Many of us have heard of defense mechanism but aren't really sure what they are or how they apply. At times they can be useful to protect us but often we over compensate and use them to the point of pushing people away.
- Denial: claiming or believing that what is true is actually false.
- At times this can take the form of acting like you just don't know what someone is talking about or claim confusion. Really what is going on underneath the surface is that something triggered an anxiety response and instead of facing it you dodged it with some form of denial.
- Displacement: redirecting emotions to a replacement target.
- An example of displacement is when you have a bad day and come home and kick the dog. Unfortunately this often takes the form of taking your stress out on your loved ones. This particular defense mechanism breaks up many marriages. It is very important to be aware if you are at risk of doing this so you can be proactive about not unintentionally pushing people away.
- Intellectualization: taking an cognitive viewpoint.
- Some people using this to block their emotions. They keep things theoretical or they over analyze something just so they can keep it "heady" instead of emotional. It is a way to protect themselves from being vulnerable. This often hurts relationships because these people don't show their emotions often and it can make their partners feel unconnected.
- Projection: attributing your feelings to others.
- When people use projection it is typically because they are not at peace with what they are feeling. This is done on an unconscious level until you start consciously looking for it. An example of this could be having thoughts of an affairs and then accusing your spouse of cheating on you.
- Rationalization: creating false but credible justifications for our actions.
- Rationalization is a very powerful and dangerous defense mechanism. Once we justify something, we give ourselves permission do it no matter how bad it is. "It's ok for me to be mean because he's been mean to me all week." Some people are pros at rationalizing their actions. This can be very dangerous.
- Reaction Formation: overacting in the opposite way to the fear.
- This is a way we try to convince ourselves to feel something we don't. An example of this would include if you hated your co worker but then went out of your way to be very nice and spend a lot of time with them. It is overcompensating in the opposite way that you feel.
- Regression: going back to acting like child.
- This often shows up in children. In a divorce situation a child who is potty trained may start having accidents or sucking their thumb again. In adults issues you have already overcome maybe become a struggle again in response to a large stressor.
- Repression: pushing uncomfortable thoughts or blocking them out.
- Many people use this defense mechanism. The belief is, "if I don't think about it, it doesn't hurt." The unfortunate thing about that belief is that is just not true. If you do not deal with your emotions they will come out in another way. Examples include head aches, back aches, high blood pressure, anger issues, depression and anxiety.
Defense mechanism are important to be aware of because often they are harmful to our relationships. We can start by being conscious of them and then once we recognize them we can change them. Defense mechanism often start because of pain or trauma. Don't be afraid to seek counseling to work through past issues that may be contributing to your defensiveness. There is hope in healing.