There are situations in life when our behavior is not entirely justified or rational. It can be caused by stress and fear that we are unable to cope with. Defense mechanisms, which we often use unconsciously, allow us to overcome the burdens.
What are psychological defense mechanisms?
To deal with difficult situations, thoughts or events, people use the so-called defense mechanisms. These are behaviors that aim to distance yourself and cut yourself off from unpleasant feelings. They protect the mind from what is hard and difficult for us. Thanks to them, we can get rid of, for example, the feeling of anxiety or fear. We can use the defense mechanisms consciously, but in most cases they are completely independent of us and in extreme cases can lead the patient to live in an illusion.
Defense mechanisms in psychology
The concept of defense mechanisms is one of the basic concepts used in psychology today. It was first defined by S. Freud, who was the founder of psychoanalysis. He argued that the source of defense mechanisms is suffering, understood as a conflict between desires and moral norms. With the passage of time, his concept evolved, and his defense mechanisms were mainly related to the sexual instinct. After dividing the psychological apparatus into id, ego and superego, Freud went a step further by interpreting defense mechanisms as techniques the ego uses to prevent internal conflicts.
Effect of defense mechanisms on life
The occurrence of defense mechanisms is a natural reaction of the human body to change. They have an adaptive function and allow the person who is applying it to quickly return to normalcy. The problem may arise when defense mechanisms take a form that is dangerous for a human being. This applies in particular to people who, instead of solving problems, try to remove them from themselves at all costs. Such behavior can, unfortunately, be destructive, and strenuous action against our nature can lead to even deeper disorders, which require a visit to a psychologist.
How can defense mechanisms help us?
In many cases, defense mechanisms can help us find ourselves in a new, difficult situation. If applied selectively, flexibly and not to extremes, they can prove effective in resolving internal and external conflicts. For this to happen, they should only be used in the first phase of exposure to a problem or conflict. In such conditions, they can significantly reduce the feeling of fear and danger and lead to more rational action in the future.
Types of defense mechanisms
When we think about defense mechanisms, denial most often comes to mind. However, this is only one way of dealing with difficult situations. The most common mechanisms also include dissociation, displacement, isolation, projection, denial, or identification with the aggressor.
One of the most dangerous defense mechanisms is dissociation, which is activated in the event of traumatic and difficult experiences. It may be caused by, for example, catastrophe, war, bullying or sexual abuse. When the body breaks the threshold of resistance to injury, it kind of escapes from the traumatic experience. The person has the feeling that what happened happened much earlier. She disconnects from the real world and lives in a reality that is easier for her to accept and understand. Dissociation can lead to loss of control of consciousness, a temporary change in personality traits, and even a split personality. The patient may also suffer from partial or complete dissociative amnesia.
Repression as a defense mechanism
A defense mechanism of denial, also known as repression, protects you from difficult memories. It consists in removing from memory what the patient wants to forget. They can be, for example, negative or painful experiences. The state of repression can last for a very long time. Unfortunately, the thing about memory is that it cannot be simply erased, and memories can come back even after many years. This is especially true of those who have experienced childhood trauma and have successfully superseded it from memory for some time. Unfortunately, in adulthood, memories may come back and cause difficulties, for example problems in establishing relationships.
Another common defense mechanism is displacement, that is, directing frustration towards a person who is not a threat. It is simply the transfer of emotions and thoughts aimed at one person onto someone else. This very popular mechanism can be noticed in everyday life, e.g. when we bring frustration from work home and instead of getting angry with the boss, we direct negative emotions towards other family members, children and even pets. While displacement is discharging and can be a source of psychological comfort, it can also negatively affect your interactions with others.
Despite the fact that the defense mechanisms are considered a natural reaction of the body, they can very quickly turn into psychological disorders that are difficult to heal. If you suspect that you or a loved one is struggling with this problem, focus on psychotherapy and do your best to deal with it as soon as possible.