Stress management

Fragmentation, defense and coping – Important how we cope with difficulties

Coping with stress has become one of the most basic competency in our world. Someone who is incapable to re-balance oneself again and again becoming seriously ill after a while. But also very important how re-balancing is done as a protection from stress. With some strategies we can make our situation even worse. To avoid more serious problems let’s see the 3 main levels of stress management.

Coping style in difficult situations has is a significant role, because the level of stress and its destruction depends on the success of coping style and not on the intensity of the trauma. So if our coping style’s toolbox is more mature, we are able to stay healthier in crises. Norma Haan identified and differentiated three levels regarding to effectiveness: Coping, Defense and Fragmentation.


According to Hann the coping strategy like facing with the problem is the most mature and healthiest in conflicts. Defense is less favorable because using it in a long term can cause neurotic conditions. The fragmentation technique has a pathological nature, using it exaggeratedly in a long term can cause psychotic episodes. That’s why it’s useful to know how those levels work and how to change them and make them more effective, protecting our mental and physical health.

Fragmentation is on the most primitive coping mechanism level. Its point is contradicting the reality (re-writing) as a reaction for stress. Fragmentation is specially ritual and emotional character following individual rules, and works irrationally. This coping style destructs the objective system of the reality and that’s why just in extreme situation mentally healthy people use it and just for moments. People with psychotic disorders can be trapped in fragmentation for a longer time period. Fragmentation anaesthetizes just temporarily. Like hebefrenia, when someone reacts to stress very unnaturally.

Defense, or parrying is on a bit higher ego function, which essence is using self-defense mechanisms (projection, rationalization etc.). Using defense mechanisms are still forced, denial and rigid, not just distort the reality and logic but also release expression of hidden impulses. This parrying embodies a desire which is to get rid out of anxiety but without solving the problem in real and detailed. But unfortunately it’s a lie. One of the possible form is slipping back into earlier developmental stage (infantile mainly). It’s a kind of regression. For instance when an adult makes a tantrum because of an outcome of stress, behaving like a child who believes with flapping, shouting or swearing can avoid the uncomfortable situation what facing with. Regression can conform for a while but doesn’t solve the problem.

Facing with the problem as a coping style is on the highest level on stress management strategy. On this level we have a psyche consciousness and flexible change, so we can stay in the objective reality and able to express proper emotions as well. The coping style can be cognitive and affective. Affective “emotional” coping doesn’t solve the problem by itself but energizing and provides the feeling of controlling the situation. The cognitive (intellectual) coping essence is to examine the stressful situation, evaluate and systematically processing it. It’s not so comfortable but necessary sometimes.

Interesting the fact that humor is the most mature form of coping with conflicts. The essence of humor is that under emotional pressure we don’t take ourselves seriously. It seems childish but it’s not. Even if we make fun of the difficulty that doesn’t mean we deny it or underestimate it. We have a clear view of the problem but we don’t let the stress to disable us. We are able to stay calm and solve it.

Make yourself more resilient!

Not easy to recognize when and which coping style we are using. The truth is all of them are in the repertory of our mind and they are kind of automatic and can remain unknowing. Also known there are people who are more susceptible to defense than cope. But this doesn’t mean we can’t change! Some forms of coping style can be learnt and changed by raising awareness and practicing.


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