Examples of denial defense mechanism

Defense Mechanisms (Definition and Examples)

What do you do when you encounter failure? You probably have a preferred way of dealing with failure. You may have been taught to confront the issue, learn from it, and move on. This is an ideal reaction to bad news; but sometimes, our brains have other plans for us. Without our knowledge, the brain may deploy “defense mechanisms”.

What Are Defense Mechanisms?

Defense mechanisms are cognitive processes that allow us to avoid dealing with bad situations, at least temporarily. The bad situation may be failure, lifelong insecurities, you name it. We are rarely aware that we are using these defense mechanisms, even if they are painfully obvious to others. In many cases, we can categorize people based on which defense mechanisms they commonly use, which puts this topic in the realm of personality psychology. Get to know these defense mechanisms; you’ll recognize quite a few of them immediately.

History of Defense Mechanism Theory

It should not be a surprise that Sigmund Freud is the man behind the theory of defense mechanisms. They play right into the pleasure-pain principle, which states that humans will do anything to seek pleasure and avoid pain. We may not always be aware of the ways that we avoid pain and discomfort. Our ego takes over and we unconsciously act through defense mechanisms and other methods. People may not be aware that they are using these defense mechanisms, even if it’s blatantly obvious to the people around them. As we go through the main defense mechanisms, you may be able to point to a person or an event where these were obviously used to avoid bad news, insecurities, or other negative situations. Defense Mechanisms are very closely linked to Ego, as Freud noted. Our egos are very precious to us, and our brain will do all kinds of things to protect them, and that’s exactly what these mechanisms are below:

Common Defense Mechanisms

There seem to be around 9 defense mechanisms that are common in the worldwide population, no matter the culture, age group, gender, or sex differences. This is important to psychologists because it shows that how we deal with pain and trouble seems to be similar on a biological level. Throughout more research, we have found many more than 9, however, some are culturally related, and others are quite rare.

1) Denial

We have all seen denial play out as a defense mechanism. Denial is the process of refusing to receive information or a bad situation. If you can convince yourself that the bad situation is not present, then you won’t have a need to deal with the situation.

Examples of Denial as a Defense Mechanism

Someone may be in denial that a family member died or that their boyfriend broke up with them. They go about life as if the person was still alive or that they are still in the relationship. In another example, Reddit users discuss how men in power may deny pressing issues like climate change as a defense mechanism.

2) Repression

Maybe the person has internalized the negative situation and is aware of its presence. But rather than completely denying its existence, the person just refuses to consciously think about it. This is repression. It is similar to denial, but it is simply pushing the negative situation away rather than completely refusing to acknowledge the situation in the first place.

Example of Repression as a Defense Mechanism

Your friend just lost their grandparent. When this happened to you, you experienced a hard time. Out of concern for your friend, you ask them how they are doing. They brush off your concern. Every time you want to bring up their grief, they try to change the subject or let you know tersely that it’s tough, but everything is just fine. They may not be denying their grief or the death of their grandparent, but they are not allowing themselves to experience their full emotions about the situation.

3) Displacement

Displacement is the process of targeting an unrelated subject during a bad situation. Often, it would be impossible or a bad idea to target the true cause of the bad situation (i.e. the weather, everyone who bought a certain item before it was sold out, etc.,) so the person chooses an “easier” target (i.e. the person working at the cashier, the front desk, etc.)

Example of Displacement As a Defense Mechanism

Let’s say you work at the gift shop of an amusement park. In the middle of the day, it starts to pour. None of the guests can enjoy the rides or be outside in the park, so they come into the gift shop and start to unleash their frustration on you. They start to yell and scream, even though you had nothing to do with the rain. This is an example of displacement, and anyone who has worked retail during the holidays knows the ineffectiveness and frustration of this defense mechanism.

4) Projection

A person may take feelings that they are uncomfortable with and project them onto another person. While this is commonly viewed as a “subtle” defense mechanism, it can be painfully obvious when an angry person is just dealing with insecurities or questions that they don’t want to answer about themselves.

