Defense Mechanisms

When people experience difficulties, they have different ways of handling their pain. These different ways of dealing with pain are called defense mechanisms. Originally conceived by Sigmund Freud, much of the development of defense mechanisms was done by his daughter, Anna Freud. Defense mechanisms can be healthy or unhealthy depending on the circumstances and how much a person uses them. If you slam down your briefcase because you are mad at your wife one time, that's not a big deal. But if you frequently take your anger out by throwing or breaking things, there might be a better way of dealing with your anger

Name of Defense Mechanism Description Example
Repression

Burying a painful feeling or thought from your awareness though it may resurface in symbolic form. Sometimes considered a basis of other defense mechanisms.

You can't remember your father's funeral.
Denial Not accepting reality because it is too painful. You are arrested for drunk driving several times but don't believe you have a problem with alcohol.
Regression Reverting to an older, less mature way of handling stresses and feelings You and your roommate have get into an argument so you stomp off into another room and pout
Projection Attributing your own unacceptable thoughts or feelings to someone or something else You get really mad at your husband but scream that he's the one mad at you.
Splitting Everything in the world is seen as all good or all bad with nothing in between. You think your best friend is absolutely worthless because he forgot a lunch date with you.
Isolation of affect Attempting to avoid a painful thought or feeling by objectifying and emotionally detaching oneself from the feeling Acting aloof and indifferent toward someone when you really dislike that person
Displacement Channeling a feeling or thought from its actual source to something or someone else. When you get mad at your sister, you break your drinking glass by throwing it against the wall.
Reaction Formation Adopting beliefs, attitudes, and feelings contrary to what you really believe When you say you're not angry when you really are.
Rationalization Justifying one's behaviors and motivations by substituting "good", acceptable reasons for these real motivations I always study hard for tests and I know a lot of people who cheat so it's not a big deal I cheated this time.
Altruism Handling your own pain by helping others. After your wife dies, you keep yourself busy by volunteering at your church.
Humor Focusing on funny aspects of a painful situation. A person's treatment for cancer makes him lose his hair so he makes jokes about being bald.
Sublimation Redirecting unacceptable, instinctual drives into personally and socially acceptable channels Intense rage redirected in the form of participation in sports such as boxing or football
Suppression The effort to hide and control unacceptable thoughts or feelings You are attracted to someone but say that you really don't like the person at all
Undoing Trying to reverse or "undo" a thought or feeling by performing an action that signifies an opposite feeling than your original thought or feeling You have feelings of dislike for someone so you buy them a gift

 

Defense mechanisms can hide many different feelings from anger to love to sadness. There are a variety of other defense mechanisms such as minimizing, blaming, diversion, withdrawal, mastery, compensation, conversion, disassociation, idealization, identification, incorporation, introjection, substitution, and symbolism.