Understanding defense mechanisms

Top 10 Defense Mechanisms and Why We Use Them

Defense mechanisms refer to psychological strategies or behaviors that people may use to cope with difficult feelings, thoughts, or events.

Defense mechanisms are behaviors that people use to separate themselves from unpleasant events, actions, or thoughts.

The idea of defense mechanisms comes from psychoanalytic theory, a psychological perspective of personality that sees personality as the interaction between three components: id, ego, and super-ego. These psychological strategies may help people put distance between themselves and threats or unwanted feelings, such as guilt or shame.

First proposed by Sigmund Freud, this theory has evolved over time and contends that behaviors, like defense mechanisms, are not under a person’s conscious control. In fact, most people do them without realizing it.

According to these theories, defense mechanisms are a natural part of psychological development. Identifying which type you, your loved ones, and even your co-workers use may help you in future conversations and encounters.

Defense mechanisms are ways you react to situations that bring up negative emotions. According to psychoanalytic theory, when you experience a stressor, the subconscious will first monitor the situation to see if it might harm you. If the subconscious believes the situation might lead to emotional harm, it may react with a defense mechanism to protect you.

Usually, you are unaware of the defense mechanism, though the behavior may appear odd to others around you.

Many researchers place defense mechanisms on a continuum, with more mature defenses improving cognitive processes and less mature ones causing harm.

In the long term, mature defense mechanisms may not be particularly detrimental to your emotional or mental health. Using more mature mechanisms may help you face the anxieties and situations that might normally cause stress and emotional duress.

Other defense mechanisms, however, are not as mature and helpful. Prolonged use of these defenses can lead to lingering problems. In fact, they may prevent you from ever facing emotional issues or anxieties because they block you from seeing the root cause.

Some signs that defense mechanisms are getting in the way of your everyday life and mental health may include:

  • feeling sad or depressed
  • having difficulty getting out of bed
  • avoiding usual daily activities, things, or people that once made you happy
  • having difficulty forming or maintaining healthy relationships
  • communication problems that hinder your professional or personal life

Dozens of different defense mechanisms have been identified. Some are used more commonly than others. Here are a few common defense mechanisms:

1. Denial

Denial is one of the most common defense mechanisms. It occurs when you refuse to accept reality or facts. People in denial may block external events or circumstances from the mind so that they don’t have to deal with the emotional impact. In other words, they avoid painful feelings or events.

This defense mechanism is one of the most widely known, too. The phrase, “They’re in denial,” is commonly understood to mean a person is avoiding reality despite what may be obvious to people around them.

2. Repression

Unsavory thoughts, painful memories, or irrational beliefs can upset you. Instead of facing those thoughts, people may unconsciously choose to hide them in hopes of forgetting them entirely.

That does not mean, however, that the memories disappear entirely. They may influence behaviors, and they may impact future relationships. You just may not realize the impact this defense mechanism is having.

3. Projection

Some thoughts or feelings you have about another person may make you uncomfortable. When people project those feelings, they misattribute them to the other person.

For example, you may dislike your new co-worker, but instead of accepting that, you choose to tell yourself that they dislike you. You start to interpret their words and actions toward you in the worst way possible, even though they don’t actually dislike you.

4. Displacement

You direct strong emotions and frustrations toward a person or object that doesn’t feel threatening. This allows you to satisfy an impulse to react, but you don’t risk significant consequences.

A good example of this defense mechanism is getting angry at your child or spouse because you had a bad day at work. Neither of these people is the target of your strong emotions, but your subconscious may believe reacting to them is likely less problematic than reacting to your boss.

5. Regression

Some people who feel threatened or anxious may unconsciously “escape” to an earlier stage of development.

This type of defense mechanism may be most obvious in young children. If they experience trauma or loss, they may suddenly act as if they’re younger again. They may even begin wetting the bed or sucking their thumb as a form of regression.

Adults can regress, too. Adults who are struggling to cope with events or behaviors may return to sleeping with a cherished stuffed animal, overeat foods they find comforting, or begin chain-smoking or chewing on pencils or pens. They may also avoid everyday activities because they feel overwhelmed.

