Inside: Defense Mechanisms: Here are The 10 Most Popular That Hurt Us.
Have you ever been rejected from the dream job you always wanted or been stuck at a party that made you uncomfortable? What about an argument with a spouse or friend?
Everyone experiences negative times and situations in life. It’s these situations that teach us a great deal about ourselves. How will you react? Some of us can work through a situation while others rely on their defense mechanisms to make them feel better if even for a short time.
Defense mechanisms are a series of behaviors we use that attempt to separate/protect us from unpleasant events, actions, thoughts, or feelings. Sigmund Freud determined that it all boils down to protecting your ego. When you begin to feel anxious instead of just outright collapsing, your body goes into an almost fight or flight mode and begins to employ these subconscious defense mechanisms to make you feel better and eradicate bad feelings. Think of it like your ego’s “get better quick pill”.
Any situation that can cause uncertainty in your life triggers your mind to create a protective “shield” allowing us to cope with what is occurring. In the short term using defense mechanisms can stop us from dwelling on something for too long and allow us to move on. However, hiding behind our defense mechanisms only provides temporary relief and can do more harm than good preventing us from growing as individuals. Defense mechanisms can make you feel as though you’ve developed confidence when instead you’ve only created a false sense of comfort for yourself.
It is imperative to become aware of your personal tendencies to use defense mechanisms. Think about how you handle stressful situations. Do you make excuses for your behavior and blame someone else?
The Most Common Defense Mechanisms Explained
One of the more popular and widely used defense mechanisms is denial. The definition of denial tells you all you need to know. “The action of declaring something to be untrue”. What better defense mechanism is there than to flat out say that something never happened or isn’t happening.
Denial protects the ego from not being able to cope with the situation at hand. If I deny it’s happening I no longer have to worry about it. The problem is that denial tends to compound more and more leading to additional anxiety. Occasionally people may admit to something happening but tell you it’s not as bad as you think. Ask any drug addict or alcoholic if they’re using and you will see denial in its purest form. A typical response might be, “I only drink on the weekends” or just flat out tell you they do drink but they don’t have a problem. If you have to confront someone about their drinking, 9 times out of 10, they have a problem.
Ever had a bad day at the office and then came home and took it out on everyone within ten feet of you? If so you practice displacement. Often people refer to this as displaced aggression. Your boss asks you to work on Saturday but instead of yelling at him or her, you come home and punch the walls, the door, and kick the dog. (please don’t kick the dog)
Push it down, way down. When we practice repression we push the feelings or actions way down into our subconscious. This type of defense mechanism is often used in cases of trauma and abuse. Instead of confronting the issue, the person buries the feelings inside. If these feelings are not dealt with they can fester over time and make matters much worse.
In projection, you’re taking your negative feelings or thoughts and assigning them to other people. For example, you don’t like a person so you project that the person doesn’t like you, though you might not even know if that’s true or not. Projection is often based on insecurity.
Sublimation is defined as modifying the natural expression of an impulse or instinct to one that is socially acceptable. This is the most positive defense mechanism of them all. In this defense mechanism, you might argue with your spouse and decide afterward to go for a run as a means of getting rid of the anger.
Have you ever seen a grown adult stomp their feet if they don’t get their way? In regression, your behavior goes back to when you were a child. Let’s look at the same argument with your spouse. Instead of going for a run like in sublimation, you decide to stomp off and slam the door behind you. You almost always regret using regression as a defense mechanism. Though it may help you feel better at the moment it won’t in the long run.
Have you ever gone over and above to be friendly with someone who you absolutely couldn’t stand? Killing them with kindness? If so you have used reactive formation. You are hiding how you truly feel by acting opposite.
A defense mechanism where your real motivation is concealed by explaining your actions and feelings in a way that is not threatening. You try to explain the bad behavior and make excuses for it. You tend to distort the facts to make them fit your narrative. Overly sensitive people tend to use rationalization the most. Most of the time rationalization backfires because it comes off as placing the blame on someone else and people find the behavior to be childish. Don’t pass the blame if it’s yours to own.
Compartmentalization occurs when you separate your life into sections to protect yourself. Think of it like building a wall around an area of your life.
For example, you may choose to keep your personal life issues at home and not bring them into work. In this way, you block off or compartmentalize, that section of your life. This allows you to carry on at work without facing the anxieties or challenges you are facing at home.
Intellectualization is a defense mechanism in which you use reasoning and thinking to block confrontation and emotional stress. It involves removing yourself, emotionally, from a stressful event. When you’re hit with a trying situation like cancer, you may choose to remove emotion from your responses and instead put together spreadsheets on drugs that work and survival rates instead of facing the emotion of the diagnosis.
Defense mechanisms are normal and a regular part of mental development. Identifying which ones you, your loved ones, or coworkers use regularly can potentially help you in conversations and your relationships. Everyone uses a defense mechanism from time to time to deal with stress and anxiety. Some defense mechanisms are better than others like sublimation and intellectualization, but the use of others on a long term basis can be detrimental to your mental health.
If you’d like to read more on defense mechanisms you can read a book written by Sigmund Freud’s daughter Anna called The Ego and The Mechanisms of Defense that expounded on his original work.
Do you find yourself using defense mechanisms in life? If so which one or ones do you rely on most? Comment below.