Defense Mechanism: Definition & Examples (2023)

By Dr. Saul McLeod, updated 2020

Sigmund Freud (1894, 1896) noted a number of ego defenses which he refers to throughout his written works. His daughter Anna Freud (1936) developed these ideas and elaborated on them, adding ten of her own. Many psychoanalysts have also added further types of ego defenses.

Defense Mechanisms

Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are psychological strategies that are unconsciously used to protect a person from anxiety arising from unacceptable thoughts or feelings. According to Freudian theory, defense mechanismss involve a distortion of relaity in wome way so that we are better able to cope with a situation.

Defense Mechanism: Definition & Examples (1)

Why do we need Ego defenses?

We use defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from feelings of anxiety or guilt, which arise because we feel threatened, or because our id or superego becomes too demanding.

Defense mechanisms operate at an unconscious level and help ward off unpleasant feelings (i.e., anxiety) or make good things feel better for the individual.

Ego-defense mechanisms are natural and normal. When they get out of proportion (i.e., used with frequency), neuroses develop, such as anxiety states, phobias, obsessions, or hysteria.

Here are a few common defense mechanisms: There are a large number of defense mechanisms; the main ones are summarized below.

Here are a few common defense mechanisms:

  1. Denial
  2. Repression
  3. Projection
  4. Displacement
  5. Regression
  6. Sublimation
  7. Rationalization
  8. Reaction Formation
  9. Introjection
  10. Identification with the Aggressor

1. Denial

Denial is a defense mechanism proposed by Anna Freud which involves a refusal to accept reality, thus blocking external events from awareness.

If a situation is just too much to handle, the person may respond by refusing to perceive it or by denying that it exist.

As you might imagine, this is a primitive and dangerous defense - no one disregards reality and gets away with it for long! It can operate by itself or, more commonly, in combination with other, more subtle mechanisms that support it.

What is an example of denial?

Many people use denial in their everyday lives to avoid dealing with painful feelings or areas of their life they don’t wish to admit.

For example, a husband may refuse to recognise obvious signs of his wife’s infidelity. A student may refuse to recognise their obvious lack of preparedness for an exam!

(Video) 10 Psychological Defense Mechanisms

2. Repression

Repression is an unconscious defense mechanism employed by the ego to keep disturbing or threatening thoughts from becoming conscious.

Repression, which Anna Freud also called "motivated forgetting," is just that: not being able to recall a threatening situation, person, or event. Thoughts that are often repressed are those that would result in feelings of guilt from the superego.

This is not a very successful defense in the long term since it involves forcing disturbing wishes, ideas or memories into the unconscious, where, although hidden, they will create anxiety.

Repressed memories may appear through subconscious means and in altered forms, such as dreams or slips of the tongue ('Freudian slips').

What is an example of repression?

For example, in the oedipus complex, aggressive thoughts about the same sex parents are repressed and pushed down into the unconscious.

3. Projection

Projection is a psychological defense mechanism proposed by Anna Freud in which an individual attributes unwanted thoughts, feelings and motives onto another person.

Projection, which Anna Freud also called displacement outward, is almost the complete opposite of turning against the self. It involves the tendency to see your own unacceptable desires in other people.

In other words, the desires are still there, but they're not your desires anymore.

What is an example of projection?

Thoughts most commonly projected onto another are the ones that would cause guilt such as aggressive and sexual fantasies or thoughts.

For instance, you might hate someone, but your superego tells you that such hatred is unacceptable. You can 'solve' the problem by believing that they hate you.

4. Displacement

Displacement is the redirection of an impulse (usually aggression) onto a powerless substitute target. The target can be a person or an object that can serve as a symbolic substitute.

Displacement occurs when the Id wants to do something of which the Super ego does not permit. The Ego thus finds some other way of releasing the psychic energy of the Id. Thus there is a transfer of energy from a repressed object-cathexis to a more acceptable object.

Turning against the self is a very special form of displacement, where the person becomes their own substitute target. It is normally used in reference to hatred, anger, and aggression, rather than more positive impulses, and it is the Freudian explanation for many of our feelings of inferiority, guilt, and depression.

