Defense Mechanisms

Written by Kathi Stringer

Defense mechanisms protect the human physic from raised levels of anxiety. Often, the mechanisms are unconscious behaviors. When used excessively, one is unable to face reality and solve problems which can lead to psychosis. The goal is to bring the unconscious behavior to conscious and to target the cause of the behavior to establish greater insight. I have listed below the defense mechanisms and their meanings.......



On the unconscious level, the involuntary forgetting of painful ideas, events and conflicts.


On the unconscious level, one will not admit an unacceptable behavior or idea.


On the unconscious level, *one takes on* the values and attitudes of others, acting as if they are there own.


Projecting or casting what is unwanted, or undesired onto someone else. Such as looking for an scapegoat or blaming another.


When one separates on an unconscious level, feelings and emotions from an object, idea or situation.


Return to an earlier and more comfortable developmental level. The term *fixation* and regression are often associated with each other. Fixation can frustrate reality and lead to regression. Regression is related to the need of security. Whether it is positive or negative depends largely on the therapist. A mentally healthy person will progress though many developmental levels.

Denial Freudian defense mechanisms - Denial Refusing to acknowledge an undesirable experience, memory. or internal need that is anxiety arousing and behaving as if it did not exist. Despite overwhelming evidence and a death certificate, Tom's mother refused to believe that her son had been killed in the war
Displacement Shifting feelings from one object to a substitute that is not as gratifying but is less anxiety-arousing. Tom, a baseball pitcher, often hits the next batter with a pitch when someone has hit a home run off him.
Projection Attributing to others unwanted feelings, thoughts or behaviors.  
Rationalization Proposing socially acceptable feelings or reasons in place of actual, unacceptable feelings or reasons for a behavior.  
Reaction formation Defending against unacceptable feelings and behavior by exhibiting the opposite of one's true wishes or impulses Mary who is unsure of her own sexuality, frequently makes homophobic & lesbian bashing remarks.
Regression Returning to forms of behavior that are indicative of an earlier level of development such as childhood (usually in response to an overwhelming stressor). Mark began sucking his thumb after the birth of his baby sister.
Sublimation A form of displacement in which a sexual or aggressive impulse is moved from an unacceptable object to one that is acceptable and ultimately has value to society. Tom who has always had pent-up hostile impulses becomes a famous surgeon.