12 defense mechanisms and how to avoid them

Have you ever wondered why you were reacting in this or that way in a particular situation? You know, you don’t have time to think that your body has already acted for you, and it is only after you say to yourself: “man, I could have done otherwise”.

No worries ! I have good news for you: it’s normal. It happens to me too. And to your neighbor, your friend or your grandmother.

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The truth is that all human beings experience this kind of reflex reactions. And if, instead of trying to destroy them (spoiler alert: you will probably never eradicate them permanently), you tutored them?

In this article, I will teach you to recognize them, accept them and tame them to allow you to be master of your behaviors.

What is a defense mechanism (in Psychology )?

The question of definition is quite complicated psychologically speaking, Henri Chabrol defines them as follows: “The mechanisms of defense are automatic mental processes, which are activated outside the control of the will and whose action remains unconscious, the subject can better perceive the result of their interventions and be surprised eventually. [1] (If you want to dig deeper and a psycho book does not scare you, I recommend this book on the subject, which you can find here: defense mechanisms and coping. It’s super interesting!).

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More simply, when you are put in front of a situation and that, without thinking, you have a reaction (you get angry, you deny, you play down …) and you have no influence on what has just happened pass, then one of your defense mechanisms has just snapped.

The big difference with coping strategies is that it’s unconscious. You do not say to your brain “Here, it would be nice to deny the problem, as it is settled. “.

The psys classify the defense mechanisms in 3 main categories, which I will not develop too much:

The high adaptive level, the intermediate level, and the level of immature defenses.

It is important that you know that there are other ways to arrange the mechanisms. These three categories are more of a kind of extra info on your defense mechanisms that will help you know where to focus your work on you. As always, the big psychologists do not agree with each other, so there’s a little clutter in definitions and categories, but it’s not the most important thing to try to influence its mechanisms, so everything go well!

The most common defense mechanisms

There are a lot of defense mechanisms and creating a complete list is almost impossible, so I’ve grouped you the most common ones here. Do not forget that this is also my perception of things, so maybe some are not strictly recognized as such but for me, yes, and I do not have science infused, so I do not know the psychological terms of all the mechanisms discussed.

You must distinguish the defense mechanisms that are anchored in your daily life and can occur at any time from those who trigger punctually in an abnormal situation. In times of mourning, for example. In case of a big blow, our reactions are also dictated by unconscious mechanisms, but there is not much sense to want to modify them.

When you react by a defense mechanism, it is because your body feels a state of emergency.

He can put himself in this state for just about anything and everything, but even if the situation seems banal, there is always an explanation buried in your past.

In any case, such a mechanism reflects the rejection of the situation.

I have listed some defense mechanisms in two hyper-concrete categories:

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Reactions to preserve the ego

These six behaviors are there to preserve your self-esteem.

  • Projection. It is when you make your mistakes on someone else, that is to say that you project a defect that you would have on the person in front of you (for example, you are of a natural jealous and reproach that same trait to your partner).
  •  The transfer of emotions. This is about getting your emotion, sadness at random, for anger, because it’s easier to get upset than having to deal with a moment of sadness.
  • Sublimation occurs when you convince yourself that everything is great and that everything is fine when in reality there are things that could be improved.
  • Not being able to say no. Has it ever happened to give money to a homeless person when you did not want it, but you forced yourself to do it? Probably you ended up giving him money because you wanted to be “validated” in the fact that you are a good person. Your ego could not at this time not bear to pass for the wicked one.
  • Denial. This one is characterized by the fact that you deny, you refuse to accept something that you would have done which, if you would accept it, would lead you to have a lower estimate of you.
  • Rationalization is based on the same principle as denial, except that instead of denying having done something, you will rationalize by finding yourself a (more or less) good excuse.

Rejection reactions from others

These reactions come from a reflex to prevent you from looking weak. They are similar to protective shells.

  • Isolation is a fairly clear term, you isolate yourself as soon as something goes wrong, you refuse to confront others or for them to see you when things aren’t great..
  • Blocking your emotions. You may be led to do this if you feel overwhelmed by your emotions, so much so that they prevent you from doing anything.
  • To withdraw into oneself as soon as one is sad. Without going as far as isolation, you refuse the dialogue all the same and closes on yourself.
  • Humor. When you do not want to show that you’re hurt, you can use humor as a defense; it is in itself one of the most useful reflexes, but it can be dangerous if, in order to defend yourself, you become in your turn hurtful because of too much biting humor.
  • To take care of oneself is common to avoid having to think too much. You do it if you create a schedule so full that the only moments you spend with yourself is when you sleep!
  • Refusing everything, systematically. Constantly refusing to do something – anything – that would put you in a new situation or that you are not used to, a party for example. You create disaster scenarios in your head that block you and prevent you from doing a lot of things.

Consequences and dangers of defense mechanisms

Although there is always a reason for which you use this or that defense mechanism, it can sometimes harm your well-being. Sometimes you would like to be able to control your emotions and the way you react.

If you act often with your instinct, you will probably feel frustrated afterwards by saying “but why did not I react like that? “. They can especially play tricks on you at work. This is usually the place where you want to show that you are in control of yourself and the situation, not that an unhappy word makes you get out of your hinges.

In your relationships in general, you have to be careful about that kind of thing. Because even if you, you know that the way you react is instinctive, the other does not necessarily know it, and if it is repeated, it will probably tell you that it does not agree with your way to react, since he does not understand why and how. Of course, if your reactions irritate them, your friends or your boyfriend / girlfriend may ask you to change your behavior.