The idea that depression is often the result of the anger we refuse to acknowledge is accepted by many people, Freudians and non-Freudians alike.

(Video) Defense mechanisms | Behavior | MCAT | Khan Academy

What is an example of displacement?

Someone who feels uncomfortable with their sexual desire for a real person may substitute a fetish.

Someone who is frustrated by his or her superiours may go home and kick the dog, beat up a family member, or engage in cross-burnings.

5. Regression

Regression is a defense mechanism proposed by Anna Freud whereby the the ego reverts to an earlier stage of development usually in response to stressful situations.

Regression functions as form of retreat, enabling a person to psychologically go back in time to a period when the person felt safer.

What is an example of regression?

When we are troubled or frightened, our behaviors often become more childish or primitive.

A child may begin to suck their thumb again or wet the bed when they need to spend some time in the hospital. Teenagers may giggle uncontrollably when introduced into a social situation involving the opposite sex.

6. Sublimation

Sublimation is similar to displacement, but takes place when we manage to displace our unacceptable emotions into behaviors which are constructive and socially acceptable, rather than destructive activities. Sublimation is one of Anna Freud's original defense mechanisms.

Sublimation for Freud was the cornerstone of civilized life, as arts and science are all sublimated sexuality. (NB. this is a value-laden concept, based on the aspirations of a European society at the end of the 1800 century).

What is an example of sublimation?

Many great artists and musicians have had unhappy lives and have used the medium of art of music to express themselves. Sport is another example of putting our emotions (e.g., aggression) into something constructive.

For example, fixation at the oral stage of development may later lead to seeking oral pleasure as an adult through sucking one's thumb, pen or cigarette. Also, fixation during the anal stage may cause a person to sublimate their desire to handle faeces with an enjoyment of pottery.

7. Rationalization

Rationalization is a defense mechanism proposed by Anna Freud involving a cognitive distortion of "the facts" to make an event or an impulse less threatening. We do it often enough on a fairly conscious level when we provide ourselves with excuses.

But for many people, with sensitive egos, making excuses comes so easy that they never are truly aware of it. In other words, many of us are quite prepared to believe our lies.

What is an example of rationalization?

When a person finds a situation difficult to accept, they will make up a logical reason why it has happened. For example, a person may explain a natural disaster as 'God's will'.

8. Reaction Formation

Reaction formation, which Anna Freud called "believing the opposite," is a psychological defense mechanism in which a person goes beyond denial and behaves in the opposite way to which he or she thinks or feels.

Conscious behaviors are adopted to overcompensate for the anxiety a person feels regarding their socially unacceptable unconscious thoughts or emotions.Usually, a reaction formation is marked by exaggerated behavior, such as showiness and compulsiveness.

(Video) Defense Mechanisms: Explanations and Examples for ASWB Social Work Exam License Study Prep

By using the reaction formation, the id is satisfied while keeping the ego in ignorance of the true motives.

Therapists often observe reaction formation in patients who claim to strongly believe in something and become angry at everyone who disagrees.

What is an example of reaction formation?

Freud claimed that men who are prejudice against homosexuals are making a defense against their own homosexual feelings by adopting a harsh anti-homosexual attitude which helps convince them of their heterosexuality.

Another example of reaction formation includes the dutiful daughter who loves her mother is reacting to her Oedipus hatred of her mother.

9 Introjection

Introjection, sometimes called identification, involves taking into your own personality characteristics of someone else, because doing so solves some emotional difficulty. For

Introjection is very important to Freudian theory as the mechanism by which we develop our superegos.

What is an example of introjection?

A child who is left alone frequently, may in some way try to become "mom" in order to lessen his or her fears. You can sometimes catch them telling their dolls or animals not to be afraid. And we find the older child or teenager imitating his or her favorite star, musician, or sports hero in an effort to establish an identity.

10. Identification with the Aggressor

Identification with the aggressor is a defense mechanism proposed by Sandor Ferenczi and later developed by Anna Freud.It involves the victim adopting the behavior of a person who is more powerful and hostile towards them.

