Defense Mechanisms 


Defense mechanisms are coping mechanisms, they are healthy. When the defense system is not working for people, they need hospitalization as they fail to cope. However, if we utilize them to the extreme they also become unhealthy.

Defense mechanisms help us cope with unpleasant aspects of reality, but over reliance on them can create serious problems.

1) Denial - We are protecting self from unpleasant reality by refusal to face or accept the problems of a certain unpleasant reality, like addiction problems. We see it in co-dependency, physical abuse, domestic violence, and so forth.

2) Fantasy - Gratifying frustrated desires by imaginary achievement.

3) Repression - Preventing painful/dangerous thoughts from entering our consciousness. Repression is unconscious. Suppression is conscious. When we prevent painful thoughts, we stop ourselves from thinking, we are suppressing our thoughts.

4) Rationalization - Proving one's behavior is justifiable, rational and thus worthy of self and social approval. We are attempting to prove our behavior is justifiable.

5) Projection - We are projecting our feelings onto someone else. Placing blame onto others, or attributing our own unethical desires onto others. (Like one spouse blaming the other for having an affair, while they really are the culpable ones!)

6) Reaction formation - Preventing dangerous desires from being expressed by exaggerating opposed attitudes or types of behavior. (ex.: Gay bashing)

7) Displacement - Discharging pent up feelings, usually of hostility, onto less threatening subjects. (Our boss yells at us and we go home and kick the cat.)

8) Emotional Insulation - Reducing ego involvement and withdrawal into passivity to protect self from hurt. (The widow who mourns her late husband for years...)

9) Intellectualization - happens with bright, educated people; they use logic, cutting off affective/emotional charge from hurtful situations by logic type compartments. By using logic they avoid connecting up with their feelings.

10) Undoing - atoning for and thus counteracting immoral desires and acts.

11) Regression - Retreating to an earlier developmental level, involving less mature response, and usually a lower level of aspiration.

12) Identification - Increasing the feeling of worth by identifying self with a person or an institution of illustrious standing. We are losing our own identity in the process, and identifying with that person or entity.

13) Introjection - Incorporating external values and standards into the ego so that the individual is not at the mercy of external threat. Ex.: Joining a gang, becoming a police officer if you really wanted to be a criminal. (If we don't incorporate their values/standards into our ego structure we are going to be at their mercy.)

14) Compensation - Covering up weakness by emphasizing desirable traits or making up for frustrations in one area by over gratification in another area. (Ex.: Short men becoming muscle builders to order to compensate. Not good athletically but becoming very brainy.)

15) Acting out - reducing anxiety aroused by forbidden desires by permitting their expressions. Sublimation is the opposite of acting out, we don't act out. (Hockey players who sublimate their desires for physical violence into a game. Expressing the desire, but doing it in a socially acceptable way like being a hockey player or a boxer.)

The Defense mechanisms are healthy unless we use them to the extreme, or we lose the ability to cope completely.

Yaron Hillel , M.A.

Return to the Process of Grieving Directory



Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.

Contact Us

E-mail to:
For legal questions call toll free: 1-800-992-9447

We are not medical professionals, however we encourage your inquiries regarding both legal issues and information on further resources. Phone and email inquiries will be received by the staff of the Brain Injury Law Office, including Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.

copyright ©2002 - 2013 Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr., All rights reserved.

For more on Attorney Gordon Johnson