According to Sigmund Freud, defense mechanisms are unconscious responses that people use without realizing them. Their ego is responsible for these defense mechanisms. These defense mechanisms give us an idea about how human behavior can change or may vary depending on the difficulty of the situation.
In short, defense mechanisms are another way of handling situations in our lives. We human beings have unique personalities and we can observe that some of us use a more positive way to handle while others escape from situations they may find difficult to face because it allows them to run away from difficult emotions like anxiety.
These are the defense mechanisms that we use in different scenarios:
1. “Displacement” as a response to a workplace issue
Let’s understand this through an example: “You are working in a company where there is a toxic environment. You are already frustrated with the toxicity you feel at your workplace and along with this situation, your boss shouted at you in front of your colleagues whom you hate. You get back home and out of frustration you start yelling at your siblings who are not at all threatening to you.”
This example may sound too low but this is what displacement is all about! You show your anger and frustration at people who are harmless than on the people who caused you pain and disappointment.
2. “Denial” as a response to unhealthy patterns of behavior
You have heard people saying “He is in denial because it is too hard to believe for him.” Denial is the most used defense mechanism by people these days. I have seen smokers having trouble breathing. Yet whenever they are questioned why don’t they quit smoking, they say “It’s not because of smoking! It’s because of the weather!” They don’t want to face reality or be too scared about it as they may get asked to quit smoking.
When a person is in denial, s/he refuses to admit the reality or face what is important.
3. “Distortion” in response to a relationship
Think of this scenario: “You went to a party with your friend. After a few days, she stops talking to you. She did that because you misbehaved with her at this party and she felt humiliated. However, without saying anything she just stopped talking to you. You totally ignored what you did and you thought that she has an ego and she got new friends which are why she stopped talking to you. You were unable to take this up because it was quite uncomfortable for you because otherwise, you had to take the blame on yourself."
Let’s summarize distortion by putting it this way: “Uncomfortable reality and seeing worse in a situation.” It is a kind of help for people like this because it protects them from uncomfortable situations and sometimes the reality behind the situation.
4. “Repression” in a response to the past occurrence
Let’s take up this example: “When you were a child, a teacher who was too strict, had beaten you in front of the whole class. It was too painful for you and haunted you for months. Now you are an adult and whenever you see violence happening somewhere nearby, you get fearful. This usually happens whenever something like this takes place and you are unaware about it consciously.”
Here, the reason is repression. Because of your childhood experience, you developed an intense fear about it and it affects the behavior in your adulthood.
5. “Sublimation” as a response to post-breakup anxiety
It is a defense mechanism that is totally based on socially acceptable behavior, which is constructive rather than destructive.
Let’s think about a breakup: “If you go to the gym, it is a clear observation that many people just come to the gym because they want to heal themselves and transform the way they look. They find going to the gym is best for the anxiety they get from post-breakup issues which is a great thing!”
It can be said as a more mature way of coping ability.
6. “Projection” in a response to the mother-daughter relationship
“When you were a teenager, you made a mistake and you thought your mother would scold you when she heard this from you. After telling her and seeing her that she didn’t say anything to you, you start saying weird things about yourself like “You must think I am a bad person. Say it I know this is what you are thinking”.
This is what this coping ability does. When you think bad about yourself or your own qualities are unacceptable to you, you tend to project them on other people. And pretend or express it like they think this way about you.
7. “Rationalization” as a response to achievements and failures
Remember the time when you got the highest marks in your class and you were so happy. You thought your hard work led to your achievement. But when you get low marks in a different test, you blame your friends for wasting your time on games and on other stuff. You told people who have been showing concern over your marks that it is all because of your friends that there is a drop in your grades.
This defense mechanism helps you to protect yourself from your mistakes or your actions by holding other people accountable for your actions.
8. “Altruism” as a response to inner happiness and selflessness
One day, you saw a boy on the road giving his lunch box to a poor lady who was starving and begging on the side. You were able to figure out that the boy looked extremely happy after offering his food to the lady. It was a selfless act. He may starve during his lunch hour but he was extremely happy that he was able to fill a poor lady’s stomach.
Altruism is exactly what we just talked about. It is a coping ability that allows a person to satisfy another person’s needs at the cost of his/her own.
9. “Reaction” formation as a response to interpersonal relationships
Think about those neighbors who are clearly audible to you fighting and abusing each other. However, when they go to parties they may pretend to show the world that everything is good between them. But the reality is different behind the doors. Well, it sums up reaction formation as a defense mechanism.
This defense mechanism takes a person to process exactly the opposite to the situation. Sometimes this could occur to preserve the social image.
10. “Intellectualization” as a response to workplace issues
When your boss shouts at you and you try to rationalize it like he must be having a bad day or too much stress is causing this. But he is getting rude to you day by day. Just to be in a position to continue work in the workplace, you keep on using this defense mechanism by giving your boss behavior meaning.
You are able to do this because of Intellectualization. In this, you try to rationalize the actions of another person and try to find the logic behind them.
We all use defense mechanisms in one situation or to the other and it is a part of our growth. However, they may be troublesome if we start relying on them in the long run. They may even lead to severe emotional stress. Always try to keep a track of your actions and behavior to stay mentally and emotionally healthy in the long run!