By internalising the behavior of the aggressor the 'victim' hopes to avoid abuse, as the aggressor may begin to feel an emotional connection with the victim which leads to feelings of empathy.

What is an example of identification with the aggressor?

Identification with the aggressor is a version of introjection that focuses on the adoption, not of general or positive traits, but of negative or feared traits. If you are afraid of someone, you can partially conquer that fear by becoming more like them.

An extreme example of this is the Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages establish an emotional bond with their captor(s) and take on their behaviors.

Patty Hearst was abused by her captors, yet she joined their Symbionese Liberation Army and even took part in one of their bank robberies. At her trial, she was acquitted because she was a victim suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.

Download this article as a PDF

How to reference this article:

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2019, April 10). Defense mechanisms. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/defense-mechanisms.html

(Video) Human Defense Mechanisms by Anna Freud - Simplest Explanation Ever

APA Style References

Ferenczi, S. (1933). Confusion of tongues between adults and the child (pp. 156-67).

Freud, A. (1937). The Ego and the mechanisms of defense, London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis.

Freud, S. (1894). The neuro-psychoses of defence. SE, 3: 41-61.

Freud, S. (1896). Further remarks on the neuro-psychoses of defence. SE, 3: 157-185.

Freud, S. (1933). New introductory lectures on psychoanalysis. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis. Pp. xi + 240.

Paulhus, D. L., Fridhandler, B., & Hayes, S. (1997). Psychological defense: Contemporary theory and research. In R. Hogan, J. A. Johnson, & S. R. Briggs (Eds.), Handbook of personality psychology (pp. 543-579). http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-012134645-4/50023-8

Related Articles

Psychodynamic Approach Id, Ego, Superego Psychosexual Stages Sigmund Freud Unconscious MindOedipus Complex

Download this article as a PDF

How to reference this article:

How to reference this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2019, April 10). Defense mechanisms. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/defense-mechanisms.html

Home | About Us | Privacy Policy | Advertise | Contact Us

Back to top

(Video) defense mechanisms

Simply Psychology's content is for informational and educational purposes only. Our website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

© Simply Scholar Ltd - All rights reserved

FAQs

What is defense mechanism? ›

1. Denial. Denial is a defense mechanism proposed by Anna Freud which involves a refusal to accept reality, thus blocking external events from awareness. If a situation is just too much to handle, the person may respond by refusing to perceive it or by denying that it exist.

What are the 7 defense mechanisms? ›

Freudian defense mechanisms and empirical findings in modern social psychology: Reaction formation, projection, displacement, undoing, isolation, sublimation, and denial.

What is an example of the defense mechanism identification? ›

Next to identification with the leader, people identify with others because they feel they have something in common. For example: a group of people who like the same music. This mechanism plays an important role in the formation of groups.

What are the 4 Defence mechanisms? ›

Both Freuds studied defence mechanisms, but Anna spent more of her time and research on five main mechanisms: repression, regression, projection, reaction formation, and sublimation. All defence mechanisms are responses to anxiety and how the consciousness and unconscious manage the stress of a social situation.

What are 2 examples of a defense mechanism? ›

7 Main Defense Mechanisms

This list is sometimes shortened to provide only seven main defense mechanisms, which are denial, displacement, projection, rationalization, reaction formation, repression, and sublimation.

Why are defense mechanisms used? ›

They help the mind cope with uncomfortable or traumatic situations or emotions. However, some people routinely use defense mechanisms as a way of avoiding their feelings and emotions or excusing their behavior. This can have a negative impact on a person's mental health and relationships.

What is the example of defense? ›

Defense is defined as protection or the act of guarding. An example of defense is the military. An example of defense is a bodyguard. The military, governmental, and industrial complex, especially as it authorizes and manages weaponry production.

What is the most commonly used defense mechanism? ›

Denial. Perhaps the most common psychological defense mechanism of them all is denial. When someone refuses to face or accept reality or facts, despite being presented with hard evidence, they are said to be in denial.

