Before I began practicing in the field of psychology, my experience with coping mechanisms was limited. Academia had taught me that they are: “an unconscious way of reducing anxiety by distorting perceptions of reality.” While everyone uses coping mechanisms on occasion. However, if used too often the perception of reality can become sharply distorted. The result can be a maladjusted personality.
There is a wealth of information regarding immature and narcissistic coping mechanisms. What I would like to comment on are “mature” coping mechanisms. In other words, coping mechanisms that we should use to hold unpleasant emotions at bay.
What prompted this interest is a wonderful book that I read titled “Aging Well” by George E. Vailllant M.D. In it he explores how best to grow old.
For over 75 years, Harvard’s Grant and Glueck study has tracked the physical and emotional well-being of two populations: 456 poor men growing up in Boston from 1939 to 2014 (the Grant Study), and 268 male graduates from Harvard’s classes of 1939-1944 (the Glueck study).
The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period. The prime predictor of your happiness and fulfillment overall in life is love.
To achieve this an “age well,” Dr Vaillant reframes the four “mature” coping mechanisms as virtues. “Such virtues include altruism or do as one would be done by. The next is sublimation or using art, journal writing or redirecting unacceptable impulses toward acceptable goals. Followed by my favorite, the application of stoicism or accepting life as the eternal decrees of fate. Finally, the virtue of humor. The ability to avoid taking yourself and your conflicts too seriously.
This is the “gold ” that the seventy-five-year study mined. This is one of those rare exception when we can learn not by experience but by imitation.
Edward L. Oriole L.C.P.C. C.A.D.C. N.C.C.
Staff at The Lighthouse Emotional Wellness Center
3205 N. Wilke Rd Suite 112
Arlington Heights, IL 60004