion-focused coping “is oriented toward managing the emotions that accompany the perception of stress”. The five emotion-focused coping strategies identified by Folkman and Lazarus are:

  • Disclaiming.
  • Escape-avoidance.
  • Accepting responsibility or blame.
  • Exercising self-control.
  • Positive reappraisal.

Emotion-focused coping is a mechanism to alleviate distress by minimizing, reducing, or preventing, the emotional components of a stressor. This mechanism can be applied through a variety of ways, such as:

  • Seeking social support.
  • Reappraising the stressor in a positive light.
  • Accepting responsibility.
  • Using avoidance.
  • Exercising self-control.
  • Distancing.

The focus of this coping mechanism is to change the meaning of the stressor or transfer attention away from it. For example, reappraising tries to find a more positive meaning of the cause of the stress in order to reduce the emotional component of the stressor. Avoidance of the emotional distress will distract from the negative feelings associated with the stressor. Emotion-focused coping is well suited for stressors that seem uncontrollable (e.g. a terminal illness diagnosis, or the loss of a loved one). Some mechanisms of emotion focused coping, such as distancing or avoidance, can have alleviating outcomes for a short period of time, however they can be detrimental when used over an extended period. Positive emotion-focused mechanisms, such as seeking social support, and positive re-appraisal, are associated with beneficial outcomes. Emotional approach coping is one form of emotion-focused coping in which emotional expression and processing is used to adaptively manage a response to a stressor. Other examples include relaxation training through deep breathing, meditation, yoga, music and art therapy, and aromatherapy, as well as grounding, which uses physical sensations or mental distractions to refocus from the stressor to present.

Reactive and Proactive Coping

Most coping is reactive in that the coping is in response to stressors. Anticipating and reacting to a future stressor is known as proactive coping or future-oriented coping. Anticipation is when one reduces the stress of some difficult challenge by anticipating what it will be like and preparing for how one is going to cope with it.

Social Coping

Social coping recognises that individuals are bedded within a social environment, which can be stressful, but also is the source of coping resources, such as seeking social support from others.

Humour

Humour used as a positive coping strategy may have useful benefits in relation to mental health and well-being. By having a humorous outlook on life, stressful experiences can be and are often minimised.

This coping method corresponds with positive emotional states and is known to be an indicator of mental health. Physiological processes are also influenced within the exercise of humour. For example, laughing may reduce muscle tension, increase the flow of oxygen to the blood, exercise the cardiovascular region, and produce endorphins in the body.

Using humour in coping while processing through feelings can vary depending on life circumstance and individual humour styles. In regards to grief and loss in life occurrences, it has been found that genuine laughs/smiles when speaking about the loss predicted later adjustment and evoked more positive responses from other people. A person of the deceased family member may resort to making jokes of when the deceased person used to give unwanted “wet willies” (term used for when a person sticks their finger inside their mouth then inserts the finger into another person’s ear) to any unwilling participant. A person might also find comedic relief with others around irrational possible outcomes for the deceased funeral service.

It is also possible that humour would be used by people to feel a sense of control over a more powerless situation and used as way to temporarily escape a feeling of helplessness. Exercised humour can be a sign of positive adjustment as well as drawing support and interaction from others around the loss.

Negative Techniques (Maladaptive Coping or Non-Coping)

Whereas adaptive coping strategies improve functioning, a maladaptive coping technique (also termed non-coping) will just reduce symptoms while maintaining or strengthening the stressor. Maladaptive techniques are only effective as a short-term rather than long-term coping process.

Examples of maladaptive behaviour strategies include dissociation, sensitization, safety behaviours, anxious avoidance, rationalisation and escape (including self-medication).

These coping strategies interfere with the person’s ability to unlearn, or break apart, the paired association between the situation and the associated anxiety symptoms. These are maladaptive strategies as they serve to maintain the disorder.

Dissociation is the ability of the mind to separate and compartmentalise thoughts, memories, and emotions. This is often associated with post traumatic stress syndrome.

Sensitization is when a person seeks to learn about, rehearse, and/or anticipate fearful events in a protective effort to prevent these events from occurring in the first place.

Safety behaviours are demonstrated when individuals with anxiety disorders come to rely on something, or someone, as a means of coping with their excessive anxiety.

Rationalisation is the practice of attempting to use reasoning to minimise the severity of an incident, or avoid approaching it in ways that could cause psychological trauma or stress. It most commonly manifests in the form of making excuses for the behaviour of the person engaging in the rationalisation, or others involved in the situation the person is attempting to rationalise.