What is an example of compensation defense mechanism? ›

The term compensation refers to a type of defense mechanism in which people overachieve in one area to compensate for failures in another. For example, individuals with poor family lives may direct their energy into excelling above and beyond what is required at work.

What is an example of projection defense mechanism? ›

What Is Projection? Psychological projection is a defense mechanism that involves attributing one's own feelings, desires, or qualities to another person, group, animal, or object. For example, the classroom bully who teases other children for crying but is quick to cry is an example of projection.

What is an example of suppression defense mechanism? ›

Counting to ten when angry before taking action is a good example of suppression, this technique is also very useful in everyday life. As an adult the person who has repressed an incident cannot get to this material by a conscious act of will; it's simply not available.

What are the three defense mechanisms of the body? ›

The immune system's three lines of defense include physical and chemical barriers, non-specific innate responses, and specific adaptive responses.

Is anger a defense mechanism? ›

Many people also use anger as a defense mechanism to keep people away and provide a feeling of control over a situation. Unfortunately, reacting in anger can lead to additional issues in your relationships and other areas of your life.

What is Sigmund Freud's defense mechanism? ›

Freud's Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are unconscious strategies that people employ with the primary goal of relieving themselves of anxiety, and other unpleasant emotions, feelings and thoughts.

What are the 15 types of defense mechanism? ›

  • 15 Common Defense Mechanisms.
  • Denial. Denial is the refusal to accept reality or fact, acting as if a painful event, thought or feeling did not exist. ...
  • Regression. 1/4.
  • Acting Out. ...
  • Dissociation. ...
  • Compartmentalization. ...
  • Projection. ...
  • Reaction Formation.
17 May 2016

Is crying a defense mechanism? ›

Hasson says that in a setting in which someone is threatened, a crying person unconsciously increases survival prospects, because an attacker understands that someone who is crying is defenseless and there is no reason to continue to attack.

How do you remember defense mechanisms? ›

Defense mechanisms in less than 10 min (With Mnemonics) #NEETPG ...

How are defense mechanisms harmful? ›

Defense mechanisms can become problematic if they are rigid and overused. If a person learns about the defenses they tend to use to manage internal or external stress—whether by seeking organization, wanting to hide under the covers, seeking others' reassurances, etc.

Is depression a defense mechanism? ›

Depression as a defence mechanism manifests itself not only in psychological and sociological terms, but also constitutes a significant regulatory and metabolic shift of the whole organism [3].

Does everyone have defense mechanism? ›

Defense mechanisms are a normal part of our psychological development. Whether they are used to avoid unwanted thoughts or deal with anxiety, defense mechanisms will always be a part of our everyday life. For some, defense mechanisms are used positively, while some use them in an unhealthy manner.

What is defense mechanism in psychology PDF? ›

In psychoanalytic theory, defense mechanisms are psychological strategies brought into play by the unconscious mind to manipulate, deny, or distort reality in order to defend against feelings of anxiety and unacceptable impulses and to maintain one's self-schema.

Who invented defense mechanisms? ›

Anna Freud defined defense mechanisms as "unconscious resources used by the ego" to decrease internal stress ultimately. Patients often devise these unconscious mechanisms to decrease conflict within themselves, specifically between the superego and id.

What is an example of a defensive behavior? ›

Make excuses about whatever you are being criticized about. Blame the other person for what they are criticizing you about. Accuse the other person of doing the same thing. Try to justify your actions.

What is the meaning of defenses? ›

defense noun [C/U] (PROTECTION)

the ability to protect against attack or harm, or something used to protect against attack or harm: [ C ] The vaccine strengthens the body's defenses against infection. A defense is also an argument in support of something, esp.

What are the two types of defenses? ›

The most commonly recognized of these defenses are self-defense and defense of others. A defendant may argue, for instance, that he did shoot an intruder but did so in self-defense because the intruder was threatening him with a knife.

What is an example of displacement in psychology? ›

Displacement is a defense mechanism that involves an individual transferring negative feelings from one person or thing to another. For example, a person who is angry at their boss may “take out” their anger on a family member by shouting at them.

