Exploring the Most Common Defense Mechanisms

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Exploring the Most Common Defense Mechanisms

Three women facing their own problems. / Photo by: anetlanda via 123RF


People deal with problems in a variety of ways. The manner in which a person copes with or reacts to stress, guilt and anxiety are what Sigmund Freud considers as an individual’s defense mechanisms. The defense mechanism is not always negative, despite their connotation. They can be used to harness a person’s negative emotions to make something positive come out of them.


What are the Defense Mechanisms?

As referred to by simplypsychology.org, according to Sigmund Freud, “Defense mechanisms are psychological strategies that are unconsciously used to protect a person from anxiety arising from unacceptable feelings.”


Why Do People Use Defense Mechanisms?

Psychcentral.com says that this is a manner in which people’s thoughts and actions are utilized to shield or defend themselves from unpleasant thoughts, feelings and behaviors. These are used to keep people safe from the increasing anxiety and guilt, which appear because they feel pressured, or due to the id or superego requires too much from them. These are often not done consciously and are uncontrollable.


Categories  of Defense Mechanisms

 The defense mechanisms have three categories. These categories are:


1. Primitive defense mechanisms

These are typically short-term ways to deal with stress.

Children often apply this kind of defense mechanism.

If an adult is not able to find more appropriate ways to cope with trauma and stress, they may also employ the use of primitive defense mechanisms,


2. Less Primitive defense mechanisms

These kinds of defense mechanism are a notch higher than the primitive ones.

They are frequently used by adults to deal with feelings, stress and anxiety.

They can often help people cope, but they are not considered ideal ways to counter those threats.


3. Mature defense mechanisms

These are identified as the most beneficial kind of defense mechanisms. An adult who wants to be able to employ this must engage in constant practice and effort.

This kind of defense mechanisms helps a person become a more productive member of their society.


Types of Defense Mechanisms


To expound more on these categories, there are still more types of defense mechanisms under them.

Under Primitive they are:


1. Denial

A man denied his involvement in an incident. / Photo by: atic12 via 123RF


According to psychologistworld.com, denying is used in order to refrain from the hurting the ego which happens because of the guilt and anxiety that stems from accepting them.

For instance, a person who has found out that their lover is dead will vehemently refuse to believe it and just say that their lover is sleeping.


2. Regression

When a person is under stress, they may unconsciously exhibit childlike behaviors.

The stressful adult life may cause them to find consolation in things they link more secure and happier moments.

An example of this would a person resorting to watching the old cartoons they used to watch as a kid because of the stress from their business.


3. Acting out

A man acting out like he is not involved in the incident. / Photo by: Ion Chiosea via 123RF


When the id tells the human psyche to act upon an impulse, it is often opposed by the ego or superego if they perceive it as immoral.

In simpler terms, when a person acts out, they tend to do something they would not normally do.

To illustrate, a person who is usually silent will shout in the middle of a meeting.


4. Dissociation

This is what happens when a person temporarily separates themselves from reality, making it feel as if they exist in another dimension.

An individual does this so that they do not have to immediately face the pain or threat that they are experiencing in their reality.

In the other words, they attempt to escape this pain by mentally transporting themselves to another “place”.

This may involve daydreaming, staring off into space and letting their mind go elsewhere until someone pokes them and makes them aware of reality again.


5. Compartmentalization


This is considered as a lesser kind of dissociation.

According to psychcentral.com, it occurs when “parts of oneself are separated from awareness of other parts and behaving as if one had separate sets of values.”

To illustrate, an honest person may have received more than the exact amount of change from a store owner, but they would not like to give back the excess change.

They feel as if honesty does not matter when comes to buying things, unaware that this is contradictory to their values.


5. Projection

In being unable to accept their weakness or their anxiety, they accuse a person of having those kinds of weaknesses.

In other words, they attribute or project their unacceptable thoughts, feelings or motivation to someone else.

To give an example, a person who feels scared of watching a horror movie will say that it is their friend who feels afraid.


6. Reaction formation

This occurs when a person turns their undesirable thoughts, feelings or impulses into their exact opposites.

For example, a man who may want to divorce his wife may tell her that he wants to be with her forever.

Next, beneath Less Primitive, the defense mechanisms included are:

1. Repression

This happens when a person tries to push down their disturbing or threatening thoughts to keep it from becoming conscious.

For instance, an individual may feel the urge to stab a person, but they try not to acknowledge that they had that thought in the first place.


2. Displacement

This type of defense mechanism occurs when a person uses a substitute object to fulfill their impulse.

To cite an example, if a student gets mad at their teacher, they will not attack the teacher in fear that they would get failing grades or get sent to the principal’s office.

Instead, they choose to throw rocks into the river to express their anger.


3. Intellectualization

An individual who engages in intellectualization tries to view their situation in a cold, neutral manner.

To demonstrate, as shown by psychcentral.com, a person who has been told by the doctor that they are suffering from a severe medical condition, instead of crying may focus on the many useless medical procedures they have to undergo.


4. Rationalization

This involves mentally twisting the facts or coming up with excuses so that the event or impulse becomes less threatening to them.

For example, a person who was late to class might tell the teacher their mother asked them to mow the lawn before going to school when in reality they actually just woke up late.


5. Undoing

This is when a person tries to take back an offensive behavior they have committed.

As an example, a person who accidentally bumps into someone because they were in a hurry may apologize and offer their hand to help them stand up.


Lastly, the defense mechanisms which are part of the mature category are the following:


1. Sublimation

This shifting an individual’s negative impulses to more acceptable ones.

For instance, when a person feels frustrated, they will try to channel their frustration by playing basketball.


2. Compensation

Compensation occurs when a person makes up for their weaknesses by focusing on their strengths.

To demonstrate, a person who may not be good at dancing may volunteer to be part of a presentation by singing.


3. Assertiveness

When a person is able to express their directly and firmly while being respectful, that is when they are engaging in assertiveness.

For example, a person may politely ask their neighbor to turn down the music because they could not concentrate on their project.


Individuals must be able to acknowledge the kind of defense mechanisms they use.  Oftentimes, these are unintentional and come from a place of panic, anxiety and stress. To be able to identify these defense mechanisms a person has and if they want to learn on how to use the more positive ones, they may ask the aid of a psychotherapist.




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