Anxious avoidance is when a person avoids anxiety provoking situations by all means. This is the most common method.

Escape is closely related to avoidance. This technique is often demonstrated by people who experience panic attacks or have phobias. These people want to flee the situation at the first sign of anxiety.

Further Examples

Further examples of coping strategies include emotional or instrumental support, self-distraction, denial, substance use, self-blame, behavioural disengagement and the use of drugs or alcohol.

Many people think that meditation “not only calms our emotions, but…makes us feel more ‘together'”, as too can “the kind of prayer in which you’re trying to achieve an inner quietness and peace”.

Low-effort syndrome or low-effort coping refers to the coping responses of a person refusing to work hard. For example, a student at school may learn to put in only minimal effort as they believe if they put in effort it could unveil their flaws.

Historical Psychoanalytic Theories

Otto Fenichel

Otto Fenichel summarised early psychoanalytic studies of coping mechanisms in children as “a gradual substitution of actions for mere discharge reactions…[&] the development of the function of judgement” – noting however that “behind all active types of mastery of external and internal tasks, a readiness remains to fall back on passive-receptive types of mastery.”

In adult cases of “acute and more or less ‘traumatic’ upsetting events in the life of normal persons”, Fenichel stressed that in coping, “in carrying out a ‘work of learning’ or ‘work of adjustment’, [s]he must acknowledge the new and less comfortable reality and fight tendencies towards regression, towards the misinterpretation of reality”, though such rational strategies “may be mixed with relative allowances for rest and for small regressions and compensatory wish fulfillment, which are recuperative in effect”.

Karen Horney

In the 1940s, the German Freudian psychoanalyst Karen Horney “developed her mature theory in which individuals cope with the anxiety produced by feeling unsafe, unloved, and undervalued by disowning their spontaneous feelings and developing elaborate strategies of defence.” Horney defined four so-called coping strategies to define interpersonal relations, one describing psychologically healthy individuals, the others describing neurotic states.

The healthy strategy she termed “Moving with” is that with which psychologically healthy people develop relationships. It involves compromise. In order to move with, there must be communication, agreement, disagreement, compromise, and decisions. The three other strategies she described – “Moving toward”, “Moving against” and “Moving away” – represented neurotic, unhealthy strategies people utilise in order to protect themselves.

Horney investigated these patterns of neurotic needs (compulsive attachments). The neurotics might feel these attachments more strongly because of difficulties within their lives. If the neurotic does not experience these needs, they will experience anxiety. The ten needs are:

  • Affection and approval, the need to please others and be liked.
  • A partner who will take over one’s life, based on the idea that love will solve all of one’s problems.
  • Restriction of one’s life to narrow borders, to be undemanding, satisfied with little, inconspicuous; to simplify one’s life.
  • Power, for control over others, for a façade of omnipotence, caused by a desperate desire for strength and dominance.
  • Exploitation of others; to get the better of them.
  • Social recognition or prestige, caused by an abnormal concern for appearances and popularity.
  • Personal admiration.
  • Personal achievement.
  • Self-sufficiency and independence.
  • Perfection and unassailability, a desire to be perfect and a fear of being flawed.

In Compliance, also known as “Moving toward” or the “Self-effacing solution”, the individual moves towards those perceived as a threat to avoid retribution and getting hurt, “making any sacrifice, no matter how detrimental.” The argument is, “If I give in, I won’t get hurt.” This means that: if I give everyone I see as a potential threat whatever they want, I won’t be injured (physically or emotionally). This strategy includes neurotic needs one, two, and three.

In Withdrawal, also known as “Moving away” or the “Resigning solution”, individuals distance themselves from anyone perceived as a threat to avoid getting hurt – “the ‘mouse-hole’ attitude … the security of unobtrusiveness.” The argument is, “If I do not let anyone close to me, I won’t get hurt.” A neurotic, according to Horney desires to be distant because of being abused. If they can be the extreme introvert, no one will ever develop a relationship with them. If there is no one around, nobody can hurt them. These “moving away” people fight personality, so they often come across as cold or shallow. This is their strategy. They emotionally remove themselves from society. Included in this strategy are neurotic needs three, nine, and ten.

In Aggression, also known as the “Moving against” or the “Expansive solution”, the individual threatens those perceived as a threat to avoid getting hurt. Children might react to parental in-differences by displaying anger or hostility. This strategy includes neurotic needs four, five, six, seven, and eight.