Example of Projection as a Defense Mechanism

Have you ever watched a movie where the ruthless school bully ends up being insecure? Maybe you can name a few of these ruthless bullies in real life. They tell someone that they are fat or ugly – but only because they feel those things about themselves. This is a prime example of projection.

5) Reaction Formation

Another sometimes painfully obvious defense mechanism is reaction formation. A person may not want to come across as feeling some type of way, so they form a reaction that appears to make them feel completely different. They may feel upset on the inside, but claim that they are super excited and happy to avoid confrontation or admitting their true feelings.

Example of Reaction Formation As A Defense Mechanism

Let’s say a man has feelings for another man, but he doesn’t know how to handle the possible humiliation of coming out of the closet. To compensate for these feelings, he goes out and tries to charm every woman he can find. He puts on behaviors to prove how super “straight” he is so no person could ever think he had opposing feelings.

6) Regression

Adults cannot be blamed for envying children; it appears that children don’t have a care in the world, without insecurities or responsibilities. They cry, pout, and whine to get their way and solve a “bad” situation. Adults are expected to “be more mature” and not use these methods to get what they want. Regression is the process of “regressing” back to these childhood methods of expressing emotion. You might cry, whine, pout, stomp…you name it. Regression doesn’t always work, but it’s a way of pushing your responsibilities away and reverting to a childlike state where you could more easily express feelings in an “immature” way.

7) Rationalization

If you want to “appear” that your behaviors are justified, you might use rationalization. This process involves using false reasoning to get what you want or explain away your behavior. The classic “dog ate my homework” lie is an example of rationalization.

Example of Rationalization

Let’s say you double-book yourself and stand up someone that you’re supposed to go on a first date with. Your friends remind you of that date and ask why you stood them up. You begin to rationalize. “People stand me up all the time.” “He didn’t confirm the time and date soon enough.” “We didn’t communicate today, so maybe they didn’t show up, either.” All of these rebuttals are a way to rationalize your behavior instead of owning up to what you did.

8) Sublimation

Not all defense mechanisms are unhealthy. Sublimation is considered to be one of the more productive defense mechanisms. When a person confronts a desire that they have not achieved or expectations that they feel they cannot fulfill, they put their energy into constructive activities. These activities may or may not be related to the thing they are insecure about. When these activities aren’t as constructive as the person thinks, they could fall into an obsession, addiction, or just plain unhealthy habits.

Examples of Sublimation

For example, a woman may work out excessively to cover up insecurities about her weight. A man may study hours and hours a day to cover up for insecurities of being intelligent or unsuccessful.

9) Compensation

People use compensation as a way to cover up for perceived shortcomings. They take actions or display traits to come across as the thing that they are insecure about. For example, an employee may flaunt all of their awards or recognition because they feel that they are not adequate enough. The list goes on and on. It is similar to sublimation, but rather than growing and building themselves to become the thing they are not, compensation usually involves pretending that they already are that thing they are insecure about.

Example of Compensation as a Defense Mechanism

Remember in Shrek, when Shrek sees Lord Farquad’s tall, phallic-shaped tower and says to Donkey, “maybe he’s compensating for something?” We all have encountered compensating for a specific type of insecurity, but compensation covers more ground than just the size of…you know. If you find that you deploy these tactics regularly, it’s time for some self-reflection. What can you do to confront negativity and learn from mistakes?

Are There Mature Defense Mechanisms?

Defense mechanisms are often painted in a bad light, but not all of them will ruin your life or keep you from acknowledging your feelings in an unhealthy way. Knowing the difference between suppressing your emotions and processing them at your own speed can determine whether your mechanisms will contribute to your growth or stunted emotional development.

If you recognize that a friend uses defense mechanisms to try and cope with negativity in an unhealthy, you might just want to share what you have learned. Defense mechanisms aren’t always unhealthy, but in the long run, they can prevent people from facing problems, solving them, and growing in the process.