6. Rationalization

Some people may attempt to explain undesirable behaviors with their own set of “facts.” This allows you to feel comfortable with the choice you made, even if you know on another level it’s not right.

For example, someone who didn’t get a promotion at work might say they didn’t want the promotion anyways.

7. Sublimation

This type of defense mechanism is considered a mature, positive strategy. That’s because people who rely on it choose to redirect strong emotions or feelings into an object or activity that is appropriate and safe.

For example, instead of lashing out at your coworkers during a stressful shift, you choose to channel your frustration into a kickboxing class. You could also funnel or redirect the feelings into music, art, or sports.

8. Reaction formation

People who use this defense mechanism recognize how they feel, but they choose to behave in the opposite manner of their instincts.

A person who reacts this way, for example, may feel they should not express negative emotions, such as anger or frustration. They choose to instead react in an overly positive way.

9. Compartmentalization

Separating your life into independent sectors may feel like a way to protect many elements of it.

For example, when you choose to not discuss personal life issues at work, you block off, or compartmentalize, that element of your life. This allows you to carry on without facing the anxieties or challenges while you’re in that setting or mindset.

10. Intellectualization

When you’re hit with a trying situation, you may choose to remove all emotion from your responses and instead focus on quantitative facts.

You may see this strategy in use when a person spends their days creating spreadsheets of job opportunities and leads after they are let go from a job.

Defense mechanisms can sometimes be viewed as a type of self-deception. You might be using them to hide emotional responses that you don’t want to deal with from yourself. However, it’s done mostly on an unconscious level. You’re not always aware of the way your mind or ego will respond.

That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t modify or change the behaviors. Indeed, you can transform unhealthy defense mechanisms into ones that are more sustainable. These techniques may help:

  • Find accountability. Friends and family members can help you recognize defense mechanisms you may be using. By drawing attention to the self-deception, they can help you identify the moment you unconsciously use self-deception. That allows you to then decide in the conscious state what you really want to do.
  • Learn coping strategies. Therapy with a mental health expert, such as a psychotherapist, psychologist, or psychoanalyst, may help you recognize the defense mechanisms you use most often. They can then help you learn active responses to make choices on a more mindful level.

Defense mechanisms are natural. They are often used without any long-term complications or issues.

However, some people do develop emotional difficulties if they continue to use these mechanisms without coping with the underlying threat or anxiety. Treatment focuses on helping you address issues from a mindful place, not an unconscious one.

Understanding Defense Mechanisms - PubMed


. 2015 Dec;43(4):523-52.

doi: 10.1521/pdps.2015.43.4.523.

Phebe Cramer  1



  • 1 Williams College.
  • PMID: 26583439
  • DOI: 10.1521/pdps.2015.43.4.523


Phebe Cramer. Psychodyn Psychiatry. 2015 Dec.

. 2015 Dec;43(4):523-52.

doi: 10.1521/pdps.2015.43.4.523.


Phebe Cramer  1


  • 1 Williams College.
  • PMID: 26583439
  • DOI: 10.1521/pdps.2015.43.4.523


Understanding defense mechanisms is an important part of psychotherapy. In this article, we trace the history of the concept of defense, from its origin with Freud to current views. The issue of defense as an unconscious mechanism is examined. The question of whether defenses are pathological, as well as their relation to pathology, is discussed. The effect of psychotherapy on the use of defenses, and their relation to a therapeutic alliance is explored. A series of empirical research studies that demonstrate the functioning of defense mechanisms and that support the theory is presented. Research also shows that as part of normal development, different defenses emerge at different developmental periods, and that gender differences in defense use occur.

Keywords: age and gender differences; defense mechanisms; empirical research; pathology; therapy.