What is an example of Introjection? ›

Introjection occurs when a person internalizes the ideas or voices of other people-often external authorities. An example of introjection might be a dad telling his son “boys don't cry”- this is an idea that a person might take in from their environment and internalize into their way of thinking.

What is an example of compensation? ›

Compensation may also be used as a reward for exceptional job performance. Examples of such plans include: bonuses, commissions, stock, profit sharing, gain sharing.

What is an example of denial? ›

Examples of Denial

Some examples: Someone denies that they have an alcohol or substance use disorder because they can still function and go to work each day. After the unexpected death of a loved one, a person might refuse to accept the reality of the death and deny that anything has happened.

What is an example of sublimation defense mechanism? ›

Sublimation is a defense mechanism that involves channeling unwanted or unacceptable urges into an admissible or productive outlet. For example, a woman who recently went through a breakup may channel her emotions into a home improvement project.

What is an example of reaction formation? ›

In psychology, reaction formation is a defense mechanism in which a person unconsciously replaces an unwanted or anxiety-provoking impulse with its opposite, often expressed in an exaggerated or showy way. A classic example is a young boy who bullies a young girl because, on a subconscious level, he's attracted to her.

What is an example of daydreaming defense mechanism? ›

A doctor's parents pressured her into her profession, even though she dreamed of being an athlete. She dissociates by daydreaming about athleticism instead of acknowledging the career turmoil she is experiencing.

What is difference between suppression and repression? ›

Repression is often confused with suppression, another type of defense mechanism. Where repression involves unconsciously blocking unwanted thoughts or impulses, suppression is entirely voluntary. Specifically, suppression is deliberately trying to forget or not think about painful or unwanted thoughts.

What is repression mechanism? ›

Repression is a defense mechanism whereby unpleasure-provoking mental processes, such as morally disagreeable impulses and painful memories, are actively prevented from entering conscious awareness.

What are the 5 body defenses? ›

Natural barriers include the skin, mucous membranes, tears, earwax, mucus, and stomach acid.

What is the first line of defense? ›

The first line of defence is your innate immune system. Level one of this system consists of physical barriers like your skin and the mucosal lining in your respiratory tract. The tears, sweat, saliva and mucous produced by the skin and mucosal lining are part of that physical barrier, too.

Which line of defense is most important? ›

The third line of defense is most important because it involves the cells and proteins of adaptive immunity, responding directly to specific antigens. All three lines of defense depend on each other to function properly and no single line is more important than the other.

What emotion is behind anger? ›

Emotions that can Trigger

Because anger is easier to feel, it can distract you from experiencing and healing the pain you feel inside. Among the most triggering primary emotions is frustration. Frustration is often experienced when you are feeling helpless or out of control.

Which of the following is not a defense mechanism? ›

Hence, it could be concluded that 'Ingratiation​' is not a defence mechanism.

What is denial in psychology? ›

Denial is the conscious refusal to perceive that painful facts exist. In denying latent feelings of homosexuality or hostility, or mental defects in one's child, an individual can escape intolerable thoughts, feelings, or events.

Is isolation a defense mechanism? ›

Isolation of affect is a defense mechanism in which the individual blocks out painful feelings by recalling a traumatic event without experiencing the emotion associated with it. Isolation of affect is largely an unconscious process and is one of the immature defense mechanisms.

Is blaming a defense mechanism? ›

Blame is an excellent defense mechanism.

Whether you call it projection, denial, or displacement, blame helps you preserve your sense of self-esteem by avoiding awareness of your own flaws or failings.

What is the most common defense mechanism? ›

Denial. Perhaps the most common psychological defense mechanism of them all is denial. When someone refuses to face or accept reality or facts, despite being presented with hard evidence, they are said to be in denial.

What is defense mechanism by Sigmund Freud? ›

Anna Freud defined defense mechanisms as "unconscious resources used by the ego" to decrease internal stress ultimately. Patients often devise these unconscious mechanisms to decrease conflict within themselves, specifically between the superego and id.

