Unit 2 Mental Health
The underlying factor in many mental
• Defense Mechanisms
strategies our minds
use to protect itself
from anxiety by
distorting reality in
• Just as our physical
body has the
immune system to
protect itself from
the mind also
protects its self from
• Defense Mechanisms- unconscious ways our minds
protect itself from anxiety by changing reality.
•While all defense mechanisms can be
unhealthy, they can also be adaptive
and allow us to function normally.
•The greatest problems arise when
defense mechanisms are overused.
Defenses may hide any of a
variety of thoughts or
There are 3 main categories:
• Acting out
• Reaction formation
• Less Primitive/More
• Denial is probably one of the best known, most primitive
• Denial is the refusal to admit that something has
occurred or is currently occurring. Drug addicts or
alcoholics often deny that they have a problem, while
victims of traumatic events may deny that the event ever
• Denial functions to protect the ego from things that the
individual cannot cope with. While this may save us
from anxiety or pain, denial also requires a substantial
investment of energy. Because of this, other defenses
are also used to keep these unacceptable feelings from
• When confronted by stressful events, people sometimes
abandon coping strategies and revert to patterns of behavior
used earlier in development.
• For example, an individual fixated at an earlier developmental
stage might cry or sulk upon hearing unpleasant news.
• Behaviors associated with regression can vary greatly
depending upon which stage the person is fixated at: a person
fixated at the oral stage might begin eating or smoking
excessively, or become verbally aggressive. A person fixated
at the anal stage might result in excessive tidiness or
• Acting out is performing an extreme behavior in order to
express thought or feelings the person feels incapable of
• For example, instead of saying, “I am really hurt or angry with
you!” a person who acts out may throw an object at the
person or punch a wall.
• When a person acts out, it can act as a pressure release, and
often helps the individual feel calmer and peaceful one again.
• Self-injury may also be a form of acting-out, expressing in
physical pain what one cannot stand to feel emotionally.
• Dissociation is when a person loses track of time and/or
person, and instead finds another representation of their self
in order to continue in the moment.
• People who have a history of any kind of childhood abuse
often suffer from some form of dissociation. In extreme
cases, dissociation can lead to a person believing that they
have multiple selves. (DID)
• People who use dissociation often have a disconnected view
of themselves in their world. Time and their own self-image
may not flow continuously.
• In this manner, a person who dissociates can “disconnect”
from the real world for a time, and not face a world that has
negative thoughts, feelings or memories.
• A lesser form of dissociation, wherein parts of oneself are
separated from awareness of other parts and behaving as if
one had separate sets of values.
• An example may be an honest person who cheats on their
taxes and keeps their two value systems distinct an un-
integrated while remaining unconscious of the cognitive
• Projection is a defense mechanism that involves
taking our own unacceptable qualities or feelings
and blaming them on other people.
• For example, if you have a strong dislike for
someone, you might instead believe that he or
she does not like you.
• Projection is often the result of a lack of insight
and acknowledgement of one’s own motivations
• It’s always someone else causing the problem.
• Reaction formation reduces anxiety by taking up
the opposite feeling, impulse or behavior.
• An example of reactions formation would be
treating someone you strongly dislike in an
excessively friendly manner in order to hide your
• Why do people behave this way? According to
Freud, they are using reaction formation to hide
their true feelings by behaving in the exact
Less Primitive, more mature:
• These next D.M. are a step up from the primitive
D.M. in the previous section.
• Many people employ these defenses as adults,
and while they work ok for many, they are not
an ideal way of dealing with our feelings, stress
• If you recognize yourself using a few of these,
don’t feel bad – everybody does!
• Repression is a well-known defense mechanism. It acts
to keep information out of conscious awareness.
However, these memories don’t just disappear, they
continue to influence our behavior.
• Example: A person who has repressed memories of
abuse suffered as a child may later have difficulty
• Repression underlies all of the other defense
• The impulses that are most likely to be repressed are
sexual and aggressive impulses, because they are
inherently the most threatening.
