We generally try to protect ourselves from things that we don’t want to
think about or deal with. Just remind yourself of the last time you
referred to someone as being ‘in denial’ or accused someone of
‘rationalising’. Both these terms are actually referred to as Defence
mechanisms in Psychology. Defence mechanism is an unconscious
psychological mechanism that reduces anxiety arising from unacceptable or
potentially harmful stimuli. In short, it is a strategy used by the ego to
protect itself from anxiety.
Tasneem, Psychologist and Psychotherapist at seraniti.com reviews the use
of the most common defence mechanisms:
1. Denial: It is a clear refusal to admit or recognise an obvious truth
about something that has happened or is upcoming. Denial functions to
protect the ego from things that the individual cannot cope with. For
instance, Drug addicts and alcoholics often deny that they have a problem,
or victims of traumatic events deny that the event ever occurred as it is
too uncomfortable or traumatic to face
2. Repression & Suppression: In both repression and suppression we tend to
remove anxiety provoking memories from our conscious awareness. When we
consciously force unwanted information out of our awareness it is called
suppression. However, even unconscious memories, as in repression don’t
just disappear, they continue to influence the person’s behaviour. For
instance, a person abused as a child might face difficulties forming
relationships as an adult.
3. Displacement: It involves venting out anger, frustration and other
negative impulses on people or situations that are less threatening. For
instance, rather than expressing aggression or anger towards your boss,
you to tend to express it towards your spouse, children, or pets as they
are less threatening and have few negative consequences.
4. Sublimation: It is a way of acting out unacceptable impulses by
converting them into more acceptable forms of behaviour. As Freud
believes, It is a mature way of behaving normally in socially acceptable
ways. For instance, a childless woman might start a day care to fulfil her
desire of nurturing a child.
5. Projection: It involves ascribing our unacceptable qualities or
feelings to others. For instance, if you have an aversion towards someone,
you might say that person doesn’t respect you or doesn’t like you.
6. Intellectualisation: It helps reduce anxiety by being cold and focusing
more on the intellectual components of the situation, while avoiding the
stressful emotional component of a traumatic or anxiety provoking
situation. For instance, a person just diagnosed with cancer might focus
on learning everything about it, in order to avoid distress and distant
himself from the reality of the situation.
7. Rationalisation: It involves explaining an unacceptable behaviour or
feeling in a more rational or logical manner, while avoiding the true
reasons for the behaviour. For instance, a student might explain his poor
grades by blaming the examiner rather than his own lack of preparation.
8. Regression: It involves reverting to childhood patterns of behaviour
failing to cope with stressful events. For instance, an adult fixated in
his childhood days might lack maturity and may cry or sulk upon hearing
9. Reaction Formation: It involves taking up the opposite feeling or
behaviour in an attempt to hide true feelings by behaving in the exact
opposite manner. For instance, treating someone you dislike in an
extremely friendly manner in an attempt to hide your true feelings.
Although defence mechanisms are often thought of as negative reactions,
some of these can actually help ease stress during critical times,
diverting their attention to what is more necessary at the moment.