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MeSH terms



Protection (or a defense mechanism) is a set of unconscious psychological processes that are aimed at protecting a person from experiencing the anxiety of losing loved ones, losing their love, fear of castration (fear of being punished or humiliated) and condemnation by the Super-Ego (conscience). In addition, these mechanisms are designed to protect a person from the painful affects caused by these threats. nine0010

Sigmund Freud first described dramatic and memorable examples of what in today's psychoanalysis are called defensive processes or defenses. Working primarily with hysterical patients, he noticed that his clients avoided repeating the previous experience, fearing that it could bring them unbearable pain and suffering. Freud saw the action of these processes precisely in their protective function. In Freud's view, this avoidance came at the cost of severely impairing the overall functioning of the patients using this defense. nine0010

Somewhat later it was established that defenses have not only a “negative” but also a “positive” meaning. They appear as a result of a healthy, creative adaptation of a person to his environment and continue to operate throughout life. A person whose behavior manifests a protective character unconsciously strives to perform the following psychological tasks:

  • To avoid or master some powerful threatening feeling - anxiety, intense grief or other disorganizing emotional experiences. nine0017
  • Maintain self-respect.

Each person has his own defenses, which form his individual style of dealing with difficulties. This preferential automatic use of certain protections is the result of the interaction of several factors:

  • Natural temperament
  • The nature of early childhood stress
  • Defenses modeled on parents and other significant adults
  • Experienced consequences of using individual defenses (so-called reinforcement effect)

Some people demonstrate insufficiency, fragility of defenses. And then their therapy is not aimed at weakening the defense processes, as Freud suggested earlier, but at building new, more adaptive defense mechanisms.

According to most psychoanalysts, some defenses are more "primitive" processes than others. nine0010

Defenses that are considered primary, immature or "primitive" are those that "work" on the border between the Self and the outside world. As a result of these defenses, confusion arises between the "I" and "not-I", the operation of the principle of reality testing is violated.

More mature defenses work not on the external, but on the internal border, relieving a person from intrapsychic conflicts between the Id, Ego and Super-Ego or between the observing and experiencing parts of the personality. nine0010

Primitive defenses are the ways in which a child naturally comprehends the world. Whether we have any marked psychopathology or not, this primary experience is present in all of us. We all resort to primary means of protection, especially in situations of excessive stress. However, most of us have in our defense arsenal not only primitive ways of responding to painful experiences, but also more mature defense mechanisms. nine0010

Immature defenses include defenses such as:

  • splitting
  • negation
  • primitive insulation
  • omnipotent control
  • primitive idealization and devaluation
  • projection, introjection


The origins of this mechanism are in the preverbal period, when the infant cannot yet realize that the people who care for him can have both “good” and “bad” qualities, that both “good” and “bad” qualities are associated with them. "bad" experiences. If you observe two-year-olds, you will notice that they tend to assign "bad" and "good" valences to everything they encounter in their lives. Thus, this is the very first, primitive way to structure your perception. When a child is satisfied, the presence of a mother for him is associated with a global feeling of a “good” mother, and when he is upset, the same mother is experienced by him as a “bad” one. Until he reaches a stage in his psychological development (constancy), when he can recognize that in front of him in both situations is the same person, in whose presence he sometimes feels good and sometimes bad, his every experience will remain total, discrete. defined. It will be either/or experience, or "bad" or "good." Instead of a more mature way of seeing your mother as a person with both "good" and "bad" qualities. That is, experience and / and. nine0010

In adults, splitting can be observed when they take an overly categorical, non-ambivalent position. And the opposite point of view is experienced as something completely separate. For example, a patient may perceive her therapist as absolutely good, and the rest of the staff working in this institution as indifferent, angry, hostile bureaucrats. Or the therapist may suddenly come under fierce attack from the patient, although just a week ago he might have considered him the best, most understanding specialist in the world. nine0010


This is another early way of coping with trouble when the child refuses to accept its existence. Very often, when children are frightened, they cover their eyes with their hands, as if telling themselves, “if I don’t see it, then it doesn’t exist.”

