Defense mechanisms are coping skills you use unconsciously to protect yourself. It’s the way you deal with tough emotions or situations when they are too rough to face head-on. Psychotherapy helps open our awareness to our defense mechanisms if we’ve never learned about them before. Check out this list of defense mechanisms and see which ones you might be using!
Denial is a primitive defense mechanism because it’s a facet of early childhood development. Kids deny breaking that vase or eating all their Halloween candy although you can see chocolate in their teeth. Denial is used to push away the problem because pretending it isn’t there is easier than dealing with it. A drug addict denys they have a problem because if there was something wrong, they would need to take a close look at what it is. It can be painful and challenging to work through this defense mechanism.
Projection is a common defense mechanism. It’s when you place a fault or problem of yours on someone else. For example, you may freak out at your spouse for not shoveling snow and blame the snow-covered driveway on them although you weren’t the one who went out to shovel. In fact, they may have shoveled but your frustration gets placed on them and it suddenly becomes their fault.
Being intelligent is a good thing until it crosses the line into intellectualization. You push away your feeling and focus on the facts, not what’s running through your mind. For example, you know that cancer can be treated by x, y, and z, but when it comes to expressing your sadness that you were diagnosed with a progressive and terminal illness and given only a short time to live, you don’t. You wrap your mind so much over the intellectual aspects of the situation that you repress your feelings, making them raw and powerful when you finally deal with them.
Suppression is a conscious defense mechanism in which you stop memories in their tracks. For example, if you start to get overwhelmed with a loved one’s death months after they passed away, you may stop yourself from thinking about it and redirect your thoughts. However, not dealing with repressed issues such as loss can have a snowball effect as it rolls into your friendships, expression of other loved ones’ deaths, and other areas of your life.
One way you may deal with awkward, tough or sticky situations is by using humor to coat your discomfort. I can’t help but think of Chandler Bing from “Friends” and his continual use of humor. By bringing your awareness to the irony of the situation, you don’t need to focus on how it makes you feel.
This defense mechanism is actually quite healthy. Sublimation is taking your emotions and expressing them through an socially acceptable way. For example, if you are anxious and stressed, you may take yoga classes to calm your mind. If you are angry, you may punch a pillow. Redirecting these emotions into healthy outlets is a good routine to get in.
Displacement is a widely-used defense mechanism. It’s when you take your frustration or emotions from one situation and place them in another context. For example, you may come home after a long and stressful day at work only to yell at your kids for keeping the TV on when they aren’t in the room. The volume of your anger isn’t because the TV was left on, but because you were angry at work over something and carried it home with you.
Defense mechanisms affect everyone in some way, shape, and form. What are some other defense mechanisms? Did any of these stand out to you?