Defense Mechanisms vs. Coping Mechanisms

Learning about defense mechanisms can help us recognize when we are using them. Defense mechanisms are largely unconscious patterns of behavior that take place when we want to avoid stress. As you may have gathered, this doesn’t always help the stress go away. Sometimes, the only way to eliminate stress is to face it head-on and eliminate it. This is where coping mechanisms come into play. Coping mechanisms are behaviors that help us reduce or overcome stress. We perform these behaviors intentionally. Not all coping mechanisms are healthy, but they can be. And they don’t require deep inner work, either! You can safely eliminate stress in fun ways. Try the following coping mechanisms the next time you feel stressed:

  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Yog
  • Exercise
  • Bubble bath or spa day

Denial | Psychology Today

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Denial is a defense mechanism in which an individual refuses to recognize or acknowledge objective facts or experiences. It’s an unconscious process that serves to protect the person from discomfort or anxiety.

For example, a loved one may insist that she doesn’t have a problem with alcohol, despite the fact that it interferes with work and family life. Or a loyal employee may refuse to see signs that his boss is stealing from the company.

The concept arose from the work of Sigmund Freud, whose daughter, Anna Freud, developed the idea of defense mechanisms, unconscious strategies whereby people protect themselves from anxious thoughts or feelings. Anna believed that denial unconsciously protected the ego from discomfort and distress by rejecting aspects of reality itself. Denial was primarily used in childhood and adolescence, she believed, and could be damaging when employed regularly in adulthood.

Although many of Freud's ideas have been disproven, psychologists today still believe that defense mechanisms like denial are a valid concept.

  • Denial in Therapy and Mental Health
  • Denial in Everyday Life

Denial in Therapy and Mental Health

Denial can encompass truths too difficult for an individual to confront or to accept. Yet therapy offers a space to safely and gradually process those beliefs and experiences. It can help people understand the roots of their emotions and behavior, eventually replacing denial with healthier coping skills.

How is denial addressed in therapy?

Denial is important to address in therapy because it reveals underlying challenges that are often causing an individual distress. If someone drinks excessively, exploring why they drink—to medicate their anxiety, for example—allows the patient to discuss their experience and develop skills to manage anxiety. Similarly, if a woman denies that a relationship is abusive, she may be struggling with fears around abandonment, loneliness, or past relationships that a therapist can help her navigate.

Does denial play a role in addiction?

Few people easily and quickly accept the conclusion that they have a problem with alcohol or substance use. Many struggle mightily against it and craft a variety of arguments to demonstrate that they don’t have a problem. A few of the most common forms of denial: “All of my friends drink more than I do.” “I’m too successful to have a drinking problem.” And “I only use when…” Recognizing instances of denial and misdirection is an important first step in acknowledging the problem and seeking help.

Does denial occur in mental health conditions?

Yes, people can struggle to understand or acknowledge that they have a disorder. For example, bipolar disorder is a condition in which someone’s mood cycles through periods of depression and mania. Mania is a state of euphoria characterized by extremely high energy, overconfidence, and impulsive behavior. Hypomania is a more mild or moderate version of that state. A feature of mania and hypomania is denying that anything is wrong or unusual.

For more, see Bipolar Disorder.

Is the concept of denial controversial in therapy?

Denial can be controversial. If a patient rejects a therapist's suggestion or interpretation, the therapist can theoretically dismiss the claim by stating that the patient is in denial. Indeed, the charge of denial can be levied at anything a patient says or does that runs contrary to a particular theory about her.

For example, if a patient undergoing psychoanalysis is regarded by her analyst as being in denial about her sexual orientation, disagreeing with the analyst or having a string of heterosexual relationships can be taken to confirm her supposed homosexuality: “You’re only saying this because you’re in denial...” As a result, the patient cannot “prove” her heterosexuality to the analyst and even come to believe that the analyst is correct.