Related to the work of Karen Horney, public administration scholars[40] developed a classification of coping by frontline workers when working with clients (see also the work of Michael Lipsky on street-level bureaucracy). This coping classification is focused on the behavior workers can display towards clients when confronted with stress. They show that during public service delivery there are three main families of coping:

  • Moving towards clients:
    • Coping by helping clients in stressful situations.
    • An example is a teacher working overtime to help students.
  • Moving away from clients:
    • Coping by avoiding meaningful interactions with clients in stressful situations.
    • An example is a public servant stating “the office is very busy today, please return tomorrow.”
  • Moving against clients:
    • Coping by confronting clients.
    • For instance, teachers can cope with stress when working with students by imposing very rigid rules, such as no phone use in class and sending everyone to the office when they use a phone.
    • Furthermore, aggression towards clients is also included here.

In their systematic review of 35 years of the literature, the scholars found that the most often used family is moving towards clients (43% of all coping fragments). Moving away from clients was found in 38% of all coping fragments and Moving against clients in 19%.

Heinz Hartmann

In 1937, the psychoanalyst (as well as a physician, psychologist, and psychiatrist) Heinz Hartmann marked it as the evolution of ego psychology by publishing his paper, “Me” (which was later translated into English in 1958, titled, “The Ego and the Problem of Adaptation”). Hartmann focused on the adaptive progression of the ego “through the mastery of new demands and tasks”. In fact, according to his adaptive point of view, once infants were born they have the ability to be able to cope with the demands of their surroundings. In his wake, ego psychology further stressed “the development of the personality and of ‘ego-strengths’…adaptation to social realities”.

Object Relations

Emotional intelligence has stressed the importance of “the capacity to soothe oneself, to shake off rampant anxiety, gloom, or irritability….People who are poor in this ability are constantly battling feelings of distress, while those who excel in it can bounce back far more quickly from life’s setbacks and upsets”. From this perspective, “the art of soothing ourselves is a fundamental life skill; some psychoanalytic thinkers, such as John Bowlby and D. W. Winnicott see this as the most essential of all psychic tools.”

Object relations theory has examined the childhood development both of “[i]ndependent coping…capacity for self-soothing”, and of “[a]ided coping. Emotion-focused coping in infancy is often accomplished through the assistance of an adult.”

Gender Differences

Gender differences in coping strategies are the ways in which men and women differ in managing psychological stress. There is evidence that males often develop stress due to their careers, whereas females often encounter stress due to issues in interpersonal relationships. Early studies indicated that “there were gender differences in the sources of stressors, but gender differences in coping were relatively small after controlling for the source of stressors”; and more recent work has similarly revealed “small differences between women’s and men’s coping strategies when studying individuals in similar situations.”

In general, such differences as exist indicate that women tend to employ emotion-focused coping and the “tend-and-befriend” response to stress, whereas men tend to use problem-focused coping and the “fight-or-flight” response, perhaps because societal standards encourage men to be more individualistic, while women are often expected to be interpersonal. An alternative explanation for the aforementioned differences involves genetic factors. The degree to which genetic factors and social conditioning influence behaviour, is the subject of ongoing debate.

Physiological Basis

Hormones also play a part in stress management. Cortisol, a stress hormone, was found to be elevated in males during stressful situations. In females, however, cortisol levels were decreased in stressful situations, and instead, an increase in limbic activity was discovered. Many researchers believe that these results underlie the reasons why men administer a fight-or-flight reaction to stress; whereas, females have a tend-and-befriend reaction. The “fight-or-flight” response activates the sympathetic nervous system in the form of increased focus levels, adrenaline, and epinephrine. Conversely, the “tend-and-befriend” reaction refers to the tendency of women to protect their offspring and relatives. Although these two reactions support a genetic basis to differences in behaviour, one should not assume that in general females cannot implement “fight-or-flight” behaviour or that males cannot implement “tend-and-befriend” behaviour. Additionally, this study implied differing health impacts for each gender as a result of the contrasting stress-processes.

What is Defence Mechanism?

Introduction

In psychoanalytic theory, a defence mechanism is an unconscious psychological mechanism that reduces anxiety arising from unacceptable or potentially harmful stimuli.

Defence mechanisms may result in healthy or unhealthy consequences depending on the circumstances and frequency with which the mechanism is used. Defence mechanisms (German: Abwehrmechanismen) are psychological strategies brought into play by the unconscious mind to manipulate, deny, or distort reality in order to defend against feelings of anxiety and unacceptable impulses and to maintain one’s self-schema or other schemas. These processes that manipulate, deny, or distort reality may include the following: repression, or the burying of a painful feeling or thought from one’s awareness even though it may resurface in a symbolic form; identification, incorporating an object or thought into oneself; and rationalisation, the justification of one’s behaviour and motivations by substituting “good” acceptable reasons for the actual motivations. In psychoanalytic theory, repression is considered the basis for other defence mechanisms.

