Home Psychiatrist What are Defense Mechanisms, and Why Do We Use Them?

What are Defense Mechanisms, and Why Do We Use Them?

Verified By Apollo Psychiatrist October 20, 2022 2908 0
Defense Mechanisms
Defense Mechanisms


Every day we face numerous stressful situations. How we deal with such situations is entirely upto us – some deal with it by biting their nails, while others scream and direct their negative emotions onto others. Such behaviours are known as the defense mechanisms.

This blog talks about the defense mechanism, the reasons we use it, and the different types of it.

What is a defense mechanism?

As mentioned above, defense mechanisms are behaviours we utilize to distance ourselves from stressful situations, negative thoughts, and unpleasant actions. Simply put, when someone tries to harm us physically, we try to defend ourselves. In the same way, when our mental health is in the line of jeopardy, we defend it with our actions.

Sigmund Freud, a famous psychoanalyst, first introduced the topic of defense mechanisms as a theory. In this theory, Freud believes that individuals unconsciously behave in a certain way to protect themselves from stressful situations, which is a crucial part of our psychological development. We tend to do it without realizing it. The defense mechanism methods vary from person to person and also differs in the way it  positively or negatively impacts them.

Why do we use them?

Most defense mechanisms occur without our knowledge. We attempt to protect ourselves from uncomfortable situations, feeling, thoughts, and impulses that can be mild to extreme. It is important to note that people with anxiety, depression, and other mental conditions often use the defense mechanism in their daily lives. Some of the  reasons people use defense mechanisms are as follows:

  • An excuse to defend certain behaviour
  • Avoid dealing with hurtful and negative emotions  
  • When threatened
  • Take time off to adjust to changes

When to seek medical help?

When you regularly depend on various defense mechanisms to bring you out of uncomfortable situations and thoughts and hinder your daily activities, seek medical attention.

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What are the ten common defense mechanisms?

There are several defense mechanisms. However, the following are the ten most commonly used defense mechanisms.

  1. Denial: it is one of the most common defense mechanisms. It is when an individual refuses to accept reality or facts. They avoid dealing with difficult situations that can impact them emotionally. For instance, if you have recently received the life-changing news of a close friend’s death, you may refuse to believe it.
  2. Projection: When you need to deal with unwarranted situations that cause anxiety, you may project your emotions onto others instead of accepting your shortcoming. For example, if a person is in a group and is scared to cross the road, they may not accept that they are scared. Instead, talk about others’ shortcomings in the group.
  3. Displacement: It involves projecting your difficult emotions, thoughts, and feelings onto someone else or some other object. An example is when you have a bad day at work and get angry at your spouse or child when you reach home. Neither of them was the focus of your strong emotions, but you projected them subconsciously onto your family members instead of your boss.
  4. Repression: When unpleasant thoughts, uncomfortable memories, or unusual beliefs may upset you, instead of confronting them, you unintentionally hide these emotions hoping to forget them. However, such memories do not disappear. If a person was abused as a child, they might want to repress those memories.
  5. Regression: If you are experiencing anxiety or feel threatened, you may subconsciously escape into an early development stage. Typically, this is common among children. However, adults regress too. For children, when they experience the loss of a family member, they may start bedwetting again or sucking their thumb. However, when adults experience a traumatic experience, they may lean towards their childhood toys or activities. They may also avoid daily activities as they may be overwhelmed with several emotions.
  6. Sublimation: This is one of the defense mechanisms that the healthcare provider believes to be a mature and positive way of dealing with stressful situations. Here, people choose to pass on their negative energy to another object or activity that is safe and appropriate. If you had a stressful work day, instead of yelling or screaming at your colleagues or family members, you would redirect your emotions into contact sports such as football and kickboxing or music and art.
  7. Rationalization: Remember when you did not get a raise or a promotion as expected? You kept telling yourself you didn’t need it. This feeling of attempting to explain away negative thoughts with facts is rationalization.
  8. Reaction Formation: When you experience an undesirable situation, you recognize your feeling and know how to behave. However, you choose to act in the opposite manner of your feelings. If you feel frustrated, you choose to react positively. It is reaction formation.
  9. Compartmentalization: As the name suggests, you put various aspects of life into different boxes or compartments. So that you can deal with each part of life independently and separately, causing less anxiety and stress. Many do not talk about their personal life at work or vice-versa.
  10. Intellectualization: In a difficult situation, you choose not to react emotionally but look at the quantitative facts. Doing so helps reduce your anxiety and stress. If you are fired, you think about the next step. You do not get angry or frustrated; instead, start looking for job opportunities that suit your needs or learn new skills to pursue your dream job.


As we have already read before, a defense mechanism is our natural way of dealing with stressful situations or negative thoughts and actions. Such tools are often used by us unconsciously without long-term consequences. However, if it increases your anxiety or stress level, hindering your normal day-to-day activities; you should seek medical help to help develop a positive mindset.

Verified By Apollo Psychiatrist
The content is verified by our Psychiatrists to ensure evidence-based, empathetic and culturally relevant information covering the full spectrum of mental health

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