In an adult, the effect of this protection can be observed at the moment when he was informed of the death of a loved one. His first reaction will be: “No! It can't be!" A person whose denial is the leading defense will always insist that "everything is fine," "everything is for the best." Personalities who predominantly use denial in their arsenal of defenses are called manic. Sometimes the ability to "denial" is a lifesaver. An example of this is the heroic deeds committed during the war or in emergency circumstances, when people, denying the danger, "without having time to think" rush to the aid of their comrades and loved ones. Most people whose feelings are hurt, in a situation where crying is inappropriate, would rather give up their experiences than fully realizing them, suppress tears with an effort of will. nine0010

But most often “denial” leads to quite serious consequences: an alcoholic who denies his addiction; a mother who ignores sexual harassment of her young daughter; wife denying danger, beating her husband, etc.

Primitive insulation.

When an infant is overexcited or upset, he falls asleep. Psychological withdrawal into another state of consciousness is an automatic reaction that can be observed in the youngest children. nine0010

In adults, the manifestation of this defense can be observed when they isolate themselves from social and interpersonal situations, replacing the tension arising from interaction with others by retreating into a fantasy world. People who rely primarily on primitive isolation often develop rich fantasy lives and perceive the outside world as too problematic. The obvious disadvantage of this protection is that it excludes the person from actively solving interpersonal problems. People who are in close relationships with such personalities often make claims to them that they do not know how to get any emotionally charged reactions from them. This, of course, can seriously complicate the relationship. The advantage of primitive isolation is that, while allowing psychological escape from reality, it requires almost no distortion of it. People who rely on this protection find comfort not in not understanding the world, but in fleeing from it. nine0010

Omnipotent control.

It was found that the newborn perceives the source of all events as internal. For example, if he is hungry and his mother notices this and feeds him, then the baby perceives this as if he had gotten his own food. The understanding that the control is in other people, outside the infant himself, has not yet been achieved. S. Ferenczi, a student and follower of Z. Freud, discovered that in the infantile phase of development, such an experience of one's own omnipotence is normal. Later, the child comes to the idea of ​​secondary omnipotence, when one of those who care for him is perceived as omnipotent. As the child matures, he gradually comes to terms with the fact that no one has unlimited possibilities. The prerequisite for this more mature position is the experience of protected infancy, when the child could enjoy the illusion of his own omnipotence, and then - the omnipotence of people who care for him. A healthy remnant of this infantile omnipotence remains in all of us, supporting the experience of our own competence and effectiveness. nine0010

But there are people for whom the need to feel a sense of omnipotent control and to interpret everything that happens to them as due to their own unlimited power is irresistible. If a person is organized around seeking pleasure from the experience that he can exercise and use his omnipotence, regardless of the limitations of existing ethical norms, he is called sociopathic.

Primitive idealization and devaluation

nine0009 As already discussed above, Sh. Ferenczi came to the conclusion that the primitive idea of ​​one's own omnipotence is gradually being replaced by the idea of ​​the omnipotence of a person who takes care of the child. All children believe that their parents are the smartest, most beautiful and can protect them from any troubles and misfortunes. As they grow older, the child's idealization of parental figures is replaced by de-idealization or devaluation. This devaluation is a natural part of the separation-individuation process.

Adults may also hear “echoes” primitive idealization . We all tend to ascribe special virtues to people on whom we are emotionally dependent. Normal idealization is an essential component of adult love.

In some people, the need to idealize remains unchanged from infancy. The experience of the omnipotence of those to whom they are attached hides the inner panic horror that these individuals experience. The desire to psychologically merge with the idealized object provides them with a sense of security. Such people also seek to get rid of the feeling of shame, which is a “by-product” of primitive idealization. Belief in the ideal leads to the fact that one's own imperfections cause a burning feeling of shame. Then merging with the idealized object is also a way to get rid of this unbearable experience. nine0010

If a person basically builds his life by ranking all aspects of human existence, if he strives for perfection, both through merging with an idealized object and idealizing his own "I", he can be called narcissistic. Other characteristics of narcissistic personalities can be inferred from primitive idealization. They tend to be constantly convinced of their own attractiveness, fame, power, significance, etc. Self-esteem of these people is built on the fact that you can love yourself only by constantly improving. nine0010

Primitive depreciation

is the other side of the need for primitive idealization. Since nothing is perfect in our lives, sooner or later the narcissistic personality will face disappointment. The more an object is idealized, the more depreciation awaits it. In everyday life, this is manifested in the anger that falls on a person who has not justified the hopes placed on him. Narcissistic personalities spend their whole lives in the fact that, changing partners, they go through a circle of idealization and devaluation. nine0010

Projection, introjection.