Healthy people normally use different defence mechanisms throughout life. A defence mechanism becomes pathological only when its persistent use leads to maladaptive behaviour such that the physical or mental health of the individual is adversely affected. Among the purposes of ego defence mechanisms is to protect the mind/self/ego from anxiety or social sanctions or to provide a refuge from a situation with which one cannot currently cope.

One resource used to evaluate these mechanisms is the Defence Style Questionnaire (DSQ-40) (see here for online version).

Refer to Coping (Psychology).

Theories and Classifications

Different theorists have different categorisations and conceptualisations of defence mechanisms. Large reviews of theories of defence mechanisms are available from Paulhus, Fridhandler and Hayes (1997) and Cramer (1991). The Journal of Personality published a special issue on defence mechanisms (1998).

In the first definitive book on defence mechanisms, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (1936), Anna Freud enumerated the ten defence mechanisms that appear in the works of her father, Sigmund Freud: repression, regression, reaction formation, isolation, undoing, projection, introjection, turning against one’s own person, reversal into the opposite, and sublimation or displacement.

Sigmund Freud posited that defence mechanisms work by distorting id impulses into acceptable forms, or by unconscious or conscious blockage of these impulses. Anna Freud considered defence mechanisms as intellectual and motor automatisms of various degrees of complexity, that arose in the process of involuntary and voluntary learning.

Anna Freud introduced the concept of signal anxiety; she stated that it was “not directly a conflicted instinctual tension but a signal occurring in the ego of an anticipated instinctual tension”. The signalling function of anxiety was thus seen as crucial, and biologically adapted to warn the organism of danger or a threat to its equilibrium. The anxiety is felt as an increase in bodily or mental tension, and the signal that the organism receives in this way allows for the possibility of taking defensive action regarding the perceived danger.

Both Freuds studied defence mechanisms, but Anna spent more of her time and research on five main mechanisms: repression, regression, projection, reaction formation, and sublimation. All defence mechanisms are responses to anxiety and how the consciousness and unconscious manage the stress of a social situation.

  • Repression: when a feeling is hidden and forced from the consciousness to the unconscious because it is seen as socially unacceptable.
  • Regression: falling back into an early state of mental/physical development seen as “less demanding and safer”.
  • Projection: possessing a feeling that is deemed as socially unacceptable and instead of facing it, that feeling or “unconscious urge” is seen in the actions of other people.
  • Reaction formation: acting the opposite way that the unconscious instructs a person to behave, “often exaggerated and obsessive”.
    • For example, if a wife is infatuated with a man who is not her husband, reaction formation may cause her to – rather than cheat – become obsessed with showing her husband signs of love and affection.
  • Sublimation: seen as the most acceptable of the mechanisms, an expression of anxiety in socially acceptable ways.

Otto F. Kernberg (1967) developed a theory of borderline personality organisation of which one consequence may be borderline personality disorder. His theory is based on ego psychological object relations theory. Borderline personality organisation develops when the child cannot integrate helpful and harmful mental objects together. Kernberg views the use of primitive defence mechanisms as central to this personality organisation. Primitive psychological defences are projection, denial, dissociation or splitting and they are called borderline defence mechanisms. Also, devaluation and projective identification are seen as borderline defences.

In George Eman Vaillant’s (1977) categorisation, defences form a continuum related to their psychoanalytical developmental level. They are classified into pathological, immature, neurotic and “mature” defences.

Robert Plutchik’s (1979) theory views defences as derivatives of basic emotions, which in turn relate to particular diagnostic structures. According to his theory, reaction formation relates to joy (and manic features), denial relates to acceptance (and histrionic features), repression to fear (and passivity), regression to surprise (and borderline traits), compensation to sadness (and depression), projection to disgust (and paranoia), displacement to anger (and hostility) and intellectualisation to anticipation (and obsessionality).

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) published by the American Psychiatric Association (1994) included a tentative diagnostic axis for defence mechanisms. This classification is largely based on Vaillant’s hierarchical view of defences, but has some modifications. Examples include: denial, fantasy, rationalisation, regression, isolation, projection, and displacement.