Is crying a defense mechanism? ›

Hasson says that in a setting in which someone is threatened, a crying person unconsciously increases survival prospects, because an attacker understands that someone who is crying is defenseless and there is no reason to continue to attack.

Is acting out a defense mechanism? ›

Definition. Acting out is a defense mechanism used when one is unable to manage a conflicted mental content by means of thought and by putting it into words.

What are some examples of repression? ›

Examples of Repression
  • A child suffers abuse by a parent, represses the memories, and becomes completely unaware of them as a young adult. ...
  • An adult suffers a nasty spider bite as a child and develops an intense phobia of spiders later in life without any recollection of the experience as a child.
21 Aug 2015

What is an example of compensation defense mechanism? ›

The term compensation refers to a type of defense mechanism in which people overachieve in one area to compensate for failures in another. For example, individuals with poor family lives may direct their energy into excelling above and beyond what is required at work.

What is defense mechanisms PDF? ›

In psychoanalytic theory, defense mechanisms are psychological strategies brought into play by the unconscious mind to manipulate, deny, or distort reality in order to defend against feelings of anxiety and unacceptable impulses and to maintain one's self-schema.

What are examples of denial? ›

Examples of Denial

Some examples: Someone denies that they have an alcohol or substance use disorder because they can still function and go to work each day. After the unexpected death of a loved one, a person might refuse to accept the reality of the death and deny that anything has happened.

Is depression a defense mechanism? ›

Depression as a defence mechanism manifests itself not only in psychological and sociological terms, but also constitutes a significant regulatory and metabolic shift of the whole organism [3].

What is another word for defense mechanism? ›

synonyms for defense mechanism
  • conversion.
  • defense.
  • defense reaction.
  • repression.
  • sublimation.
  • suppression.
  • symbolization.

Are defense mechanisms healthy? ›

Defense mechanisms are a normal part of our psychological development. Whether they are used to avoid unwanted thoughts or deal with anxiety, defense mechanisms will always be a part of our everyday life. For some, defense mechanisms are used positively, while some use them in an unhealthy manner.

How can we stop defense mechanisms? ›

Here are some tips on how to coach yourself to break free of defence mechanisms and practice new ways of responding and engaging.
  1. Go in the opposite direction. ...
  2. Practice mindfulness. ...
  3. Ask yourself how your defences are limiting you or holding you back: ...
  4. Give yourself permission to experience real intimacy.
25 Apr 2014

What is the example of acting out? ›

Acting out may include fighting, throwing fits, or stealing. In severe cases, acting out is associated with antisocial behavior and other personality disorders in teenagers and younger children.

Is passive aggression a defense mechanism? ›

Passive aggressiveness is thought to be a defense mechanism that many people automatically use to protect themselves. This can be a conscious or unconscious effort that's unique to each person. However, underlying feelings of fear, mistrust, rejection, low self-esteem, and insecurity are common among all.

Videos

1. What Does It Mean To Project? A Psychological Defense Mechanism
(Dr. Tracey Marks)
2. Sigmund Freud and Defense Mechanisms (Psychology)
(David Franklin)
3. Defense Mechanisms - Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing Principles - @Level Up RN
(Level Up RN)
4. Ego Defenses (With Examples); Denial, Projection, Repression, Displacement, and Regression
(USMLE pass)
5. coping and defense mechanisms
(Kathy Mulcahy)
6. Do You Know Your 12 DEFENSE MECHANISMS?
(Kati Morton)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Dan Stracke

Last Updated: 11/05/2022

Views: 5955

Rating: 4.2 / 5 (43 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Dan Stracke

Birthday: 1992-08-25

Address: 2253 Brown Springs, East Alla, OH 38634-0309

Phone: +398735162064

Job: Investor Government Associate

Hobby: Shopping, LARPing, Scrapbooking, Surfing, Slacklining, Dance, Glassblowing

Introduction: My name is Dan Stracke, I am a homely, gleaming, glamorous, inquisitive, homely, gorgeous, light person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.