Denial in Everyday Life

Denial can shape dynamics in different domains of life, whether that be ignoring relationship conflicts or refusing to acknowledge an illness. In many of these instances, denial leads to short-term satisfaction but long-term pain. In the end, confronting reality—even when it’s difficult—is the best path forward.

What’s an example of denial?

As a defense mechanism, denial involves a refusal to accept the truth or reality. "No, I'm just a social smoker," is a good example. People may apply a similar justification for other harmful habits, such as excessive alcohol or substance use and compulsive gambling or shopping, to unconsciously distance themselves from uncomfortable truths of their behavior and protect their self-esteem.

Can denial affect relationships?

Common defense mechanisms can undermine healthy relationships. In the case of denial, people may isolate themselves against their flaws and mistakes. They might pretend that everything is fine and ignore their own negative emotions or disagreements within the relationship. This can prevent the problem from being acknowledged, discussed, and resolved. Even though it may be more difficult in the short term, confronting these difficulties will strengthen the relationship in the long run.

Can denial affect financial decisions?

Desire, greed, or the need for status can override rational considerations and shape our spending habits. For instance, someone may love to shop, even though they aren’t financially secure and are accruing debt. Psychologically they may deny their financial reality to continue buying items they can’t afford. This prevents the person from admitting to factual limitations that feel constricting or upsetting.

Is denial a stage in the grieving process?

In her influential book On Death and Dying, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced a model of bereavement that is commonly referred to as the Five Stages of Grief. This model describes five discrete stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Kübler-Ross developed this model based on patients who received terminal cancer diagnoses, yet the model has since been critiqued and overgeneralized. The truth is that grief is unique to each individual. For some, denial may play a part in the process.

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10 Mental Defense Mechanisms We Use Every Day - T&P

The human psyche is equipped with mechanisms that help us instinctively protect our Self. Using them helps to make our experience less traumatic, but at the same time reduces our chances of successfully interacting with reality. According to Anna Freud, the author of The Psychology of the Self and Defense Mechanisms, Sigmund Freud's daughter, each of us uses about five of these strategies every day. T&P explains why sublimation is not always associated with creativity, how projection causes us to criticize innocent people, and why auto-aggression is associated with family problems.


Denial: no recognition of the problem

Denial is one of the simplest defense mechanisms of the psyche. This is a complete rejection of unpleasant information, which allows you to effectively fence yourself off from it. The classic example here is when you drink several glasses of wine or beer every day for a long time, but at the same time you remain confident that you can give up your habit at any time. Denial is characterized by a sharp reaction to the problem statement: if someone in this case hints to you that you have become addicted to alcohol, this person is likely to suffer from your tantrum. nine0007

Denial is often the first reaction to the pain of loss and is the first "stage of grief" according to some experts (however, in this case it is also called the "stage of distrust"). A person who unexpectedly loses his job will say: “It can’t be!” A witness to a car accident trying to help the victims may not immediately come to terms with the fact that one of them has stopped breathing. In this case, this mechanism does not protect anyone except the person who unconsciously uses it - however, in situations where a cold mind is needed, denial of danger or one's own shock can be very useful for all participants in the events. nine0007

Projection: Taking Out

Projection allows us to project our destructive or unacceptable thoughts, desires, traits, opinions, and motives onto other people. The goal is to protect yourself from yourself or delay the solution of the problem. For example, a person may think that a partner is critical of his earnings - while in fact there is nothing like that from the partner's side. If such a person overcomes his projection and becomes aware of the situation, he will see that the criticism comes from himself, and it is based, say, on the negative opinion of his parents, who insisted on his failure. nine0007

A negative consequence of the projection may be the desire to "correct" the object that allegedly serves as a carrier of unpleasant traits, or to get rid of it altogether. Moreover, such an external "carrier" sometimes has nothing to do with what is projected onto it. At the same time, the projection mechanism underlies empathy - our ability to share their feelings with others, to delve deeply into what is happening not to us, and to achieve mutual understanding with those around us.

