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Which One of These Are Your Defense Mechanisms and What Can You Do About It?

Updated: Nov 9

by Sonia Singh. |


As a kid, did you remember watching cartoons that had a devil and angel sitting on each side of the character’s shoulder? That creative concept was derived from a theory by Freud, the father of psychoanalysis. The constant battle between two opposite forces that live in your mind called id (the devil that represents our instincts) and superego (the angel which represents our morality) causes your ego to struggle when making rational decisions. This struggle produces anxiety, causing you to rely on defense mechanisms.

Defense mechanisms are an unconscious psychological process that can be thought of as our mind finding an easy way out, rather than dealing with unpleasant feelings such as anxiety. Since it is done unconsciously, most of us are not aware that we carry out these mechanisms on a day-to-day basis. Which of these 6 defense mechanisms do you recognize as being part of your life?

1. Denial

You have probably heard or said the phrase, “she/he is in denial”. What does this mean? Denial is the refusal to acknowledge a situation and is the most common defense mechanism. We tend to deny something when it does not align with the favorable situation we had wanted to be in. For example, a bad break up, death of a loved one, or a loss in valuables such as property or investments can cause you to refuse to accept reality and not want to experience such negativity.

2. Displacement

Displacement happens when you transfer your negative feelings onto someone or something less threatening in terms of repercussions. Remember the time you yelled at your partner when you got home from work when in reality, you were angry with your boss who yelled at you at work? Many people tend to displace their anger on someone else or something that happens to be a powerless substitute.

3. Rationalization

There may be times where we try to conceal the true meaning of our own or someone’s actions by self-assurance. Self-assurance may be seen as being positive and encouraging, but if it is done elaborately, it may prevent you from seeing the truth of a situation. Unlike denial, you accept the situation but try to find self-biased reasoning for it. One may tell themselves that it is okay that they did not manage to secure a job in a company by rationalizing that the offered salary was not up to their standard anyway. Or that they did not win a competition because the judges were biased and not because they were not good enough.

4. Projection

This often happens when one is unable to accept their feelings and therefore, falsely attributes their feelings on another. A good example would be when you think a classmate does not like you but in reality, it is you who does not like the classmate.

5. Reaction Formation

This defense mechanism causes you to substitute unacceptable thoughts or actions with acceptable ones, or the complete opposite. Sometimes, these thoughts or actions can be quite exaggerated. Reaction formation can be familiar to some of those that belong to the LGBTQ community where they recognize their sexuality but choose to tell themselves and others that they are heterosexual.

6. Sublimation

Sublimation happens when a person redirects strong emotions onto an appropriate object or activity. This may be positive in the short-run but may cause you to not acknowledge your true feelings in the long-run which can lead to you bottling up all your emotions. A good example would be hitting the gym or kickboxing to release negative emotions such as anger and anxiety.


Now that you are well informed, ask yourself, which one do you often catch yourself doing unconsciously? It could be more than one of the above. Here are some ways you can take this matter into your own hands.


1. Journaling

As defense mechanisms are carried out unconsciously, journaling is one of the most common ways to carry out self-observation. By writing how you feel every day and re-reading those entries, you will be able to spot your thought and action patterns. Once you’re more aware of how you think or act, only then you can do something about it.


2. Meditation

Most defense mechanisms are carried out to dismiss unpleasant feelings such as anxiety. But as most of us know, there are other ways to lower your anxiety, such as meditation. Meditation is an effective and accessible way to calm an anxious mind. If you’re not sure where to start, guided meditation can be easily found on Youtube or Spotify.


3. Being Mindful

Being mindful in today’s world can be quite challenging since most of our time can be aimlessly spent on scrolling through social media, getting through our busy day without realizing the thoughts which run through our heads and minor actions that are carried out every day. With the combination of journaling and meditating, it is much easier to pause, reflect, and question, why am I thinking or acting this way?

No matter how conflicting life gets, we should keep in mind that we may not be able to control what others think or how they act. However, we can try to help ourselves and be more aware of our thoughts, actions and the impact it leaves on ourselves and the people around us.

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