Everyone has coping skills. We call them defense mechanisms. You need them. Especially, if you work in a place that has a lot of stress. Now, research shows the maturity level of our defense mechanisms can have a huge impact on our success in life - and that includes our career.

Well-Developed Defense Mechanisms Make You More Likable
Recent findings from research studies done by the Vaillant lab show more convincingly than ever that having a well-oiled defense mechanism machine can help maintain your physical as well as mental health. The results from the participants showed being able to keep your emotions in check may set the stage for you to have more people who like to be around you. The support you receive from these people, in turn, can help you stay healthier, both mentally and physically, and even add years to your life. And, given a good portion of your life is spent at work, it can be deduced that being likable on the job would be of great benefit - both personally and professionally.

Mature, Intermediate, or Immature...How Evolved Are Your Defense Mechanisms?

The study looked at 12 defense mechanisms used by adults to deal with stressful situations and people and broke them down into three categories. Those that used the "mature" defense mechanisms the most frequently had the greatest well being and success. These good defense mechanisms include:

  • Sublimation: When anxious, doing something constructive such as cooking or woodworking.
  • Suppression: When bothered by something or someone, keeping feelings to oneself if letting them show would interfere with achieving goals.
  • Anticipation: When faced with a challenging situation, trying to plan ahead to avoid being overwhelmed.
  • Altruism: Deriving true pleasure from helping other people-;and being depressed if unable to.
  • Humor: Trying to see the funny side of situations, even when they’re stressful or potentially upsetting.

If you use one or more of the above, you are more likely to be accepted and supported by those around you - leading to more positive personal and professional outcomes.

On the flip side, if you're guilty of using "immature" defense mechanisms, you're more likely to not receive support from those around you, making it harder for you to find the success and satisfaction you seek in life. They include:

  • Projection: Being convinced people tend to be mean or negative to you.
    EXAMPLE: Assuming everyone in the office is out to get you.
  • Passive aggression: Doing something to get back at someone who is bothering you such as intentionally making a mistake that affects them negatively.
    EXAMPLE: Missing a deadline so a coworker you don't like's own work gets delayed.
  • Acting out: Going out and doing something impulsive.
    EXAMPLE: Calling in sick or quitting over a minor disagreement at work.
  • Denial: Always told by others that you can’t see the reality of bad situations.
    EXAMPLE: When the boss says the work is sub-par, but you think he is wrong and that your work is just fine.

If you can recognize your own workplace behavior in any of the above, you could be putting your career in jeopardy. 

2 Tips for Developing Better Defense Mechanisms

If you want to improve, here are some simple ways to do so:

1) Identify (and get coaching!) from a role model. Find someone who regularly displays the mature defense mechanisms above and seek their guidance. See if they'd be willing to talk you through stress situations so you can get their perspective on how to handle them better.

2) Study mindfulness meditation. The research cited above noted that participants in the study who practiced this had naturally strong defense mechanisms. Given all the discussions around the power of this practice in the workplace, it shouldn't be too hard to find the right resources to help you.

The good news is it's never too late to develop better defense mechanisms. Al you need is a desire to and commitment to changing your behavior. If better health and wellness isn't a motivator, maybe being more successful in your career is!