Psychology in Writing: Mature Defense Mechanisms – Writing Process

Writing Process

English: Large Snow Lions protect the entrance...

English: Large Snow Lions protect the entrance to the Potala Palace in Tibet. (Chinese stone lions, imitating 15th century, constructed in the 1990’s) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mature defense mechanisms are what we hope our protagonists are using (at least by the end of the story).  As I noted in the first post on mature defenses, defense mechanisms are not static; it’s not as if once an individual starts using a particular defense mechanism s/he will always use that defense mechanism.  Some stable people occasionally use lower level defenses if they are lacking the emotional strength to use mature defenses.  Also, as I discussed in the previous posts on therapeutic presentation (here, here, and here), the goal of therapy is to help individuals move from lower level defenses to higher level defenses.  Change is possible and change is what we want to have in our writing.

We want to make sure our protagonists grow over their time with us between the pages.  If a protagonists starts out with no challenges and no room to grow, they become the superman, that is to say boring because they won’t fail.  The mature defenses can be used in two different ways in our writing to help keep our writing exciting and dynamic.

The first and most straightforward way to incorporate mature defense mechanisms is as a point of beginning.  Our protagonist may start her/his journey as a form of sublimation; an inability to continue to tolerate a perceived injustice may spur our protagonist into action.  In the same way, a protagonist may use anticipation to prepare for a negative life event or change that begins her/him on a journey; think about a final road trip with a friend who has a terminal disease, instead of grieving while the person is still alive, the protagonist and friend take a long desired trip.  Gratitude and forgiveness may also be starting points.  If gratitude is the motivator, the person may be seeking out someone that s/he feels s/he owes a thank you or token appreciation.  Conversely, the quest to forgive someone who has harmed the protagonist may be the genesis of action; s/he may seek out someone who harmed her/him for a sense of closure.

The second way we might infuse mature defense mechanisms into our writing is as a point of growth and maturing for our characters.  In earlier stages of our writing, our protagonists may struggle by using lower level defenses, such as the neurotic defense mechanisms.  As they grow, in order to advance in her/his quest the protagonist has to use more mature defense mechanisms.  Some examples would be moving from repressing emotions to thought suppression, from withdraw and isolation to forgiveness or mercy, disassociation to mindfulness or acceptance, reaction formation to tolerance, or regression to emotional regulation.  There are numerous combinations that the lower level defenses can be resolved with higher level defenses, it’s only limited by our creativity.  Just as in our own lives, there is rarely one singular solution or way to approach a situation.  In the same way, our characters’ way of dealing with issues may bring an ah-ha moment to our readers that builds their relationship with our characters and bestows upon us appreciate for our ability to be creative and surprise them.

As always, from my couch to your pen happy writing!

And keep sending in your questions!



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