Auto-aggression: blame yourself

Self-aggression, or turning against oneself, is a very destructive defense mechanism. It is often characteristic of children experiencing difficult moments in relations with their parents. It can be difficult for a person to admit that his parent is being dismissive or aggressive towards him, and instead he assumes that he himself is bad. Self-blame, self-humiliation, self-harm, self-destruction through drugs or alcohol, overindulgence in the dangerous aspects of extreme sports are all results of this mechanism. nine0007

Self-aggression occurs most often when our survival or well-being depends on an external object that caused its appearance. But, despite the many negative consequences of this process, from an emotional point of view, it can be better tolerated than aggression directed at the original target: a parent, guardian, or other important figure.

Sublimation: the basis of pop culture

Sublimation is one of the most widely used psychological defense mechanisms. In this case, the energy of unwanted, traumatic or negative experiences is redirected to achieve socially approved constructive goals. It is often used by people of creative professions, including famous ones. Songs about unrequited love or books about dark periods of life often become the fruits of sublimation. This is what makes them accessible to understanding - and ultimately popular. nine0007

However, sublimation can be more than just literary or "pictorial". Sadistic desires can be sublimated in the course of surgical practice, and unwanted (for example, from the point of view of religion) sexual desire - in the creation of brilliant works of architecture (as was the case of Antonio Gaudí, who led an extremely ascetic lifestyle). Sublimation can also be part of the psychotherapeutic process, when the client splashes out his internal conflicts through creativity: he creates texts, paintings, scripts and other works that allow him to bring the personality into balance. nine0007

Regression: return to childhood

The mechanism of regression allows you to adapt to a traumatic situation of conflict, anxiety or pressure by returning to behavioral practices familiar from childhood: screaming, crying, whims, emotional requests, etc. This happens because we, as a rule, we learn early that they guarantee support and security. Demonstration of defenselessness, sickness, inferiority very often brings psychological "dividends" - after all, people, like other living beings, at the neurophysiological level tend to protect the weak and small - that is, offspring, and not only their own. nine0007

Regression allows you to throw off the burden of responsibility for what is happening: after all, in childhood, instead of us, parents are responsible for a lot. This defense mechanism can be called very effective and fairly hassle-free. Difficulties arise when he works too long. The abuse of regression leads to the appearance of psychosomatic diseases, hypochondria, the lack of a successful life strategy, and the destruction of relationships with people around.

Rationalization: explanations for everything

Rationalization is the ability to carefully select appropriate reasonable causes for a negative situation. The goal here is self-belief that we are not to blame, that we are good enough or significant enough and that we are not the problem. A person who was rejected for an interview may convince himself and those around him that he did not need such a job or that the company turned out to be too “boring”, while in reality he experienced the strongest regret. “I didn’t really want to” is a classic phrase for rationalization. nine0007

Passive behavior can be rationalized by caution, aggressive behavior by self-defence, and indifferent behavior by the desire to give others more independence. The main result of the work of this mechanism is the imaginary restoration of a balance between the desired and real state of affairs and the degree of self-esteem. However, rationalization often does not completely remove the negative effects of the traumatic situation, so that it continues to hurt for a long time.

Intellectualization: theoretical feelings

Intellectualization allows us to neutralize anger, grief or pain by redirecting attention to a completely foreign area. A man who has recently been abandoned by his wife can devote all his free time to studying the history of Ancient Rome - and this will allow him "not to think so much" about the loss. This psychological defense mechanism is based on the desire to abstract from feelings and intellectualize them, turning them into theoretical concepts.

