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15 common defense mechanisms


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Presentation about 15 common defense mechanisms classified by level of effectiveness: primitive, less primitive, and mature defenses. Enjoy!

15 common defense mechanisms

  1. 1. Lucia Merino, LCSW November, 2011
  2. 2. Defense Mechanisms Ways to behave or think to protect or “defend” ourselves from anxieties. How we distance ourselves from a full awareness of unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  3. 3. Ego’s attempt to “defend”
  4. 4. Ego Defense Mechanisms are unconscious
  5. 5. Different Levels of DefensesPrimitive Defense Mechanisms Less Primitive, More Mature Denial Defense Mechanisms Regression  Repression Acting Out  Displacement Dissociation  Intellectualization Compartmentalization  Rationalization Projection  Undoing Reaction Formation Mature Defense Mechanisms• Sublimation Compensation Affiliation• Self-Assertion Altruism Self-Observation• Suppression Anticipation
  6. 6. Denial (primitive)  Denial is the refusal to accept reality or fact, acting as if a painful event, thought or feeling did not exist while being apparent to others.  It is considered one of the most primitive because it is characteristic of early childhood development.
  7. 7. Regression (primitive)  Reversion to an earlier stage of development when faced with unacceptable, fearful, threatening thoughts or impulses.  Ex. An adult curling up in fetal position when feeling threatened or afraid.
  8. 8. Regression to fetal position
  9. 9. Acting Out (primitive)  Performing an extreme behavior in order to express thoughts or feelings the person feels incapable of otherwise expressing.  Ex: self-injury is expression through physical pain of what can’t be stand to feel emotionally.
  10. 10. Dissociation (primitive)  Breaking off part of memory, consciousness, or perception of self or the environment to avoid a problem situation.  Trying to disconnect from the real world to defend from unbearable thoughts, feelings, and memories. Ex: Amnesia.
  11. 11. Dissociation (continuation)
  12. 12. Compartmentalization (primitive)  Lesser form of dissociation. Parts of self are separated from awareness of other parts and behaving as if one had separate sets of values.  Ex. Honest person cheating in income taxes and keeping both sets of values separated and un- integrated.
  13. 13. Projection (primitive)  Misattribution of owns undesired thoughts, feelings or impulses onto another person who does not have those thoughts, feelings or impulses.  Ex. a spouse angry at significant other for not listening, when in fact, it is he who is not listening.
  14. 14. Projection (continued)
  15. 15. Reaction Formation (primitive)  Converting unwanted or dangerous thoughts, feelings or impulses into their opposites.  Ex. Woman angry at boss and wanting to quit becomes overly kind and generous towards boss and expresses desire to keep working there.
  16. 16. Additional Primitive Defenses Help-Rejecting Complaining  Passive Aggression Involves dealing with stress Involves dealing with stress by by indirectly and complaining and making unassertively expressing repeated requests for help that aggression toward others. disguise hidden feelings of The person displays an hostility toward others, which outward superficial is then expressed by rejecting cooperativeness that masks the suggestions, advice, or help the underlying resistance, that others offer. resentment, and hostility. The complaints may involve This defense may be physical or psychological adaptive in situation where symptoms or life problems. direct and assertive communication is punishes (e.g. abusive relationships).
  17. 17. Less Primitive, More Mature Defense Mechanisms Repression Displacement Intellectualization Rationalization Undoing
  18. 18. Repression  Unconscious blocking of unacceptable and disturbing thoughts, feelings and impulses.  Done unconsciously, thus, little control over it.  Repressed memories –but never retrieved the same.
  19. 19. Displacement  Redirecting of thoughts, feelings and impulses from one person or object to another who poses less threat.  Example: Unable to express anger to boss for fear of being fired displaces anger into others: spouse, pet, etc.
  20. 20. Intellectualization  Dealing with emotional stressors by excessive use of abstract thinking or complex explanations to control or minimize disturbing feelings.  React in a cold way focusing on the intellectual aspect only. Ex: husband constructing elaborate logical explanations for wife’s recent paranoia ideas.
  21. 21. Rationalization  Giving another interpretation to a situation in the face of a changing reality.  Ex: Suddenly being dumped by somebody she was really interested in: “I don’t care , I suspected he was a loser all along.”
