5 Healthy Defense Mechanisms You And Your Family Should Develop

This article was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.

Defense mechanisms are essential behaviors that help us process stressful thoughts, emotions, or situations. However, most people use unhealthy defense mechanisms that often result in negative consequences.

Luckily, there are some mature defense mechanisms that anyone can learn. These defense mechanisms help people with distressing situations without compromising their mental health or creating negative consequences. In addition, these defense mechanisms are critical to maintaining family harmony, healthy relationships, and good overall well-being.

In this article, you will learn more about defense mechanisms in general and which ones are mature and healthy to use. After reading, if you wish to learn more about defense mechanisms, you can find more resources and information at the link below:


What Are Defense Mechanisms?

Defense mechanisms are subconscious ways of thinking or acting that work to protect us from stressful thoughts, people, or situations. They prevent us from experiencing painful emotions, such as anger, anxiety, or depression, and help us avoid the situation causing these emotions. Since they are usually subconscious, we rarely recognize our defense mechanisms or pay attention to them when they arise.

Defense mechanisms can be healthy or unhealthy depending on their consequences and the frequency they are used. Healthy defense mechanisms help you cope with painful emotions or situations without harming others or compromising your mental health.

Keep in mind that healthy individuals may exhibit unhealthy defense mechanisms as a child but mature and grow to develop healthier and more mature defense mechanisms in adulthood. Therefore, do not worry if you experience your children using any of the unhealthy defense mechanisms mentioned below. With good parenting and mindfulness, your children can develop healthier defense mechanisms that will help them in adulthood.

3 Categories Of Unhealthy Defense Mechanisms

There are four levels of defense mechanisms that are characterized by their ability to help an individual adapt and process stressful situations. Before we dive into the mature and healthy defense mechanisms, let’s briefly discuss which defense mechanisms are unhealthy.


Pathological defense mechanisms are the unhealthiest types of defense mechanisms. They are considered abnormal and can be harmful. A person who uses these defense mechanisms attempts to reshape reality in their mind when encountered with unpleasant or stressful situations. This eliminates the need to cope with reality but can result in severe psychosis and appearing irrational to others.

The defense mechanisms that are categorized as pathological include:

  • Delusional projection
  • Denial
  • Distortion


Though not as problematic as the previous category, immature defense mechanisms are still highly unhealthy behaviors. They attempt to lessen stress and reduce anxiety but often have negative consequences. Though they are not pathological, they may make the individual appear out of touch with reality.

Defense mechanisms in this category include:

  • Acting out
  • Hypochondriasis
  • Passive-aggressive behavior
  • Projection
  • Schizoid fantasy


Neurotic defense mechanisms are still unhealthy but are very common in adults. They may have short-term benefits but cause many consequences and problems in the long run. Individuals with these defense mechanisms may exhibit problematic behaviors but are not seen as abnormal or out of touch with reality.

Defense mechanisms that are considered neurotic include:

  • Displacement
  • Dissociation
  • Intellectualization
  • Reaction formation
  • Repression

Mature Defense Mechanisms

Mature defense mechanisms are healthy defense mechanisms that everyone should adopt. Though they also work to lessen stress and help cope with uncomfortable situations, they allow individuals to have some sense of self-control and help them to integrate their experiences in a healthy manner. There are usually no negative consequences to using these defense mechanisms.

However, unlike the previous three categories, developing mature defense mechanisms requires conscious effort. Therefore, mindfulness and inner work are crucial to developing these defense mechanisms.

Now, let’s take a look at the five mechanisms that are categorized as mature.

  • Altruism: This is the act of helping others to improve their well-being and bring about personal satisfaction. Many people use altruism to help others who are on the same journey or have similar experiences as themselves but don’t have the same coping mechanisms.
  • Anticipation: This is the act of preparing for a potentially uncomfortable or stressful situation. This preparation may help ease the painful feelings or negative consequences that could result from the situation.
  • Humor: Humor allows individuals to skirt around an issue while bringing joy and laughter to themselves or others. Jokes and laughter can provide a healthy and positive distraction or may make the situation seem lighter and less stressful.
  • Sublimation: This is the act of transforming painful emotions into actions or behaviors that are healthy and productive. For example, people who experience aggression may take up a boxing class or similar activity to release their frustrations.
  • Suppression: Though this may seem unhealthy at first, it can be used healthily to deal with a current stressful situation. Suppression is a conscious decision to temporarily put aside a thought, emotion, or stressful situation in order to focus on the present reality. A person who uses this defense mechanism will take time later on to process their distressing emotions.

Final Thoughts

If you find yourself using unhealthy defense mechanisms, then don’t fret. Many people adopt unhealthy defense mechanisms, so you are not alone. The good news is that mature defense mechanisms can be learned with a bit of mindfulness or therapy. If you or someone in your family wishes to work on defense mechanisms and behaviors, then reach out to a therapist for guidance and help with this.