• Displacement involves taking out our frustration, feelings
and impulses on people or objects that are less
threatening. Displaced aggression is a common example
of this defense mechanism. Rather than express our
anger in ways that could lead to negative consequences
(like arguing with our teacher), we instead express our
anger toward a person or object that poses no threat
(spouse, parents, children, pets).
• If you have ever had a bad day at school and gone home
and taken your frustration out on your family or friends,
you have experienced the ego defense mechanism of
• Intellectualization works to reduce anxiety by
thinking about events in a cold, clinical way. This
defense mechanism allows us to avoid thinking
about the stressful, emotional aspect of the
situation and instead focus only on the
• For example, a person who has just been
diagnosed with a terminal illness might focus on
learning everything about the disease in order to
avoid distress and remain distant from the
reality of the situation.
• Rationalization is a defense mechanism that involves
explaining an unacceptable behavior or feeling in a
rational or logical manner, avoiding true reasons for the
behavior. For example, a person who is turned down for
a date might rationalize the situation by saying they
were not attracted to the person anyways, or a student
who fails a test may blame the teaching style rather than
his or her lack of real studying.
• Rationalization not only prevents anxiety, it may also
protect self-esteem and self, concept. When confronted
by success or failure, people tend to attribute
achievement to their own qualities and skills while
failures are blamed on other people or outside forces.
• Making something wrong sound right.
• Undoing is an attempt to take back an unconscious behavior
or thought that is unacceptable or hurtful;
• For instance, after realizing you just insulted your significant
other unintentionally, you might spend the next hour praising
their beauty, charm or intellect.
• By “undoing” the previous action, the person is attempting to
counteract the damage done by the original comment, hoping
the two will balance one another out.
Mature Defense Mechanisms
• Mature defense mechanisms are often the most constructive
and helpful to most adults, but may require practice and
effort to put into daily use
• While primitive defense mechanisms do little to try and
resolve underlying issues or problems, mature defenses are
more focused on helping a person be a more constructive
component of their environment.
• People with more mature defenses tend to be more at peace
with themselves and those around them.
• Sublimation is a defense mechanism that allows
us to act out unacceptable impulses by
converting these behaviors into a more
• For example, a person experiencing extreme
anger or frustration might take up kick-boxing as
a means of venting frustration.
• Refocusing such unacceptable or harmful
impulses into productive use helps a person
channel energy that otherwise would be lost or
used in a manner that might cause more anxiety.
• This is a process of psychologically counterbalancing
perceived weakness by emphasizing strength in other arenas.
• By emphasizing and focusing on one’s strengths, a person is
recognizing they cannot be strong at all things and in all areas
in their lives.
• For instance, when a person says, “I may not know how to
cook, buy I sure can do the dishes!” they are trying to
compensate for their lace of cooking skills by emphasizing
cleaning skills instead.
• When done appropriately and not in an attempt to over-
compensate, compensation is a defense mechanism that
helps reinforce a person’s self-esteem and self-image.
Since Freud first described the original defense
mechanisms, other researchers have continued to
describe other methods of reducing anxiety. Some of
• Affiliation – Involves turning to other people for support
• Aim inhibition – The individual accepts a modified form of
their original goal (Becoming a coach rather than pro
• Altruism – Satisfying internal needs through helping
• Avoidance – refusing to deal with or encounter
unpleasant objects or situations
• Humor – Pointing out the funny or ironic aspects of a
• Passive-aggression – Indirectly expressing anger.
Clear it up…
• Rationalization- Making something wrong seem right.
• “Who cares if I stole her money, she would just get
more from her rich parents anyway.”
• Projection-Associate one's own evil tendencies with
• A selfish person thinks: "Everybody out there is selfish.
No one will take care of me, but me. Therefore, I have
to look out for myself."
Try it out…
• