5 Common Defense Mechanisms

July 25, 2018 • Rehack Team


Everyone has used defense mechanisms at some point in their lives. These provide a means of protecting your psyche from emotional damage. In many cases, though, these techniques can cause more harm than good. It’s time to recognize when you’re using an unhealthy method of protecting yourself and combating it.

1. Denial

Denial is likely the most commonly recognized of the defense mechanisms you use. At some point in their lives, everyone has denied some truth to protect themselves. By denying the facts, you are allowing your mind to think the event didn’t happen. This keeps you from having to emotionally or mentally deal with painful situations.

In some cases, the protection is a means of justifying an addiction. An alcoholic may deny his drinking problem to perpetuate it. In other instances, denial helps prevent the person from reliving a traumatic experience. Many people who live through abuse or disasters may initially deny the severity of the situation. Regardless of the situation, though, denial is one of the unhealthiest defense mechanisms there is.

To deal with denial, you must force yourself to face the facts. Sometimes, it takes a concerned friend or family member to bring the problem to your attention. This often happens in cases of addiction. You may also recognize conflicting emotions about an event that indicate subconscious denial of your true feelings. Acknowledge that you have undesired emotions about something and address them to rid yourself of denial.

2. Humor

In some ways, using humor is a means of denying the pain you may feel. For instance, if you lose your job unexpectedly and your first inclination is to joke about it, you use humor as your means of defense. While it works for a short while, you still are not acknowledging how much the situation hurt you.

Among the ways you protect yourself, humor is a more mature option, according to psychiatrist George Vaillant. It can help you get through tough times. Additionally, it can make those challenges easier for your friends and family. In this light, you can see humor as an altruistic act.

3. Avoidance

Avoidance is a way of dealing with something you anticipate will be bad. Sadly, most of the anxiety that results from the anticipation is unfounded. If you avoid working with others at the office because you think they don’t like you, ask yourself what evidence there is for that. Talk to the people you’re afraid of and really listen. While you spend 45 percent of your time listening, you may not hear exactly what the other person is saying. You may only hear what you want.

Talking to people you’re afraid of working with is one way to fight against avoidance. This mechanism can isolate you until you’re alone with your echoing negative thoughts. Confront your fears and do those tasks you’ve been avoiding. You’ll find they’re not as bad as you predicted they’d be.

4. Regression

Have you ever been told you’re acting like a child? Perhaps you are using regression to deal with a situation. Regression is when you act as you did at an earlier stage in your life. This mechanism can have many forms. You might eat comfort food or watch movies you enjoyed as a child, when you felt safe and protected. More negative ways of showing regression include angry outbursts or giving others the silent treatment.

Though just being angry is not indicative of regressing, it can be if you act out irrationally in anger. Anger can cause harm through road rage and impulsive actions. Learn techniques to recognize your anger. Acting out is something you shouldn’t do when angry. Find ways to channel that emotion positively, such as by journaling or exercising.

5. Rationalization

Rationalization makes you feel like you’re never wrong. Some people use this to find justification for actions they regret. Say you feel upset because you had to stay late at work. Due to your frustration, you get angry and lash out at your boss. This scenario fulfills the frustration-aggression hypothesis that says frustrations lead to anger. You will likely regret yelling at your boss. If you rationalized the situation, you might blame your boss for making you angry because you had to stay late.

Rationalization misuses intellectual thought to justify wrong actions. It often blames others for your misdeeds. Look carefully at the situation and intellectualize it instead, which is a more mature mechanism. Evaluate the problem and ask yourself what actions you can take to solve things and move on. For your boss, you could see how you can work harder so you won’t have to stay late in the future. Also, make contingency plans for if you do have to work late.

Protecting Yourself From Yourself

Though defense mechanisms may work temporarily, over time they’re damaging to your emotional development. You need to protect yourself from your subconscious to live a mentally and emotionally happy and stable life. Watch out for these mechanisms in yourself and others. By learning from them, you can become more productive.