Individuals who are consistently using mature defense mechanisms would typically not show up in a therapist’s office because they usually have their stuff together; if we see these individuals it’s usually as part of a couple and they can’t understand why the rest of the world is crazy. So, taking a different approach, I’ll just discuss what individuals using the different mature defense mechanisms would look like in day-to-day life instead of on the couch.
The defense mechanism of humility helps an individual stay in check, and keeps her/him from thinking either too highly about her/himself or being too harsh. This allows the person to recognize what is realistically possible for her/him, not feeling overly guilty when she/he doesn’t succeed, or acting impulsively without regard for others to get needs met.
Mindfulness is the ability to be present in the moment, open, and accepting of experiences. The individual who is mindful does not dwell excessively in the past nor worry about things in the future. This person accepts reality as it as and appreciates it as it comes.
A person who is applying the defense of acceptance is able to acknowledge and be at with peace with things that are beyond her/his control. This person does not become mired in regret when something doesn’t go her/his way, s/he accepts the situation and looks for the best in it or figures out how to cope with the situation.
Gratitude is the ability to appreciate what one has. Similar to mindfulness and acceptance, a person using gratitude as a defense mechanism finds the good in what s/he has and appreciates what is real and available to her/him. This person chooses to ignore what s/he does not have and does not wish for things that could be.
A person who uses altruism as a defense mechanism finds joy in providing services to others without expectation for anything in return. When a person does something good and expects something in return this can lead to anger and frustration about the failure of the relationship to be reciprocal. When an individual does good work without expecting anything in return s/he avoids frustration and gets intrinsic joy out of the work itself.
The defense mechanism of tolerance is allowing the existence of things that a person may not approve of. Again, this eliminates the frustration of expectations of others; the individual allows others to have ideas, while understanding that the ideas of the other do not diminish or alter the person’s core sense of self. Disapproving opinions are external to the person, so her/his psyche is not damaged by others when using tolerance as a defense.
Mercy as a defense is the recognition of an individual having a place of power, and being in that place of power can be compassionate to others.
An individual who is able to use forgiveness as a defense mechanism is able to release resentment or anger towards others for a perceived offense without need for retribution or restitution. Forgiveness is part of mindfulness; it keeps an individual from dwelling in the past so s/he can move forward. Forgiveness also does not necessarily mean a repair of the relationship, it means that for the person employing it a release of resentment that may hold her/him back.
Those who use anticipation can prepare for realistic future discomfort. This person does not ignore an upcoming potentially painful event, s/he prepares for how s/he will deal with the consequences or outcome so that s/he can address it appropriately when the time comes.
Humor is a high level defense mechanism. It allows the individual to express pain s/he may be feeling but in a socially appropriate way that amuses others; a common example is self-depreciating humor. This defense is in contrast to something like projection, where the negative emotions are released as anger towards others.
The healthy use of defense mechanism of identification hinges on the individual modeling positive aspects of another that are realistic for her/him. Identifying with positive behaviors can help an individual identify what are positive traits and internalize them to improve her/himself. Introjection similarly is contingent on internalizing positive ideas. This defense, instead of identifying with a person, identifies with an idea so deeply that an individual integrates the positive aspects into her/his self. An example would be internalizing moral ideas that guide social functioning.
A person who is using sublimation as a defense mechanism is able to channel negative emotions or instincts into positive actions, behaviors, or emotions. A person using this defense is able to be constructive with her/his negative emotions, such as channeling negative feelings into art or sport.
Thought suppression as a defense is a temporarily delaying of dealing with negative thoughts or experiences. In contrast to repression, the individual will deal with the emotions/experience later; they are only temporarily suppressed to allow an individual to function in the current moment. This person is able to put her/his feelings aside in order to deal rationally with a present issue.
The last mature defense mechanism is emotional self-regulation. Much like mindfulness and thought suppression, the individual using this defense is aware of her/his emotions (not repressing them) and is not victim to their whims (able to put them aside to deal with issues in the moment). This allows the person to be fully present in the moment and deal with others in a socially appropriate way.