Vaillant’s Categorisation

Psychiatrist George Eman Vaillant introduced a four-level classification of defence mechanisms: Much of this is derived from his observations while overseeing the Grant study that began in 1937 and is on-going. In monitoring a group of men from their freshman year at Harvard until their deaths, the purpose of the study was to see longitudinally what psychological mechanisms proved to have impact over the course of a lifetime. The hierarchy was seen to correlate well with the capacity to adapt to life. His most comprehensive summary of the on-going study was published in 1977.The focus of the study is to define mental health rather than disorder.

  • Level 1: Pathological defences (psychotic denial, delusional projection).
  • Level 2: Immature defences (fantasy, projection, passive aggression, acting out).
  • Level 3: Neurotic defences (intellectualization, reaction formation, dissociation, displacement, repression).
  • Level 4: Mature defences (humour, sublimation, suppression, altruism, anticipation).

Level 1: Pathological

When predominant, the mechanisms on this level are almost always severely pathological. These defences, in conjunction, permit one effectively to rearrange external experiences to eliminate the need to cope with reality. Pathological users of these mechanisms frequently appear irrational or insane to others. These are the “pathological” defences, common in overt psychosis. However, they are normally found in dreams and throughout childhood as well. They include:

  • Delusional projection: Delusions about external reality, usually of a persecutory nature.
  • Denial: Refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening; arguing against an anxiety-provoking stimulus by stating it does not exist; resolution of emotional conflict and reduction of anxiety by refusing to perceive or consciously acknowledge the more unpleasant aspects of external reality.
  • Distortion: A gross reshaping of external reality to meet internal needs

Level 2: Immature

These mechanisms are often present in adults. These mechanisms lessen distress and anxiety produced by threatening people or by an uncomfortable reality. Excessive use of such defences is seen as socially undesirable, in that they are immature, difficult to deal with and seriously out of touch with reality. These are the so-called “immature” defences and overuse almost always leads to serious problems in a person’s ability to cope effectively. These defences are often seen in major depression and personality disorders. They include:

  • Acting out: Direct expression of an unconscious wish or impulse in action, without conscious awareness of the emotion that drives the expressive behaviour.
  • Hypochondriasis: An excessive preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness.
  • Passive-aggressive behaviour: Indirect expression of hostility.
  • Projection: A primitive form of paranoia.
    • Projection reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the undesirable impulses or desires without becoming consciously aware of them; attributing one’s own unacknowledged, unacceptable, or unwanted thoughts and emotions to another; includes severe prejudice and jealousy, hypervigilance to external danger, and “injustice collecting”, all with the aim of shifting one’s unacceptable thoughts, feelings and impulses onto someone else, such that those same thoughts, feelings, beliefs and motivations are perceived as being possessed by the other.
  • Schizoid fantasy: Tendency to retreat into fantasy in order to resolve inner and outer conflicts.

Level 3: Neurotic

These mechanisms are considered neurotic, but fairly common in adults. Such defences have short-term advantages in coping, but can often cause long-term problems in relationships, work and in enjoying life when used as one’s primary style of coping with the world. They include:

  • Displacement: Defence mechanism that shifts sexual or aggressive impulses to a more acceptable or less threatening target; redirecting emotion to a safer outlet; separation of emotion from its real object and redirection of the intense emotion toward someone or something that is less offensive or threatening in order to avoid dealing directly with what is frightening or threatening.
  • Dissociation: Temporary drastic modification of one’s personal identity or character to avoid emotional distress; separation or postponement of a feeling that normally would accompany a situation or thought.
  • Intellectualisation: A form of isolation; concentrating on the intellectual components of a situation so as to distance oneself from the associated anxiety-provoking emotions; separation of emotion from ideas; thinking about wishes in formal, affectively bland terms and not acting on them; avoiding unacceptable emotions by focusing on the intellectual aspects (solitude, rationalisation, ritual, undoing, compensation, and magical thinking)
  • Reaction formation: Converting unconscious wishes or impulses that are perceived to be dangerous or unacceptable into their opposites; behaviour that is completely the opposite of what one really wants or feels; taking the opposite belief because the true belief causes anxiety
  • Repression: The process of attempting to repel desires towards pleasurable instincts, caused by a threat of suffering if the desire is satisfied; the desire is moved to the unconscious in the attempt to prevent it from entering consciousness; seemingly unexplainable naivety, memory lapse or lack of awareness of one’s own situation and condition; the emotion is conscious, but the idea behind it is absent.