The behavior of an intellectualizing person is often perceived as adult and mature, and this makes this form of defense socially attractive. It also has another plus: intellectualization allows you to reduce dependence on your own emotions and “clear” behavior from them. Nevertheless, prolonged use of this mechanism is fraught with the destruction of emotional ties with the outside world, a decrease in the ability to understand and discuss feelings with other people. nine0007

Rocket formation: fight instead of hugging

Rocket formation is a kind of behavioral magic. This defense strategy allows you to turn the negative into the positive and vice versa. We often encounter its effects, harmless and not so. Boys pull the braids of the girls they like; older people speak with condemnation about the promiscuity of youths and seek to humiliate them, when in reality, revealing clothes and provocative style attract them. Reactive formation often betrays its inadequacy of the situation and periodic “breakthroughs” of true feeling through the mask. nine0007

Homophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of rejection of social and national groups are also sometimes the result of reactive education. In this case, with the help of a defense mechanism, one's own attraction or one's own connection with a national group, which for some reason is considered unacceptable, is neutralized. This application of a defense mechanism harms other people, but it does not eliminate the internal conflict in the person who uses it, and does not increase his level of awareness. nine0007

Substitution: transference of anger

Substitution allows you to transfer unwanted feelings (especially anger and irritation) from one object to another for the purpose of self-defense. The person who was yelled at by the boss may not answer him anything, but yell at his child at home in the evening. He needs to take out the anger that has arisen, however, it is dangerous to do this in communication with the boss, but the child can hardly give a worthy rebuff.

A random object can also become a replacement object. In this case, the result of this protection mechanism is, for example, rudeness in transport or rudeness at the workplace. An unfinished drawing torn in anger is also a form of substitution, however, much more harmless. nine0007

Fantasy: Brave New World

Fantasy allows you to temporarily improve your emotional state through the use of imagination. Dreaming, reading, playing computer games, and even watching porn give us the opportunity to move from a difficult situation to where we feel more comfortable. From the point of view of psychoanalysis, the emergence of fantasies is due to the desire for the fulfillment, satisfaction and fulfillment of desires that cannot yet be satisfied in the real world.

Fantasies absorb suffering and help calm the personality. Nevertheless, the psyche is not always able to fully recognize where reality ends and the imaginary world begins. In the era of information technology development, a person can enter into a relationship with a media image, dreaming of a favorite actress or interacting with a computer game character they like. The destruction of such relationships due to unsuccessful contact with the real content of the image or unpleasant situations will be experienced as a real loss and will bring emotional pain. Fantasies can also distract a person from the real world. At the same time, they often become fertile ground for creativity and form the basis of successful works, bringing positive results in reality. nine0007

Psychological defense mechanisms: types of mental defense mechanisms

What is psychological defense and what psychological defense mechanisms do we use most often? Forbes Life spoke with psychoanalyst Anna Eliseeva about the types and functions of defense mechanisms and whether psychological defense can have a negative impact

According to Freud: psychological defense mechanisms and psychoanalysis

Finished reading here

The concept of psychological defense mechanisms originates in psychoanalysis. It was first formulated by Sigmund Freud: his work was later continued by his daughter Anna, who became the author of the book The Ego and Defense Mechanisms. “The concept of the defense mechanism of the psyche is primarily associated with the structural theory of Freud, according to which the psyche has a tripartite structure. It is represented by the “Ego structure”, “Super-ego structure” and “It structure,” explains psychoanalyst Anna Eliseeva, emphasizing that each of them is responsible for its own functions. nine0007

Thus, the "super-ego" is responsible for the moral qualities of a person, for what he evaluates as acceptable or unacceptable, unacceptable. “It” is the unconscious in a person, something that he can hardly or is not able to control at all: impulses, attraction, sexuality, aggression. It is the "Ego" that connects these two structures. “The Ego structure performs a regulatory function between these two structures and acts as a “negotiator”. The defense mechanisms of the psyche relate primarily to the "Ego". It may be regulated by some unconscious, perhaps aggressive or threatening impulses within us, some drives, perhaps forbidden by society or family, desires, or some external threats, especially threats to self-esteem and the very moral existence of the individual. Simply put, the "Ego" is a relatively stable group of functions that organizes, integrates and, as it were, connects the mental and mental processes of the individual. nine0007

