Your Defense Mechanisms Can Get In the Way: Know Them!

Has anyone said to you, “Why are you so defensive?” Have you ever thought to yourself, “Why am I feeling so defensive?” Defenses exist and there is a reason for them. They protect. Without going into the various reasons for their existence, a matter for another time, I will present some of the more significant ones.

Dr. John Grohol has written an excellent article about defense mechanisms. He states that “they are one way of looking at how people distance themselves from a full awareness of unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. He breaks his list of fifteen into three categories – primitive, less primitive, and mature.


DENIAL:  The refusal of accept reality, acting as if a painful situation, thought, or feeling did not exist. This is a big one!

REGRESSION: Reversion to an earlier stage of development in the face of unacceptable thoughts, feelings, or impulses.

ACTING OUT: Performing an extreme behavior in order to express thoughts or feelings that the person feels incapable of otherwise expressing.

DISSOCIATION: A person loses track of time or themselves and finds another representation of his/her self in order to continue in the moment.

COMPARTMENTALIZATION: A lesser form of Dissociation, wherein parts of oneself are separated from awareness of other parts and behaving as if one had separate sets of values.

PROJECTION: The misattribution of a person’s undesired thoughts, feelings, or impulses onto another person who does not have these.

REACTION FORMATION: Converting of unwanted or dangerous thoughts, feelings, or inpulses into their opposites.


REPRESSION: Unconscious blocking of unacceptable thoughts, feelings, and impulses.

DISPLACEMENT: Redirecting of thoughts, feelings, and impulses directed at one person or object, but taken out upon another person or object.

INTELLECTUALIZATION: Overemphasis on thinking when confronted with an unacceptable impulse, situation, or behavior without employing any emotions whatsoever.

RATIONALIZATION: Putting something into a different light or offering a different explanation of one’s perceptions or behaviors in the face of changing reality.

UNDOING: Attempt to take back an unconscious behavior or thought that is unacceptable or hurtful.


SUBLIMATION: Channeling of unacceptable impulses, thoughts and emotions into more acceptable ones.

COMPENSATION: Process of psychologically counterbalancing perceived weakness by emphasizing strengths in other areas.

ASSERTIVENESS: Emphasis of a person’s needs or thoughts in a manner that is respectful, direct and firm.

Respected Reader, did you find some of yours? Which ones? Other peoples? If you need further understanding or examples of the above (space limited me from using examples), use Google.

Once you have identified one or some of your defenses, or have them pointed out to you by another, start the work of determining when and how these defenses came into play. Such an exercise may be painful, but will be rewarding in the end. I have a “homework” that facilitates this process. Defenses can block some painful stuff, but it also blocks some real good stuff as well. Explore what is behind that defensive wall and see!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”   Socrates

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