That’s why, even if you do not fight these automatisms, it’s good to be able to control them, because nothing is more frustrating than to see a relationship deteriorate because you can not manage your behaviour.

Why shouldn’t we fight them?

“Our resilience, our ability to cope with tensions, conflicts, perils perceived within us or in the outside world, mobilizes 2 types of mental operations, defense mechanisms and coping processes. “

You have understood, these reactions are still useful. They prevent you from reaching a level of stress too important and you preserve information / situations that your brain considers dangerous (if it thinks that you are not ready to put you in question, for example if you in a time when trust in yourself is paramount).

They were formed by our past, our trauma and our experiences. You can have developed them during your childhood or your teenage years, the two periods being hinges for the growing adult that you were. We must accept them. They help to lower the internal tension when we find ourselves in a complicated situation or where we do not know how to react.

Without them, we would panic. They are there to prevent us from putting ourselves in danger.

You have to see them as self-launching programs when a red “Mayday” light is flashing on your forehead.

Nevertheless, you can relearn to your body of other ways of functioning to be more in harmony with your acts and not to let you dictate your conduct by your unconscious.

Learn to make your defense mechanism an ally

As they are triggered when your body or mind thinks you are in danger, the first step to control them is to show your body when you are actually in danger and the times when it is panicking for nothing. If your radar at risk is out of order or does not suit you anymore, it’s normal to want to restore things. Ask yourself what situations push you into your entrenchments, forcing you to let your unconscious guide you.

Now that you’ve changed the trigger, it’s time to take care of the content: what is your reaction, what is the logic behind it, and so on.

Do some work on yourself, force the reflection as far as you can. Think about how, in an ideal world, you would like to react to this or that problem. Convince your body that this is the solution. It will work. This new method of managing crises will slowly set in place, until you no longer need to make the conscious effort to choose this new solution against the instinctive defense mechanism that you had. So you control your emotions and the way you react.

How to concretely change your mechanisms

Okay, so now you probably think that it’s all very nice, but even if you’re motivated to jostle your reflex reactions, the way you do it probably still seems a little blurry. Do not panic ! Here is a clear course of action to help you achieve your goal.

1) The first thing to do, and it looks stupid like that, is to observe. Take the time to self-analyze and realize each time you engage these mechanisms. It is possible that you have a surprise at the level of the result: often, we underestimate the number of times we are not master of our reactions. I advise you to take a small notebook and note every day your observations of the day. It’s a very good exercise, not just for this particular case; as it forces you to remember your day in detail, you can take the opportunity to make a small assessment every night.

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How to be in control of your actions. 12 common defense mechanisms

2) If you have difficulty with the first step or just want to make sure you have not missed any moments, you can ask your relatives to tell you when they think you had a weird reaction, including they did not understand logic. I do not say that every time they make you a remark, you let yourself be done by your instincts, but there is still a chance that you get a better idea of ​​the situations in which you lose Control. The plus: it is an opportunity to open the dialogue with your loved ones, which gives you a chance to explain to you when they do not understand your actions.

3) Conversely, you can practice finding them in others. Moreover, do not hesitate to talk to them about this article and defense mechanisms if you think they may be interested!

4) Now that you are sure that you have understood the defense mechanisms that you find in your behavior and that you know what are the situations that make you switch, you are ready to really act accordingly. By cons, not to try to implement other reactions that would not go either, keep in mind the purpose of this change: do you want to have better relationships, be able to achieve your dreams without having to fight against your own reactions (it’s already complicated enough like that, what’s the point of adding a layer), or something else?

5) You will “change your radar to risk situations”, that is to say that you will tell your brain and your body what are the situations in which you are actually in danger or not using, and those where they panic for nothing. To do this, you have to face relatively often all the scenarios in which the defense mechanisms that you would like to change start. You must expose yourself to convince yourself that the worst-case scenario in your head (unconsciously or not) is not about to happen.

6) This is a technique that has been popularized by the Coué method and that has been included in the “miracle morning” from Hal Elrod: it is to repeat affirmative affirmations. Project yourself as an improved version of yourself; imagine what you look like, and especially how you react to problem situations. What are the positive affirmations that are true for the new you? It is by acting and speaking to you as if the change was already effective that you will provoke it.

7) Finally, to help you understand why you developed these unconscious reflexes that harm your well-being, find the event at the origin. For that, you will have to think about all the aspects of your life, mainly during your childhood and your adolescence, which could have shaped you and affect the person that you are today. Thus, relativizing the event may allow you to remove the defense mechanism that results. Even if someone was not present enough in your life when you were young, nothing says that your current relatives are likely to abandon you. Let the wounds of yesterday close again.

Tell me in comment if you have defense mechanisms that you would like to change, if you have tested the tracks that I propose, or just if this article interested you!

Be a part of the Jujubehappy V.I.P (or the Sunshine Family, I haven’t really settled down on a name) ! There is a virtual library full of free stuff, just for you. Inside, you can find and download checklists, worksheets, PDFs, guides and other personal development treasures to help you manage your stress, learn how to meditate, take care of you and much, much more ! To join the party, it’s right here.

[1] All quotes are taken from Henri Chabrol’s book, https://www.cairn.info/review-recherche-en-soins-infirmiers-2005-3-page-31.htm

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