Nancy McWilliams, an American psychoanalyst, contributed to the study of psychological defense. She singled out at least four influences that form a certain protective mechanism or even a set of them in a person. “The first is temperament, or mental constitution, the second is the nature of the stress that the child experienced in early childhood, the third is the defense mechanisms that parents or caring adults modeled. And the fourth is the consequences that a person has experienced from the use of certain protective mechanisms. That is, it is, as it were, what a person has learned using certain mechanisms, ”says Eliseeva. Defense mechanisms in psychology are unconscious functions that the person himself is not aware of. If he manages to do this, then these defense mechanisms cease to be stable: in other words, he can modify them through therapeutic work that leads the person to the integration of his personality. nine0007

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How do defense mechanisms actually work in psychology?

  • Rationalization: an intellectual explanation of emotions

“Suppose a person has developed a protective mechanism, in which he analyzed many times, found an intellectual explanation for emotions. For example, a wife left her husband: he is very upset, but unconsciously does not allow this disorder, so as not to feel terrible, and begins to rationalize her departure, saying that the institution of marriage has long been depreciated and this is not so important. In therapy, a person begins to become aware of his emotions, the protective mechanism of rationalization, as it were, loses its positions, and, having lived the sadness and longing that his wife left, in this way a person can resolve this internal conflict (“I am a weakling if I am upset, but I am upset ”) and feel better, ”Eliseeva gives an example. nine0007

  • Reaction to criticism, shame and fear

A similar scenario can occur when receiving criticism of our actions. “Someone can criticize us, and although at the level of awareness we can tell ourselves that we are completely normal about constructive criticism, it still becomes very unpleasant for us at the moment of its voicing, the mechanism of denial is triggered,” explains the psychoanalyst. Denial in general is a primitive-level defense mechanism that is most common in children. For example, if a child breaks a cup and denies it, then in this way he tries to protect himself not so much from the general words of his parents or conditional punishment, but from the fact that the very words of his parents or their criticism may endanger his idea of ​​himself, that is, his integrity. If a child is criticized, he may feel that he is bad, and this is the very threat from which we seek to protect our psyche. Such threats can be different: the threat that we are not smart enough, educated or good, the threat to feel guilty towards someone - we also defend ourselves very strongly against this. There is the threat of shame, the threat of dependence on other people - that is, the understanding that we really need other people in our lives and so on, and finally, the threat of feeling powerless. nine0007

The defense mechanisms of the psyche help us remove the feeling that we are bad, guilty of something. The area where the defense mechanism will work particularly strongly is our self-image. These may be real threats to our self-esteem or an imaginary threat: for example, you are afraid that you are not attractive enough and therefore will not communicate with people so as not to find out that they do not like you. The avoidance mechanism is activated: you decide not to go anywhere at all and not to communicate. Thus, defense mechanisms help, if not the person himself, then his inner ego to resolve the psychological conflict and maintain the integrity of his personality. If it is not possible to resolve it, and the conflict itself continues to persist, then the protective reaction characteristic of it can become more and more pronounced and constant. nine0007

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Deny, forget, suppress: types of psychological defense

There are many options for psychological defense - researchers divide them into groups and levels based on different classification principles. Among them there are pathological, neurotic and not only. According to the classification of Nancy McWilliams, defense mechanisms in psychology are divided into two main groups - primitive and more mature.

