The exploration of the term defense mechanisms goes back to the beginnings of psychoanalysis and refers to a group of psychic responses related to the way of processing the experiences or sensations that arise in the relationship with the world and with oneself.
It is necessary to emphasize that although the defense mechanisms are born in psychoanalysis, their study and application have had important repercussions in different psychological currents.
Like all mental conditions in human beings, defense mechanisms are part of the battery of human responses that seek their survival, however, to a disproportionate extent, they can become an inconvenience for the person’s mental health.
What are defense mechanisms?
Defense mechanisms are a group of psychological strategies that are developed at an unconscious level of being and that are erected as the ego’s barriers for its own protection.
It is important to highlight that these defense mechanisms fully fulfill their function as long as the ego is adequately balanced, otherwise the defense mechanisms can become the default response of consciousness, preventing the free development of the being.
How do defense mechanisms work?
The defense mechanisms intervene in one’s own thoughts unconsciously, avoiding the appearance of anguish or anxiety, usually sensations linked to a potential impulse outburst related to sexuality or aggressiveness.
We could also say that these mechanisms are positions assumed by the ego trying to give continuity to the pleasure principle of the id but without failing to comply with the moral precepts of the superego . It is because of this structural conflict that the defense mechanisms are not positive in all cases and that in fact sometimes these are the ones that contribute to a great extent to the appearance of the anguish that in principle should be avoided.
Types of defense mechanisms
In the original psychoanalytic theory, 15 types of defense mechanisms were initially named, but with the passing of time and the different criticisms and advances of the theory today, 10 of these mechanisms are mainly highlighted. Below we will mention each of them trying to make their condition and nature as explicit as possible.
Displacement is a defense mechanism that diverts the drive to a different focus than the original object of satisfaction. Displacement from psychoanalysis can be effective on some occasions to avoid complicated emotions, but it can become a serious problem if it is the mechanism par excellence for conflict resolution.
For example, a man who is being abused by his boss is momentarily upset but does not think of yelling at him or being rude in any way, yet he has a troubled family relationship with constant heavy fighting.
Sublimation is quite similar in its base to the responses caused by displacement, the difference is that sublimation usually occurs directly, and in most cases. aware of the action.
Sublimation plays a very important role in artistic and political-intellectual creation, since sexual and aggressive drives are the perfect breeding ground to be sublimated in a creative and revolutionary way.
Projection is a defense mechanism that tells us about a direct but unconscious directing of internal drives towards external objects or people. In other words, it is putting thoughts that are deep within us in others or in some object or situation.
We could cite various examples of projection related to prejudices of all kinds, even though the person does not consciously consider himself a regionalist or racist. On the other hand, the projection is the fear of the drive itself, so if I don’t trust that my partner can steal from me or that my partner can cheat on me, it is possible that it is a projection of one’s possessive and sexual drives.
Repression is one of the defense mechanisms on which more work has been done, not only because it was the first to be described and worked on by the father of psychoanalysis, but also because of its great relevance in processes related to traumas and supposedly inexplicable behaviors of the being. .
Repression is a strategy of the unconscious to avoid the anguish caused by traumatic events by suppressing the information related to the event from our conscious thought and relegating it to the depths of the unconscious.
Early bereavements or abuse during childhood or adolescence are usually the most common examples, the ego creates a barrier that prevents those memories from emerging and thus avoids the burden of anguish that the event produced at the moment it occurred.
In a certain sense, denial operates in a similar way to repression, the big difference consists in the consumption of energy to achieve the goal, while in repression the content is buried deep in the unconscious, in denial the hidden content is found in the most superficial layers of the unconscious and makes constant efforts to emerge, which demands a greater effort from the ego to keep said content out of consciousness.
A clear example of this is people who constantly deny their emotions so as not to be affected by the reflection on their internal states. A person can stay in denial for long periods of time before it can become really problematic.
Regression, as its name indicates, is a defense mechanism through which the ego returns to different points of emotional development to protect itself from its own moral opinion or from the eyes of the world.