Level 4: Mature

These are commonly found among emotionally healthy adults and are considered mature, even though many have their origins in an immature stage of development. They are conscious processes, adapted through the years in order to optimise success in human society and relationships. The use of these defences enhances pleasure and feelings of control. These defences help to integrate conflicting emotions and thoughts, whilst still remaining effective. Those who use these mechanisms are usually considered virtuous. Mature defences include:

  • Altruism: Constructive service to others that brings pleasure and personal satisfaction.
  • Anticipation: Realistic planning for future discomfort.
  • Humour: Overt expression of ideas and feelings (especially those that are unpleasant to focus on or too terrible to talk about directly) that gives pleasure to others. The thoughts retain a portion of their innate distress, but they are “skirted around” by witticism, for example, self-deprecation.
  • Sublimation: Transformation of unhelpful emotions or instincts into healthy actions, behaviours, or emotions, for example, playing a heavy contact sport such as football or rugby can transform aggression into a game.
  • Suppression: The conscious decision to delay paying attention to a thought, emotion, or need in order to cope with the present reality; making it possible later to access uncomfortable or distressing emotions whilst accepting them.

Other Defence Mechanisms

Pathological

  • Conversion:
    • The expression of an intrapsychic conflict as a physical symptom; examples include blindness, deafness, paralysis, or numbness.
    • This phenomenon is sometimes called hysteria.
  • Splitting:
    • A primitive defence.
    • Both harmful and helpful impulses are split off and segregated, frequently projected onto someone else.
    • The defended individual segregates experiences into all-good and all-bad categories, with no room for ambiguity and ambivalence.
    • When “splitting” is combined with “projecting”, the undesirable qualities that one unconsciously perceives oneself as possessing, one consciously attributes to another.

Immature

  • Idealisation:
    • Tending to perceive another individual as having more desirable qualities than he or she may actually have.
  • Introjection:
    • Identifying with some idea or object so deeply that it becomes a part of that person.
    • For example, introjection occurs when we take on attributes of other people who seem better able to cope with the situation than we do.
  • Projective identification:
    • The object of projection invokes in that person a version of the thoughts, feelings or behaviours projected.
  • Somatisation:
    • The transformation of uncomfortable feelings towards others into uncomfortable feelings toward oneself: pain, illness, and anxiety.
  • Wishful thinking:
    • Making decisions according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence, rationality, or reality.

Neurotic

  • Isolation:
    • Separation of feelings from ideas and events, for example, describing a murder with graphic details with no emotional response.
  • Rationalisation (making excuses):
    • Convincing oneself that no wrong has been done and that all is or was all right through faulty and false reasoning.
    • An indicator of this defence mechanism can be seen socially as the formulation of convenient excuses.
  • Regression:
    • Temporary reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development rather than handling unacceptable impulses in a more adult way, for example, using whining as a method of communicating despite already having acquired the ability to speak with an appropriate level of maturity.
  • Undoing:
    • A person tries to ‘undo’ an unhealthy, destructive or otherwise threatening thought by acting out the reverse of the unacceptable. Involves symbolically nullifying an unacceptable or guilt provoking thought, idea, or feeling by confession or atonement.
  • Upward and downward social comparisons:
    • A defensive tendency that is used as a means of self-evaluation. Individuals will look to another individual or comparison group who are considered to be worse off in order to dissociate themselves from perceived similarities and to make themselves feel better about themselves or their personal situation.
  • Withdrawal:
    • Avoidance is a form of defence.
    • It entails removing oneself from events, stimuli, and interactions under the threat of being reminded of painful thoughts and feelings.

Relation with Coping

There are many different perspectives on how the construct of defence relates to the construct of coping; some writers differentiate the constructs in various ways, but “an important literature exists that does not make any difference between the two concepts”. In at least one of his books, George Eman Vaillant stated that he “will use the terms adaptation, resilience, coping, and defense interchangeably”.

Refer to Coping (Psychology).

Book: Man Down: A Guide for Men on Mental Health

Book Title:

Man Down: A Guide for Men on Mental Health.

Author(s): Charlie Hoare.

Year: 2020.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: Vie.

Type(s): Paperback, Audiobook, and Kindle.

Synopsis:

How often do you put on a ‘coping’ front, when in reality you are troubled with insecurities and anxieties?

Do you find it difficult to open up about how you’re feeling?

You might be surprised to learn that you are not alone, and that many men find it challenging to talk about their worries.

From tips on how to reach out, to advice on navigating mental health issues, this volume is full of guidance on how to look out for your well-being. Topics covered include:

  • Anxiety and depression.
  • Stress.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Dealing with traditional gender expectations.
  • Self-care and mindfulness methods.
  • How to open up and communicate.
  • Where to seek help.

With personal experiences and insights, this book will improve your awareness of mental health, offer tools and techniques to enable you to manage it better, and help you to live a happier, healthier life.