Primitive types of psychological protection:

  • Withdrawal, such as trying to sleep to escape stress or reality;
  • Denial, in which people prefer to believe that everything is in order and everything will always be fine;
  • A projection that allows you to convince yourself that something bad and unpleasant is experienced by someone else, and not you, and that it has a certain negative, negative characteristic;
  • Splitting, in which everything is divided into black and white, that is, only bad and only good, positive. nine0108

Mature types of psychological defense:

  • Suppression: attempts to forget, erase from memory what upset you, that is, in fact, the displacement of unpleasant memories and experiences in the past;
  • Regression: return to the behavior characteristic of us at an earlier stage of development: for example, for children - to wet your pants when stressed, and for adults - to get sick, that is, these are mainly somatic manifestations;
  • Isolation: isolation of emotions from events, numbness; nine0108
  • Rationalization and intellectualization: resorting to a rational or intellectual explanation of stressful emotional events, as well as one's feelings;
  • Moralization: the unconscious search for acceptable grounds for some kind of action. For example, a negative event could even be a war, which is perceived as an opportunity to "build character" or a great "learning experience".
  • Acting out: if a conditional dispute or conflict cannot be resolved verbally, then physical actions, such as a fight, become a psychological form of defense. nine0108

Protective mechanisms exist rather "on a certain spectrum", which stretches from pathological to more healthy manifestations. “One defense mechanism in its pathological, too frequent use, interferes with us, affects our behavior, our relationships with people. The same defense mechanism, but in its milder manifestation, serves its function, that is, it protects us from unbearable internal psychological conflicts or feelings, ”explains Eliseeva. Denial is a primitive defense mechanism: if you deny something constantly and everywhere, then you can say that your psyche is working pathologically. But if you are experiencing severe stress, then denying some difficult events can save your psyche and work precisely in a protective function. All people have defense mechanisms of one kind or another, which manifest themselves to one degree or another. And the degree of manifestation of protective mechanisms will determine the very degree of mental health. Thus, psychological defense itself is normal and understandable, but if it becomes constant, turns into a characteristic feature of human behavior and is often not caused by any objective factors, then it can become dangerous primarily for the person himself. nine0007

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When do psychological defense methods become dangerous?

If psychological defense, especially primitive one, becomes regular, unchanging and unique, and its cause is not a real threat, but an internal conflict, then in this case a person runs the risk of being unable to adequately perceive reality and cope with it. For example, there is a conflict between the need to be good (the Superego structure) and to be oneself, to express anger (the It structure). If the conflict is not resolved, then the defense is likely to become fixed and may become part of the personality structure and lead to such a concept as a personality disorder, such as narcissism. With a personality disorder, defense mechanisms are not at all realized, they are not flexible and primitive. nine0007

You can solve the problem through awareness of the problem in behavior and relationships, understanding the conflict and methods for resolving it. This is not only therapy, but also spiritual practices, work on oneself, overcoming a personal crisis and getting out of it, meditation.

However, in general, the defense mechanisms of our psyche do help us cope with stress or survive severe trauma. “This refers to dissociation or derealization, for example, when the victim of violence, as it were, disconnects from his emotional experiences. The victim seems to "leave" his body and does not feel anything. This is how powerful protection works, which preserves the psyche, ”says Eliseeva. nine0007

Is it possible to change the form of psychological protection?

Forms of defense mechanisms change as a person grows up. So, for children, the method of denial becomes the most characteristic, and for adolescents, for whom the main conflict is to identify themselves, it is idealization, that is, the search for someone different from their parents, from whom you can take an example and build your own identity. Defense mechanisms protect us from certain conflicts inherent in this stage of development. Under a favorable scenario for the development of a person's personality, the defense mechanism is transformed from a more primitive to a more complex one: for example, from denial to sublimation, in which some activity, such as drawing, becomes a defense against conflict. nine0007

It is possible to change the methods of psychological defense with the help of psychotherapy, the task of which, according to the expert, is to realize what defense mechanisms a person already has and how they affect his behavior and relationships with people around. Together with a specialist, a person tries to understand what kind of conflict worries him and what exactly his psyche is protected from. The next stage is an attempt to get another experience that can modify this conflict and offer a more productive way to deal with it. nine0007

Such work is necessary for those who have experienced a divorce or the loss of a loved one. The experience of loss is too strong for our psyche, it also undermines our identity. And here a protective mechanism can be formed, for example, the denial of the death of the departed: although at some everyday level this is recognized, psychologically it is rejected.

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