We’ll finish up our cursory look at defense mechanisms with a brief examination of “mature” defense mechanisms.

For the person utilizing it, a mature defense mechanism is thought to be more helpful than a primitive one. For one thing, they can be  learned on a conscious level and with practice help an individual feel better about themselves and more comfortable in their environment. Here’s a sampler.

Sublimation is redirecting unacceptable thoughts or impulses. If you feel like beating the crap out of somebody, but instead choose to work out on a punching bag, you’re sublimating. Or, if one is capable of seeing humor in their own unacceptable impulse they can derail the impulse. Fantasy is another means of sublimation. If you’re angry about not getting any callbacks for six months and feel the impulse to fire your loyal, hard working agent, allowing yourself to imagine and focus on a successful career will take the edge off.  Are you working on a character whose behavior belies their thoughts or impulses? It can be a lot of fun to behave appropriately toward other characters while thinking very inappropriately about them. Don’t forget: you’re building a new personality with its own secrets. It’s amazing what you can do with those secrets.

Compensation provides escape from the pain of focusing on a perceived weakness by shifting focus to a strength. Maybe you don’t do great auditions but in performance you rock the house. It’s pretty obvious how the latter serves the ego’s long term needs better than the former. This works very nicely in comedy. Think about Felix Unger from The Odd Couple. He may be a neurotic mess but he sure knows how to make a great sandwich or bowl of spaghetti, I mean linguini (there’s an Odd Couple reference there; if you didn’t catch it you really need to read that play or see the movie).

Assertiveness is a comfortable zone between passivity and aggression. It’s refusing to be a welcome mat while recognizing that too much aggressive behavior will be counterproductive. You can get your needs across in a rational and acceptable way by asserting yourself without threatening or hurtful language or behavior. In A Streetcar Named Desire, Stella does that when she’s trying to straighten out Stanley. That’s a tough road, throwing mature assertiveness up against committed, primitive behavior. But in the long term, it better serves her needs to do so.

Well, that’s enough for defense mechanisms. Remember, they’re learned behaviors. Primitive ones only provide a short term defense but the mature ones better serve the long term and are less self-destructive. They are an important layer to any personality and exploring their usage for a particular role can help reveal sub textural ideas for your character.

Next up: Personality, or Behavior Disorders. They bring us closer to the “skin” of a character and offer a wealth of choices.