Book: Coping Skills for Teens Workbook

Book Title:

Coping Skills for Teens Workbook – 60 Helpful Ways to Deal with Stress, Anxiety and Anger.

Author(s): Janine Halloran (Author), Amy Maranville (Editor), and Meg Garcia (Illustrator).

Year: 2020.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: Encourage Play, LLC.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

A teen version of the #1 Bestselling Coping Skills for Kids Workbook, this version is written specifically with a tween/teen audience (age 11+) in mind.

There are 60 coping strategies included in the book, and it is divided into Coping Styles to make searching for a coping skill easier.

This book also includes several pages to support teens as they work on their coping skills, including: Feelings Tracker Worksheet Identifying Triggers and Making a Plan Positive to Negative Thoughts Worksheet Journal Pages Wellness Worksheets, including a Self-Care PlanThere’s also a rich resource section full of apps, books, card decks, and other resources to help teens deal with stress, anxiety and anger.

What are the Psychological Factors Associated with Financial Hardship & Mental Health?

Research Paper Title

Psychological factors associated with financial hardship and mental health: A systematic review.

Background

A review of the literature investigating the role of psychological factors in the relationship between financial hardship and mental health was completed.

Methods

The review sought to identify which factors have been most consistently and reliably indicated, and the mechanisms by which these factors are proposed to contribute to the association between hardship and mental health.

Results

Although the review identified that a broad variety of factors have been investigated, skills related to personal agency, self-esteem and coping were most frequently and reliably associated with the relationship between financial hardship and mental health outcomes.

Just over half of the studies reviewed concluded that the psychological factor investigated was either eroded by financial hardship, increasing vulnerability to mental health difficulties, or protected mental health by remaining intact despite the effects of financial hardship.

The remaining studies found no such effect or did not analyse their data in a manner in which a mechanism of action could be identified.

Conclusions

The methodological quality of the research included in the review was variable.

The valid and reliable measurement of financial hardship, and conclusions regarding causation due to the use of predominantly cross-sectional design were areas of particular weakness.

Reference

Frankham, C., Richardson, T. & Maguire, N. (2020) Psychological factors associated with financial hardship and mental health: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2020.101832. Epub 2020 Feb 11.

Book: The PTSD Workbook

Book Title:

The PTSD Workbook, 3rd Edition: Simple, Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress Symptoms.

Author(s): Mary Beth Williams and Soili Poijula.

Year: 2016.

Edition: Third (3rd).

Publisher: New Harbinger.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an extremely debilitating condition that can occur after exposure to a terrifying event.

But whether you are a veteran of war, a victim of domestic violence or sexual violence, or have been involved in a natural disaster, crime, car accident, or accident in the workplace, your symptoms may be getting in the way of you living your life.

PTSD can often cause you to relive your traumatic experience in the form of flashbacks, memories, nightmares, and frightening thoughts. This is especially true when you are exposed to events or objects that remind you of your trauma.

Left untreated, PTSD can lead to emotional numbness, insomnia, addiction, anxiety, depression, and even suicide. So, how can you start to heal and get your life back?

In The PTSD Workbook, Third Edition, psychologists and trauma experts Mary Beth Williams and Soili Poijula outline techniques and interventions used by PTSD experts from around the world to conquer distressing trauma-related symptoms.

In this fully revised and updated workbook, you will learn how to move past the trauma you have experienced and manage symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, and flashbacks.

Based in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), this book is extremely accessible and easy-to-use, offering evidence-based therapy at a low cost.

This new edition features chapters focusing on veterans with PTSD, the link between cortisol and adrenaline and its role in PTSD and overall mental health, and the mind-body component of PTSD.

Clinicians will also find important updates reflecting the new DSM-V definition of PTSD.

This book is designed to give you the emotional resilience you need to get your life back together after a traumatic event.

Book: The PTSD Behavioural Activation Workbook

Book Title:

The PTSD Behavioral Activation Workbook: Activities to Help You Rebuild Your Life from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (A New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook).

Author(s): Matthew Jakupcak (PhD), Amy W Wagner (PhD), Christopher R. Martell (PhD), and Matthew T Tull (PhD).

Year: 2020.

Edition: First (1st).

Publisher: New Harbinger Publications; Workbook Edition.

Type(s): Paperback and Kindle.

Synopsis:

If you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), reliving the past through trauma-focused treatments may be too painful a place to start. Behavioural activation – the powerful treatment method outlined in this workbook – provides an essential foundation for recovery by shifting the focus of your trauma to the things in life that give you true fulfilment, joy, and value. This way, you can envision the kind of future you want to have, and move forward in your treatment to pursue that future.

