Five Defense Mechanisms
How do you protect yourself from pain? Do you know the way your unconscious mind defends you? As a matter of fact, we all have different defense mechanisms that kick in to protect us from highly stressful events. They’re usually unconscious. This means they’re mobilized before you’re aware of the pain, stupefaction, or confusion that a situation can generate. In effect, when they’re activated, your unconscious self protects you.
Defense mechanisms provide you with a whole arsenal of tools that allow you to cushion the impact of events that can be potentially traumatic. As a rule, they’re adaptive. However, they can become pathological when they prevent you from developing in areas that are meaningful to you. For example, the interpersonal, academic, or work field.
In this article, we’re going to explain some of the defense mechanisms you’ve likely used at some point in your life. They were defined by Sigmund Freud and the field of psychoanalysis. Indeed, Freud believed that they form the origin of personality. Therefore, it’s possible that you might identify more with some than others. It’s also possible that, after reading about them, you’ll begin to identify them more frequently in your daily life.
“The more perfect a person is on the outside, the more demons they have on the inside.”
Defense mechanisms can be classified into two large blocks. On the one hand, are those that involve fleeing when you experience anguish, such as repression. On the other hand, there are those that allude to the fact of trying to face or even control the feared situation. For instance, intellectualization.
To suppress something means to ‘cut off its access to consciousness’. In effect, with repression, you separate yourself from the thoughts that cause you anxiety by avoiding them or shrinking them and putting them away.
These thoughts are destined for the depths of your mind. The deeper they go, the more difficult it’ll be for you to access them and, apparently, the less you’ll suffer. However, despite its effectiveness, this process is dangerous. That’s because what you avoid facing and dealing with has the potential to grow. This means it might muddy your mind in the future in a more intense way.
“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”
If you’re going through a bad patch and not treating those around you too well, you might defend yourself by saying that they’re treating you badly. However, in reality, they’re only responding to how you’re treating them. This defense mechanism usually arises when you attribute to another person what’s in your own mind.
Projection is a form of interpersonal defense. It arises and is activated in your relationships with others. In fact, it’s an unconscious form of manipulation. Your goal, albeit unconscious, is to harm and control the other person because you assume, believe, and feel that they possess this trait.
“We are what we are because we have been what we have been.”
How many times have you felt the need to write, draw, or sing when experiencing discomfort? Sublimating pain and frustration involve substituting these emotions and transforming them into something that’s socially and ethically acceptable. Instead of avoiding your feelings or reacting aggressively to the situation that’s causing you anxiety, you rework it and give it a new meaning.
“Every child at play behaves like a creative writer, in that he creates a world of his own, or rather, rearranges the things in his world in a new way that pleases him.”
Intellectualizing a painful situation means over-reasoning it. There are times in your life when you want to exercise iron control over the conflicts you’re going through and the emotions they produce. To do this, you analyze them and generate a multitude of arguments that favor your own opinion, without considering the evidence against it and without paying attention to the emotions you feel.
The result is that you disconnect from the emotional part of the event and only experience it halfway. For example, when faced with a partner’s infidelity, you might list a whole series of reasons to justify their behavior. That’s because it’s less painful than facing the feelings of betrayal and pain it causes you.
“The voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing.”
This mental defense is closely linked to repression. The things you repress and relegate to the back of your mind have a habit of appearing in your dreams. Freud saw dreams as an important access route to the unconscious through which repressed memories and emotions are manifested. In this sense, the unconscious is a storehouse of memories, images, and emotions that access consciousness through sleep.
An interesting question that you might ask yourself when faced with the curious, terrifying, or pleasant contents of your dreams is: what do they mean? Letting your mind wander regarding the meanings of your dreams encourages free association. According to Freud, this helps to make the memories, emotions, and situations that you’ve repressed clearer. In effect, it brings them to the surface so that you can process the information and give it meaning.
All of these mental defenses are mechanisms that protect you. They’re unconscious forms of defense against intensely emotional events. Do you identify with any of them?
“Dreaming, in short, is one of the devices we use to evade repression, one of the main methods of indirect representation of the mind.”
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
Bleichmar, H. (2006). Hacer consciente lo inconsciente para modificar los procesamientos inconscientes: algunos mecanismos del cambio terapéutico. Aperturas psicoanalíticas, 22.
Bleichmar, H. (2001). El cambio terapéutico a la luz de los conocimientos actuales sobre la memoria y los múltiples procesamientos inconscientes. Aperturas psicoanalíticas, 9(2).