  22. 22. Undoing  An unconscious attempt to take back, nullify or “un-do” a thought or action that had resulted in guilt or anxiety.  Ex: a husband who showers his wife with roses and chocolates on Valentine’s Day may be unconsciously seeking to undo a year of neglect.
  23. 23. Mature Defenses  Sublimation  Compensation  Affiliation  Self-Assertion  Altruism  Anticipation  Self-Observation  Suppression
  24. 24. Sublimation (mature)  Channeling of un- acceptable and potentially disruptive impulses, thoughts or emotions into socially acceptable behavior.  Dealing with emotional stressors by using the energy in other, usually constructive activities.  Ex: punching bag to channel angry impulses. Sports.
  25. 25. Sublimation (cont.)  Humor: dealing with stress by emphasizing the amusing or ironic aspects of the situation.  Fantasy: channeling unacceptable feelings, thoughts or impulses into imagination.  Ex: after academic setback, fantasizing about ultimate career goals.
  26. 26. Compensation (mature)  Psychologically counterbalancing perceived weaknesses by emphasizing strength in other areas.  Ex: a physically unattractive adolescent starts weightlifting. Or, “I am not a fighter, I’m a lover.” Napoleonic Cmplx.
  27. 27. Affiliation (Mature)  Turning to others for help and support.  Sharing problems with others, but not trying to make someone else responsible for them.  Ex: going to therapy, a support group, spiritual counsel.
  28. 28. Self-Assertion (Mature)  Being able to express own opinions and needs in a respectful and firm way. Not aggressively, coercively or manipulatively.  Striking a balance between communicating passively or aggressively.  Listening empathically and expressing self in a balanced way.
  29. 29. Altruism  Dealing with stressors by dedicating yourself to meeting the needs of others.  Through altruistic endeavors, a person receives satisfaction vicariously or from the response of others.
  30. 30. Self-Observation (Mature)  Dealing with stress by reflection on one’s thoughts, feelings, motivation, and behavior –and then responding appropriately.  Ex: engaging in journaling, self- exploration, therapy, bibliotherapy, etc.
  31. 31. Suppression (Mature)  Dealing with stress by intentionally avoiding thinking about disturbing problems, wishes, feelings, or experiences.  Ex: Thinking about all those sweets in the staff lounge and wanting to eat them while on a diet.
  32. 32. Anticipation (Mature)  Dealing with stressors by anticipating the consequences and feelings associated with possible future events and considering realistic solutions.  Ex: getting old –think ahead and plan your retirement wisely!
  33. 33. Defense Mechanisms of DistortionsMINOR: DYSREGULATION: Devaluation  Delusional projection Idealization  Psychotic denial Omnipotence  Psychotic distortionMAJOR: Autistic Fantasy Projective Identification Splitting of self-image
  34. 34. Devaluation (Minor)  Attributing exaggerated negative qualities to self or others.
  35. 35. Idealization  Attributing exaggerated positive qualities to self or others.
  36. 36. Omnipotence  Acting as if self is possessed with special powers or abilities and is superior to others.
  37. 37. Autistic Fantasy (Major)  Excessive daydreaming as a substitute for human relationship, more effective action, or problem solving.
  38. 38. Projective Identification  Falsely attributing to another the feelings, thoughts or impulses of self; differing from simple projection by the fact that the individual doesn’t fully disavow what is projected; rather misattributes them as justifiable reactions to the other person.  Frequently the individual induces those very feelings in others that were believed to be there, making it difficult to untangle the situation.
  39. 39. Splitting of self-image or image of others  Compartmentalizing opposite affect states and failing to integrate the positive and negative qualities of self or others into cohesive images. Self and object images tend to alternate between polar opposites.
  40. 40. Delusional Projection (Severe)  Attributing non reality- based thoughts, emotions and impulses to others.  Frank delusions about external reality, usually of a persecutory nature  Ex: blaming others, society, history, economy for self failure.
  41. 41. Psychotic Denial  Gross impairment in reality testing.
  42. 42. Psychotic Distortion  Gross impairment in perceiving reality differently than others.
  43. 43. In Conclusion  We learn these defense behaviors in childhood to defend from perceived stressors.  Good news is that we can modify them (and we should) as we become adults.  Mature defenses are the most helpful ones!