Defence Mechanisms

    Post 42 of 198

    In the different areas of psychology there are what are referred to as defence mechanisms. These are ways in which we defend ourselves against unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Most defence mechanisms are automatic. They are instinctive. We act in a way that we often don’t know what we’re doing.

    There is nothing wrong with defence mechanisms. In fact they are perfectly normal. We all have them. We all use them. Sometimes however they can hinder emotional resilience and development. They can affect our ability to form and maintain relationships and so on.

    Different types of defence mechanisms are primitive and mature. Primitive defences are learned in childhood and mature defences learned later as we grow

    Defence mechanisms are learned in early childhood. When adults haven’t learned resilience and better ways to cope with difficult feelings they revert to those more primitive defence mechanisms learned in childhood. The more primitive the defence, although may be effective in the short term, is not so effective in the longer term. Counselling and psychotherapy can help you become more aware of your defence mechanisms and help you develop better coping strategies.

    Here are some common primitive defence mechanisms.


    Denial is a way of avoiding painful thoughts, feelings and experiences. It is believed to be a characteristic of early childhood development. It is refusing to accept reality or an opposing perspective that conflicts with your own. An example would be a gambling addict who denies having a problem because they were able to pay their mortgage that month.


    Dissociation occurs when someone finds a different view of themselves during a difficult experience. It is a way of disconnecting for a time from a world that doesn’t have unbearable thoughts, feelings and memories. People who dissociate often lose track of time or of their thought processes and memories. Dissociation is common in people who have suffered childhood abuse.


    Regression is reverting back to an earlier stage in development when facing something uncomfortable. Early childhood behaviours return. For instance when faced with something frightening someone may become clingy and seek lots of reassurance. Some may disengage with normal everyday life and activities. They may refuse to leave their bed, feign illness like a child trying to avoid going to school.

    Reaction Formation

    This is the conversion of unwanted thoughts and feelings into the opposite. An example would be someone who has difficulty expressing disappointment or anger will behave in a friendly and loyal manner to overtly show the opposite of what they are feeling.


    Projection occurs when someone attributes all their unacceptable thoughts, feelings and behaviours onto others. Another way of looking at it could be to blame everyone else. It is often because of a lack of insight into a person’s own feelings that they project elsewhere.


    This is similar to dissociation in that opposing sets of values are separated. For example someone who believes themselves to be an honest upright church going member of the community who steals from work and cheats on their partner keeps the two opposing value systems different and doesn’t integrate them to avoid the discomfort of cognitive dissonance

    Acting Out

    Acting out is a another behaviour. It is an expression of what the person is feeling. For example if someone feels angry rather than just say it they may shout aggressively and throw things. It’s like a child throwing a tantrum when they don’t get their own way because they don’t know how to express disappointment.


    Examples of mature defence mechanisms to follow next time.



    This article was written by sentientcounselling