The concept of defense mechanisms was originally introduced by Sigmund Freud in 1896, which he identified as ego defenses. Freud identified that in order for individuals to deal with conflict and problems in their life, they resort to defense mechanisms to help ward off unpleasant feelings, such as anxiety, and to make things feel better. He believed that these mechanisms were operated at an unconscious level.
The idea has continued to grow over the years and has become an established aspect of mental health diagnosis. Therapists and psychiatrists are consistently assessing their client’s usage of defense mechanisms to support them in pinpointing their internal problems and find solutions. But the question remains, what are these defense mechanisms?
Dr. Samantha Rodman, a clinical psychologist who obtained her PhD from the University of Maryland at College Park, is an accredited author in the field. She recently published a blog on Talkspace.com that outlined the most common defense mechanisms found in patients today.
- This involves blocking external events from one’s awareness; usually related to events that are too difficult or uncomfortable to deal with. Commonly, individuals suffering with substance abuse issues experience denial – reporting a lower number of drinks they had in a night can be a sign of denial.
- This can be identified as when someone has what they believe to be unacceptable thoughts or feelings, and they act as though another person is the one experiencing these thoughts or feelings. One example can be when a wife feels she yells at her husband too much, but then she blames him for having anger management issues.
- This is when an individual satisfies an impulse with a substitute object. For example. If a man is angry at this boss but cannot confront him, the man may displace his anger and yells at his children for making a mess.
- This is a subconscious response that results in an individual hiding from feelings due to overwhelming stress. This is common when individuals feel jealous about someone else’s success; they may lash out with aggression and anger instead.
These are just a few of the common defense mechanisms identified by mental health professionals. Additional ones include: displacement, sublimation, rationalization, regression, identification with the aggressor, passive aggression, turning against self, introjection, undoing or magical undoing, intellectualization or isolation, splitting, and reaction formation.
Are Defense Mechanisms Healthy?
Each defense mechanism has evolved to serve a specific function for the individual, and at times can serve as a healthy response to uncomfortable events. However, ongoing coping using defense mechanisms can indicate unhealthy mental responses. Let’s take a look at the benefits and disadvantages of the defense mechanisms outlined by Dr. Rodman.
- Denial is only healthy for immediate resolution for a traumatic event, and can help individuals make it to the next step of healing. However, ongoing denial can be extraordinarily unhealthy. One example is when an anorexic is in denial of his or her true body weight; this can be life threatening.
- Projection can be an avenue for individuals to learn more about themselves; if they can identify who and what they are projecting, they may be able to identify problems and resolve their issues. Ongoing projection generally though causes isolation and anger in relationships.
- Again, displacement is only recognized as healthy when identified and used to help someone grow. This defense mechanism can actually cause irrational emotional responses to life events, creating more conflict in one’s life.
- Repression, similar to denial, is only healthy as an immediate response to a traumatic event. If unresolved, ongoing mental health problems may persist.
Escaping Defense Mechanisms
Many people are not aware that they use defense mechanisms as a way to cope. They may be hidden in their unsettling relationships or feelings of despair. The reality is however, that most individuals react with defense mechanisms. The primary way to escape the use of defense mechanisms in your daily life is to work with a professional, identify which ones you are using, and replace your coping skills with healthy ones.
Confronting these issues however does not have to be a daunting task. Text therapy, utilized by online therapy clinics such as Talkspace, are providing clients with a unique avenue to work with a therapist on such issues. Talkspace provides an online therapy platform with licensed therapists, allowing clients to forego the need to attend a therapy session, but instead focus on resolving issues via their electronic device.
Talkspace reviews from actual users have been overwhelmingly positive. Especially when talking about what the platform has been able to accomplish, with the advantage of added accessibility.
How it Works?
Throughout the day, if you are feeling agitated, annoyed, or generally feel that you are reacting negatively to a situation, you are provided the opportunity to send a therapist a note. You can outline a relationship that is bothering you or a thought that is distracting you; two to three times per day you will receive a response from your therapist. This platform allows for you to get the help you need with constant communication with a professional, without the hassle of weekly therapy. At the end of the day, you may be finding the solution to the tension you have been experiencing your whole life.