Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are unconscious behaviors used to release tension or cope with stress.  They help to block uncomfortable or threatening feelings.  All people use defense mechanisms at times.  However, people who are mentally ill use them to a greater degree.  An overuse of these mechanisms prevents a person from understanding their emotional problems and behaviors.  If a person is unable to recognize problems, he or she will not address them.  The problems may get worse.

Common defense mechanisms are listed below:

  • Denial – Completely rejecting the thought or feeling – “I’m not upset with you!”
  • Projection – Seeing feelings in others that are really one’s own – “My teacher hates me.”
  • Displacement – Transferring a strong negative feeling to a safer situation. For example, an unhappy employee cannot yell at his boss for fear of losing his job. He later yells at his wife.
  • Rationalization – Making excuses to justify a situation – After stealing something, saying “Everybody does it.”
  • Repression – Blocking unacceptable thoughts or painful feelings from the mind – For example, not remembering sexual abuse.
  • Regression – Going back to an old, usually immature behavior – For example, throwing a temper tantrum as an adult.