In normal infancy, before the child develops the ability to separate sensations coming from without and from within, he has a generalized sense of himself, identical with the experience of the whole world. Most likely, a baby who is tormented by colic experiences it as “Pain!”, and not as “something inside me hurts.” It is still difficult for him to distinguish whether his stomach hurts because of a tightly fastened diaper (pain from the outside), or because of colic (pain from the inside). At this stage of non-differentiation, processes begin to operate that will later become projection and identification. nine0010


is a process whereby the internal is mistakenly perceived as external coming from outside. Favorable forms of projection serve as the basis for empathy—the ability to understand what another person might be feeling. Since we are deprived of the opportunity to get "objective information" about the feelings of another person, we are forced to rely on our own experiences that we might experience in a similar situation. Harmful forms of projection can lead to a serious misunderstanding of the other, a distortion of the idea of ​​him and, as a result, cause serious damage to interpersonal relationships. For example, a person can deny his own envy, projecting, attributing it to another. Personalities that rely primarily on projection are called paranoid. nine0010


is the opposite process of projection. As a result of introjection, what comes from outside is perceived as coming from within. In its favorable forms, introjection leads to identification with significant others. Small children absorb, like sponges, all kinds of positions, affects, forms of behavior of significant people. Long before a child is able to make a conscious decision to be like mom or dad, in a sense, he has already “swallowed” them. nine0010

An example of a pathological form of introjection is “identification with the aggressor”. This process can be observed in situations of experiencing fear and ill-treatment, when people try to master their difficult experiences, adopt the qualities of tormentors. Thus, they seem to say: “I am not a helpless victim, I myself strike, I am omnipotent.”

Another example where introjection becomes pathological is associated with grief and is related to depression. We introject the person we love. And its representation within us becomes part of our identity. This is expressed in the fact that we can say about ourselves: “I am the wife of my husband”, “I am the son of my mother”, etc. If a loved one dies or leaves us, then we feel that not only the world around us has shrunk, but we ourselves have shrunk inside. A feeling of emptiness begins to dominate in our inner world. In an effort to win back loved ones, we sometimes wonder why we were left behind. The attractive force of this process, which is not always realized, is that we have a hope that, having realized our mistakes, we will be able to return a loved one (another manifestation of infantile omnipotence). As a result, for the inability to survive grief and gradually let go of a loved one, we pay with depression, bitter reproaches addressed to us, a feeling of our own worthlessness, emptiness and loss. nine0010

More mature defense mechanisms include:

  • Repression or repression
  • Insulation
  • Intellectualization
  • Moralization
  • Offset
  • Sublimation


Repression or repression.

Repression refers to motivated forgetting or ignoring. Freud wrote: "The essence of repression is that something is simply removed from consciousness and kept at a distance from it." But not all the difficulties associated with attracting attention and / or remembering are the result of the action of repression. We can safely talk about repression only when it is obvious that thoughts, feelings or perceptions of something become unbearable for consciousness, causing severe anxiety or anxiety. nine0010

The effect of repression can be seen in the following examples:

- the experience of such violence and atrocity, after which the victim cannot remember anything.

- repression was seen as a means by which the child tries to cope with normal (from a developmental point of view), but frightening and unrealizable desires. For example, the desire to destroy the parent of the same sex in order to possess the parent of the opposite sex itself is forced into the unconscious by the child as a result of the passage of the Oedipal phase. nine0010

- Freud saw the work of repression in everyday life. It was the operation of this mechanism that he explained the ridiculous reservations and mistakes that we sometimes make. For example, when the speaker suddenly forgets the name of the person he is representing. Such "forgetting" can be explained by the action of repression in the event that the representer experiences unconscious hostility towards the one he represents. Another example of repression is the slip of the head of the meeting, when instead of saying: “I declare the meeting open,” he says: “I declare the meeting closed.” Having some reason for not wanting the opening of the meeting, he represses this desire into the unconscious. But it escapes from there in the form of an absurd slip of the tongue. nine0010

All these examples of repression show the adaptive capacity of this process. If a person were constantly aware of the entire arsenal of impulses, feelings, desires, fantasies, memories, conflicts, etc., then he would simply be flooded with them.