A positive example of this mechanism occurs when an adult is in a recreational activity and releases its most playful and childish part, a negative example occurs when the ego returns to an immature position to avoid consequences of its adult actions.
Reactive formation is understood as the psychic response that creates defense mechanisms opposed to the satisfaction of a desire that can be shameful or painful in itself.
We can clearly highlight the case of those who repress their desire to get dirty or who consider sexuality something dirty and therefore leave these desires buried in the unconscious, creating a reaction formation that leads to an obsession with grooming and cleanliness and even disgust at the sexual act.
This defense mechanism is quite particular in terms of its psychic mechanisms. In isolation, it is not the source of the emotion that is separated from consciousness, but the emotion itself that is confined to the unconscious.
An example of this occurs in people who have experienced strong traumatic events but recount the events in a totally natural way, without showing traces of anxiety or discomfort. In a certain sense, this mechanism is quite efficient for processing complicated events for our ego, since to the extent that the fact can be thought apart from the emotion, a propitious ground for internal dialogue is established.
Condensation is a defense mechanism usually associated with the content of the unconscious in its automatic form, that is, with the conclusions that are drawn at the unconscious level. It can be said that condensation establishes an internal dialogue mediated by encrypted information.
For example, the condensation in dreams refers to the fact that various elements come together in symbols that can be represented in a very varied way , such as that unknown house in the dream in which there were rooms from another house known by the conscious mind and which, when leaving, is located in a place you know well.
On the other hand, the example at the conscious level is given in the same way, a single symbol, for example an annoying co-worker, seems to be the element that makes us uncomfortable in that space, but it can only be the point in which a great variety of annoying elements, such as schedules, bosses, etc.
In this defense mechanism, reason is used to avoid dealing with emotions that can bother the ego. Rationalization allows emotions to be hidden under lots of arguments so as not to have to work with the feelings resulting from a situation.
In this way, the person always reaches favorable conclusions for the ego, for example, a worker who has low performance and is fired, rationalizes the act and thinks, for example, that the dismissal is something unfair or even positive because they are not giving the value they it deserves.
When to use defense mechanisms?
It is important to indicate that all defense mechanisms in their primitive form are activated unconsciously, but it is possible to take advantage of them consciously.
To achieve this, the first thing is to know what they are and how they work, in this way you can start working on those that may be more beneficial for your current situation.
We recommend you save this article and review it occasionally, since your situation may change and you will need to be alert to which one may be more appropriate.
On the other hand, you must bear in mind that the use of defense mechanisms is only useful to the extent that you also process the emotions linked to each situation , that is, these coping strategies are no longer effective if they are the common reaction. before each situation preventing you from really feeling.
How to overcome defense mechanisms?
In the event that defense mechanisms have taken control of different aspects of your life, they may be fulfilling an opposite function, instead of avoiding negative emotions, they begin to generate them.
In Freudian theory, analysis is precisely the tool par excellence to recognize and overcome problems related to defense mechanisms . In this way, after exploring the conscious and unconscious contents, the problematic mechanism can be identified and overcome by working directly on the situation. and emotion that the mechanism is carrying out of balance.
Conclusion: The importance of recognizing and working on defense mechanisms
By way of closure, we can say that defense mechanisms, like all the elements that make up the being, are only noble tools that are neither good nor bad in their own essence , thus recognizing each of these and how they are working in our way of understanding the world and acting is essential to work to get the most out of them.
To achieve the best possible balance between our defense mechanisms and our daily lives, it is important to work directly on our mental health, in the most problematic cases it is necessary to seek a specialist, but in any case it may be important to take a first step, for example using the technology currently available on the market, such as Psiconnea is an APP that uses artificial intelligence and a large library of psychological data to help you recognize your current mental state and delivers not only clear results but also a series of strategies to work on. in your harmony and balance. In the most problematic cases, the APP will recommend that you see a professional on the subject.