Defense Mechanisms

Written by Aleem

August 25, 2023

Strategies for Getting Through Everyday Life

Psychoanalysis’ founder, Sigmund Freud, came up with the idea of defense mechanisms to explain how people protect their minds from upsetting thoughts, feelings, and conflicts. These are unconscious ways that people deal with the problems they face in life. In this blog, we’ll explore Freud’s defense mechanisms in simple and easy-to-understand language, discussing how they appear in daily life and their impact on mental well-being.

What are ways to protect yourself?

People use defense mechanisms, which are unconscious mental strategies, to protect themselves from unpleasant feelings, thoughts, or events. These ways of thinking help people keep their minds in balance by reducing worry and stress.

Freud found a number of ways that people protect themselves, and each one serves a different purpose. Let’s look at a few popular ones and see how they show up in daily life.

Denial: Denying is when you refuse to accept reality or the truth about a situation. For example, a heavy smoker might refuse to believe that smoking is bad for their health, even though there is a lot of proof to the contrary.

Repression: When you repress, you push painful thoughts or memories out of your mind. Someone who has been through a traumatic event may unintentionally block out thoughts of the event in order to get through daily life.

Projection: Projection is when someone blames someone else for their own bad ideas, feelings, or behaviors. For example, someone who feels jealous might say that their partner is jealous instead.

Rationalization: Rationalization is when irrational behavior is explained in a way that sounds reasonable. If someone fails an exam, they might try to explain it away by saying the test was too hard instead of admitting they weren’t ready.

Displacement: Displacement is when you move your negative feelings from a source of worry to something less scary. For example, if someone is angry with their boss, they might go home and take it out on their family.

Regression: Regression means going back to a younger, more childlike stage of behavior as a way to deal with stress. If an adult is under a lot of stress, they might act like children, like sucking their thumb or throwing a temper tantrum.

Sublimation: Sublimation is the process of turning bad urges into things that are socially acceptable. For instance, someone who tends to be aggressive could become a great athlete by putting their aggression into their sport.

Compensation: Compensation is when people try to make up for what they think is a weakness or lack in one area by doing well in another. If someone feels physically weak, they might make up for it by becoming very smart or charming.

How do defense systems show up in everyday life?

Even if we don’t always realize it, we use defense systems every day. Some of these things happen as follows:

Avoiding Difficult Conversations: People often avoid talking about uncomfortable topics or problems in order to avoid feeling anxious (denial and repression).

Blaming Others: Instead of taking responsibility for their own mistakes, people may blame others in order to protect their sense of self-worth (projection).

Creating Excuses: People sometimes make excuses to explain their behaviors when they fail (this is called “rationalization”).

Venting Frustration: We can take out our anger on inanimate objects or on innocent onlookers (called “displacement”).

Nostalgia in Stressful Situations: Nostalgia in Stressful Situations: When under stress, some people may act like they did when they were younger as a way to deal (this is called regression).

Channeling Energy: Using creative outlets like art, music, or sports can be a way to turn bad feelings into good things.

Overachieving to Mask Insecurity: People may do well in one area of their lives to make up for what they think is lacking in another (called “compensation”).

How does it affect your mental health?

Even though defense systems can give you short-term relief from emotional pain, using them too much can be bad for your mental health. Over time, they might get in the way of personal growth, self-awareness, and the real sharing of feelings.

Recognizing and understanding these defenses can be the first step toward finding better ways to deal with problems. Seeking help from a doctor or counselor can help people figure out how to use these tools, which can improve their emotional resilience and mental health as a whole.


Sigmund Freud’s ideas about how people try to protect themselves from upsetting thoughts and feelings are very helpful. Even though these coping strategies are a natural part of the human mind, using them too much can hurt your growth and well-being. By being aware of and understanding these processes, people can come up with healthier ways to deal with problems and live more honest and fulfilling lives.

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