Defense Mechanisms

Melancholy, Edgar Degas

Melancholy, Edgar Degas

Defense mechanisms are unconscious psychological responses that protect individuals from anxiety, threats to self-esteem, and things they don't want to think about or deal with.

It was first described by Freud in his psychoanalytic theory.

While defense mechanisms are often thought of as negative reactions, they can be adaptive and allow us to function normally, like using humor to get through a stressful situation.

They become harmful when they prevent us from confronting and dealing with issues, leading to an unresolved problem and contributing to unhealthy patterns of behaviour.

It's important to develop self-awareness and recognize when we are using them. Therapy helps to understand your defense mechanisms and learn healthier coping strategies. Always confront and process emotions and situations we are defending against, rather than avoiding them.

Below is a list of common defense mechanisms.

  1. Denial: "I've been smoking for years and I'm perfectly fine."
  2. Repression: A person who had a traumatic experience in their childhood can't remember anything about the event.
  3. Projection: A person who is often dishonest suspects others are always lying to them.
  4. Displacement: "He couldn't yell at his boss, so he came home and kicked the dog."
  5. Regression: A grown adult throwing a tantrum if they don't get their way like a child
  6. Rationalization: A student who gets a poor grade claims the teacher doesn't like them, rather than acknowledging they didn't study enough
  7. Sublimation: A person with aggressive tendencies becomes a professional boxer to express their aggression in a socially acceptable manner.
  8. Reaction formation: A person who is secretly attracted to a coworker constantly talks about how much they dislike them.
  9. Intellectualization: After a breakup, a person spends time researching psychological process of grief rather than allowing themselves to feel the pain and sadness
  10. Avoidance: A person who is afraid of heights takes a longer route to avoid crossing a high bridge
  11. Acting Out: When a person can't express their feelings verbally, they might act out their emotions.
  12. Compartmentalization: separating different aspects of life so that failure in one area doesn't affect self-esteem in another, "I may have failed as a spouse, but at least I'm a good parent"
  13. Undoing: 'undo' an unhealthy thought or behavior by engaging in a contrasting behavior, being overly nice to someone to compensate for thinking something mean
  14. Suppression: consciously pushing distressing thoughts to the back of the mind
  15. Identification: unconsciously adopting the characteristics of a more powerful person in order to feel less vulnerable, the bullied becoming the bully