Self- and Best-Friend Assessments of Personality Vulnerability and Defenses in the Prediction of Depression

By Besser, Avi | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, January 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Self- and Best-Friend Assessments of Personality Vulnerability and Defenses in the Prediction of Depression


Besser, Avi, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


The associations are explored between personality vulnerability and the use of defense mechanisms in the prediction of depression. A nonclinical community sample of 187 respondents and their same-sex best friends reported on participants' personality vulnerability factors (Self-criticism, Dependency and Efficacy), defense mechanisms (Mature, Immature and Emotion-avoiding), and depression (Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale: CES-D; Radloff, 1977). It was found that Mature defenses were associated only with Efficacy. Extensive use of Immature and Emotion-avoiding defenses was associated with vulnerability to depression. Furthermore, Immature defenses interacted with personality vulnerabilities. Specifically, highly self-critical participants who reported low levels of Immature defense were less depressed than were participants high on both Self-criticism and Immature defense. High Immature defense scores mediated the effect of Dependency on depression. Finally, more severe vulnerability was found when targets both rated themselves and were rated by their best friends as higher on Dependency and/or on Emotion-avoiding defenses. The implications of these findings for the study of the role of defense mechanisms in personality configurations and their susceptibility to depression, as well as for the use of multisource assessment strategies in the study of personality, are discussed. Finally, the practical and theoretical implications of these findings are discussed.

Keywords: personality vulnerability, defense mechanisms, depression, multisource assessment strategy.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of defense mechanisms in the association between personality factors and depression. Using both self- and same-sex best-friend reports to assess relevant personality factors (Dependency, Self-criticism, and Efficacy), defense factors (Mature, Immature, and Emotion-avoiding), and depression, the present study aimed to overcome some of the shortcomings involved in self-report designs, and to extend understanding of the interpersonal aspects of depressive symptomatology.

Integrating psychoanalytic ego psychology with developmental-cognitive theory, Blatt (1991) characterized personality development as "the integration of a person's capabilities for self-definition (Self-criticism) and interpersonal relatedness (Dependency)". The self-definition process relates to "the development of a realistic, essentially positive and increasingly integrated self-definition and self-identity" (Blatt, p. 453). The interpersonal-relatedness process is defined as "the capacity to establish increasingly mature, reciprocal and satisfying interpersonal relationships" (Blatt, p. 453). These two basic modalities of human existence have been referred to also in different theoretical contexts as autonomy and surrender (Angyal, 1951), agency and communion (Baken, 1966), and achievement or power versus affiliation or intimacy (McAdams, 1985; McClelland, 1985; Winter, 1973).

A considerable body of empirical research has demonstrated the relevance of high levels of Self-criticism and Dependency as trait vulnerability dimensions for depression (e.g., Besser, Flett, & Davis, 2003; Besser & Priel, 2003a, b, c, d, e; Flett, Hewitt, Endler, & Bagby, 1995; Klein, 9 199 89; Priel & Besser, 1999, 2000; Quimette & Klein, 1993; Robins, Hayes, Block, Kramer, & Villena, 1995). These basic personality configurations delineate two major types of negative experiences that might lead to vulnerability to depression: (a) the disruption of gratifying interpersonal relationships, and (b) the disruption of an effective, essentially positive, sense of self (Blatt, 1974; Blatt, D'Afflitti, & Quinlan, 1976; Blatt, Quinlan, Chevron, McDonald, & Zuroff, 1982; Blatt & Shichman, 1983). According to Blatt and colleagues, normality can be defined as an integration of (a) the capacity to develop meaningful and satisfying interpersonal relations, and (b) a consolidated, realistic, essentially positive self-concept. …

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