Life is challenging. Everybody, yes everybody, uses defense mechanisms to survive. This is not a conscious choice but by becoming aware of the defense mechanism(s) we tend to use the most, we might handle life in a more positive way.
As we discover those places in our life where we feel no control, let’s focus on progress, not perfection. So let’s review the mechanisms in order to identify them and work on being more conscious of our reactions, and instead of labeling our experiences and reactions as negative, be able to generate a personal transformation. Instead of using them as destroyers, turn them into growth opportunities.
–Displacement: This one is used by everybody when we are tired, low on energy, or not nourished enough. We transfer our feelings to someone else. This is usually the case after having a hard day at work and we snap at our children or partner. It’s important to know that treating ourselves poorly by negative self-talk, binge eating or by using toxic substances is displacement in its most damaging form, a true destroyer.
–Rationalization: It’s hard to accept that sometimes even good people do something bad. Rationalization is making an excuse for a behavior by blaming circumstances where we believe ourselves to be innocent bystanders. This prevents us from being able to handle the truth. It’s ok to fail, be embarrassed, and feel scared sometimes.
–Repression: Events we think we forget but create negative automatic thoughts at a subconscious level which in turn make us feel bad. This is the case with all irrational beliefs.
–Projection: When we attribute to others what we think are unacceptable impulses or behaviors. What we don’t like in others usually we don’t like in ourselves. This is the case when we are always in the right and that person is always in the wrong; or when we hate something in ourselves, therefore we hate it in others.
–Denial: Simply put, denial means not accepting reality. Denying helps with negative impulses that otherwise might fill us with anxiety. The problem is that by being in denial, we are not able to learn from an experience, accept advice and grow. It’s understandable, some truths are too painful to be accepted in full but are better digested in small doses.
–Regression: We use this defense mechanism when stressed and go back to an earlier stage where we felt more happy and safe. This is the case of childish behaviors or the abuse of comfort food.
–Reaction Formation: This one turns an unacceptable impulse into the enemy, demonizing something we are attracted to, or trying to feel repulsed by our deep down desires. As a result, instead of defending ourselves we destroy using feelings of failure and guilt. It’s a polarization. This is the case with certain foods (like sugar is the enemy) or sexual impulses.
–Intellectualization: This one serves better instead of rationalization. It’s coming up with a reason to explain an event without using a story around it.
–Sublimation: Love this one! We take our troubles and turn them into something good. We take unacceptable behavior and let it out in a positive way by using healthy outlets. This is the case in painting, playing a musical instrument, a sport or any hobby that makes us feel better after a stressful day or experience. So we might lose interest in such activity that unconsciously served to let out frustration once we don’t need the outlet anymore.
Defense mechanisms are neither bad nor good, they just are, but we need to discard the ones that may be preventing us from evolving, living a full life and achieving good health. Therefore, if we practice taking responsibility and developing positive interpretations of our experiences then we will not needlessly punish ourselves for imagined failures or losses using self-criticism or negative self-talk, victimizing ourselves or looking to others to save us from ourselves or even make us happy. We will also be more conscious of why others behave the way they do and be more understanding.
Choose to be kind and grateful.