With this breakthrough workbook, you will learn to replace unproductive coping strategies – such as avoidance – with activities that you find pleasant and meaningful. You’ll find an overview of behavioural activation: what it is, why it works, and how you can implement it into your life to begin healing the wounds of your past and paving the way for a bright future full of possibility.

If you have experienced trauma, you need real tools to help you manage your pain and jumpstart your recovery. With this compassionate and evidence-based workbook, you will find actionable solutions to help you begin healing and take that next needed step toward wellness, wholeness, and peace.

Book: The Oxford Handbook of Emotion, Social Cognition, and Problem Solving in Adulthood

Book Title:

The Oxford Handbook of Emotion, Social Cognition, and Problem Solving in Adulthood.

Part of the Oxford Library of Psychology.

Author(s): Paul Verhaegen and Christopher Hertzog (Editors).

Year: 2014.

Edition: First.

Publisher: Oxford University Press.

Type(s): Hardcover and Kindle.

Synopsis:

Over the last decade, the field of socio-emotional development and ageing has rapidly expanded, with many new theories and empirical findings emerging. This trend is consistent with the broader movement in psychology to consider social, motivational, and emotional influences on cognition and behaviour.

The Oxford Handbook of Emotion, Social Cognition, and Problem Solving in Adulthood provides the first overview of a new field of adult development that has emerged out of conceptualisations and research at the intersections between socio-emotional development, social cognition, emotion, coping, and everyday problem solving.

This field roundly rejects a universal deficit model of ageing, highlighting instead the dynamic nature of socio-emotional development and the differentiation of individual trajectories of development as a function of variation in contextual and experiential influences.

It emphasises the need for a cross-level examination (from biology and neuroscience to cognitive and social psychology) of the determinants of emotional and socio-emotional behaviour.

This volume also serves as a tribute to the late Fredda Blanchard-Fields, whose thinking and empirical research contributed extensively to a life-span developmental view of emotion, problem solving, and social cognition.

Its chapters cover multiple aspects of adulthood and ageing, presenting developmental perspectives on emotion; antecedents and consequences of emotion in context; everyday problem solving; social cognition; goals and goal-related behaviours; and wisdom.

The landmark volume in this new field, The Oxford Handbook of Emotion, Social Cognition, and Problem Solving in Adulthood is an important resource for cognitive, developmental, and social psychologists, as well as researchers and graduate students in the field of ageing, emotion studies, and social psychology.

Strategies used by Families to Cope with Chronic Mental Illnesses

Research Paper Title

Strategies used by families to cope with chronic mental illnesses: Psychometric properties of the family crisis oriented personal evaluation scale.

Background

This study was aimed at investigating the psychometric properties of the Family Crisis Oriented Personal Evaluation Scale (F-COPES) for Turkish society, which assesses the coping skills of caregivers of individuals with chronic mental illnesses.

Methods

The study was conducted with 153 family caregivers of patients with a chronic mental illness admitted to the inpatient and outpatient units of two university hospitals and İzmir Schizophrenia Solidarity Association.

For the language validity, the translation-back translation method was performed, for the content validity, expert opinions were obtained, for the construct validity, exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis was performed.

For the reliability analysis, Cronbach α reliability coefficient was calculated and the test-retest reliability analysis was performed.

Results

The content validity index of the scale was 0.96.

The Cronbach’s α reliability coefficient for the overall scale was .80. Factor loadings of the subscales ranged between 0.56 and 0.69 for the Acquiring Social Support subscale, between 0.43 and 0.74 for the Reframing subscale, between 0.53 and 0.74 for the Seeking Spiritual Support subscale.

The model fit indexes were as follows: χ2  = 176.369, df = 116, χ2 /df = 1.52, RMSEA = 0.059, CFI = 0.90, IFI = 0.91, GFI = 0.88.

Conclusions

The results of the present study show that the levels of psychometric properties of F-COPES in Turkish society are acceptable.

It is thought that it would be useful to use the F-COPES in the assessment of coping behaviours of individuals who give care to patients with a chronic mental illness and that it can be used as measurement tool in studies to be conducted with caregivers of patients with a chronic mental illness to assess their coping skills.

Reference

Sari, A. & Çetinkaya Duman, Z. (2019) Strategies used by families to cope with chronic mental illnesses: Psychometric properties of the family crisis oriented personal evaluation scale. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care. doi: 10.1111/ppc.12457. [Epub ahead of print].