What are Defense Mechanisms and How Do They Affect Us?
“Defence mechanisms in psychology” –
Alice leaves the town after a terrible relationship breakdown. She once was happy in what seems to be a good relationship with John for three years until one day; she found a note from him saying he would be leaving for Sydney with someone new. As you may expect, this broke her.
Defence mechanisms are a widely studied area of psychology. They were first described by Sigmund Freud and later elaborated on by his daughter, Anna. She described this as responses to signal anxiety, which happens as a result of an expected intuitive tension. Simply put, humans will put up a mental defence to whatever potentially stresses their ego.
Defence mechanisms are entirely a normal part of human psychology, and while they are self-serving in themselves to the extreme may suggest more compulsive tendencies.
There are different types of defence mechanisms.
Let’s take a deeper look into each of these:
One common strategy we use is that stop negative emotions. It is the defence mechanism Alice used to avoid the anxiety that comes with thinking about her past. It is a way the ego uses to stop disturbing or threatening emotions from gaining entry into our mind.
We use this when we try to hide from the emotions of a negative experience and focus on its intellectual components.
For example, when Alice decides to share her experience of heartbreak with her friends, she may state the facts alone while detaching herself from the negative emotions.
While it may make one appear brave, overusing this mechanism leaves these negative emotions unprocessed, leading one to emotional disturbances including anxiety disorders
You have probably used this many times before. Have you had your desire denied and you immediately spiral into childlike behaviours, such as crying, cussing people out, or breaking things? Same way children throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want, adults too can regress when under stress.
Rationalization of Defence Mechanisms
Have you ever wanted something so bad and not get it, then say to yourself: “It was not meant for me”? Yes? In psychology, we call this rationalization and humans use this against the sadness and hurt that naturally comes after one does not get what they want.
Now, while this may be helpful as a coping mechanism, if it is overused or used in unnecessary situations, it may prevent us from learning from our mistakes.
I remember getting to work a few minutes late, and my colleague who hands over patient files to me went out of shape. While it was not out of place to get angry at a colleague for coming late, it definitely goes overboard if one screams about it. I got to find out much later that he was not angry at me. He was angry at the manager for talking down on her moments earlier.
This action is what we call displacement and it is an unconscious transfer of one’s negative emotions. This can be onto someone else who is not directly connected to one’s stressor.
If Alice begins a new relationship with Bryan and notices certain behaviours that suggest he is cheating, she may choose to ignore these signs and remain optimistic. This defence mechanism is denial.
This may shield us from the anxiety that negative emotions bring, it prevents us from seeing things as they are. This opens us to the very threat that we try to hide from.
Avoidance takes into awareness that a threat or problem exists, but we refuse to do anything about it; Instead, we try to stay far away from any potential solution.
One example of avoidance is procrastination. Someone calls you to repay some money you owe him. You have the money but you push the thought off and hope everyone forgets about it.
The projection for Defence Mechanisms
Projection is a common defence mechanism in which the emotions and thoughts we have about ourselves are thought to be the ones others have about us or themselves.
A case in point is situational anxiety. Have you found yourself anxious about a class presentation and think others are feeling the same way? But they are not? That’s projection. What’s more, thinking your boss always criticize you even when he is just correcting you is an example of projection.
There are several other types of defence mechanisms that are part of our everyday life. However, while these are subconscious responses to protect us from potential threats, they may not always be of benefit to us. Therefore, examine your thoughts and emotions, with the help of your psychologist and find how you respond to situations. Learn what defence mechanisms you employ and how best to change your ways of coping.