One of the notable founders of modern-day psychology, Sigmund Freud, brought forth a number of concepts and ideas to better explain human behavior and mental illness. One of his more interesting ideas surrounding the ego is that people will employ different types of defense mechanisms in order to protect themselves from anxiety and realities that might threaten one’s ego and sense of self. His daughter, Anna Freud, later went on to expand on the idea of defense mechanisms and provide more concrete examples of them. We will cover some of the most common defense mechanisms.

What are the Most Common Defense Mechanisms?

By: Chris Anderson Psy.D.

  • Denial: This is often considered a more immature defense mechanism, often seen in children. For example, when a parent confronts their child about eating all the cookies while they have crumbs all down their shirt, and the child insists they did not do it. The need to feel like a good kid prevents them momentarily from acknowledging their transgression.
  • Repression: This occurs when the mind unconsciously blocks certain memories from the conscious mind to protect itself from distressing realities. This can occur with abuse.
  • Suppression: Similar to repression, suppression occurs when there is a conscious decision to avoid and block out memories because they are upsetting. The difference here is that on some level the person knows what they are doing, where in repression they do not.
  • Regression: This occurs when current coping mechanisms are inadequate to manage stressors. At times, people may regress to earlier coping mechanisms. An eight-year-old may regress to thumb sucking and rocking when distressed like they did when they were four years old. An adult may regress to cutting or using drugs to cope with an upsetting event. If one strategy fails, the person regresses to something that has worked in the past to avoid upset.
  • Projection: This occurs when a person projects their own feelings onto others. An angry teenager may scream at their parent, “Why are you always yelling at me?” Unable to acknowledge their own anger and face their own flaws, they remove it and put it onto someone else, and then often react to their projections, as in this example where the teen plays the victim of the perceived parent’s anger.
  • Displacement: This phenomenon occurs when a person cannot address their emotions directly for fear or risk of retribution. When a person is angry at their boss for making them work late, they go home and yell at their spouse, pet, or child. They have displaced the anger to a safer outlet than their boss.
  • Sublimation: This occurs when a person channels negative impulses into healthier outlets. If a person wanted to assault their neighbor, they may elect to chop a bunch of wood instead.
  • Reaction Formation: This happens when distressing impulses are replaced with their opposite. A person may be quite anxious about sexual desires and impulses and in turn joins the priesthood and takes a vow of celibacy as a way to deal with the situation.
  • Rationalization: This is a very common defense mechanism used by many people, perhaps even daily to preserve their egos. An aggressive driver may honk and swerve at a slow driver and rationalize it by saying or thinking, “They are an idiot and should have their license taken away.”
  • Intellectualization: This technique is used to avoid facing upsetting emotions by hiding out internally with logic and reason. For example, after a relationship breakup and feeling sad, the person focuses on the incompatibility and flaws of the person and how this will be for the better.

If you want help exploring how defense mechanisms may be keeping you from growing and facing reality, feel free to contact IPC so you can schedule an individual consultation with one of our providers so we can help discuss treatment options. Please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete a thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

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