Repression begins to create problems when it does not cope with its function to reliably keep disturbing experiences from awareness. Or when it gets in the way of the positive aspects of life. Or acts when more adaptive protections are excluded. nine0010


This is a way of overcoming painful experiences (fear, anger, longing, etc.), as a result of which feelings are isolated from understanding.

One can find many examples of this defense at work: a surgeon standing at the operating table would not be able to effectively perform the operation if all affective experiences at that moment were available to him. A general sacrificing a platoon to save an army could not effectively design a military operation if he had all the horrors of war before his eyes. nine0010

Therapists working with victims of the Holocaust were struck by the distant, "wooden" descriptions of the atrocities they were subjected to.

Isolation can become a basic defensive operation in the absence of injury. As a rule, this happens as a result of the interaction of several factors: the parenting style of the child's parents and his temperament.


The Isolation variant is called Intellectualization. If an isolating person says that he does not feel anything, then an intellectualizing person talks about his feelings, but in such a way that the listener is left with the impression of a lack of emotion. Comment: "Well, yes. It is certainly sad to see my dog ​​die,” thrown in an indifferent tone, means that the very thought of feeling is present, but its expression is blocked. nine0010

Intellectualization is designed to hold back huge, overwhelming experiences. The fact that someone is able to act rationally in difficult situations, without giving impulsive responses, speaks of the maturity of his psyche.

However, if a person is unable to leave this defense, then others may consider him emotionally insincere. Such a person may not have access to such adult forms of play as friendly banter, sex, and the manifestation of artistry.


When someone moralizes, it means that he is looking for ways why he is obliged to follow in a given direction. That is, moralization directs desires into the realm of justifications or moral obligations. An example of moralization is the belief of the colonists that they brought a higher civilization to those peoples whose wealth they plundered. Hitler, when he argued that the extermination of gypsies, Jews and homosexuals, was necessary for the ethical and spiritual prosperity of the nation, moralized his aggressive and sadistic desires. nine0010

But there are also less catastrophic manifestations of this mechanism. We often see someone moralize their criticism by saying that it is better to criticize than to praise. Some people may moralize their vain desire to dress expensively, explaining it as a necessity or obligation to make a good impression.


This term refers to the redirection of an emotion, behavior, preoccupation with something from the original object to another, due to the fact that the original direction can cause anxiety. nine0010

A classic example of bias is when a husband takes his anger out on his wife after an unpleasant conversation with a boss. Any situation where someone becomes a "scapegoat" is also associated with a shift in aggression on that person.

Observations of family therapists show that, as a rule, in couples where one of the partners is unfaithful, the other partner directs his aggression not at the "guilty" spouse, but at a rival or rival.

Passion can also be displaced. Sexual fetishes can apparently be explained as a reorientation of erotic interest from a person's genitals to an unconsciously connected area. For example, legs or even shoes. nine0010


This defense is related to being able to find creative, helpful ways to express problematic impulses and conflicts.

So Freud believed that a dentist can sublimate his sadism, an artist - exhibitionism, and a lawyer - the desire to destroy enemies.

This defense is considered a healthy way to resolve psychological difficulties, since with the help of this defense a discharge in a socially acceptable form of repressed impulses occurs. nine0010

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

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. nine0010

So, "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. nine0010

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. nine0010

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How do defense mechanisms actually work in psychology?

  • Rationalization: an intellectual explanation of emotions

“Suppose a person has developed a defense 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. nine0010

  • 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. nine0010

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. nine0010

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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. nine0017

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: a 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; nine0017
  • 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. nine0017

Defense mechanisms exist rather "in 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. nine0010

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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. nine0010

You can solve the problem through understanding 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.

Nevertheless, 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. nine0010

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. nine0010

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 him. 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. nine0010

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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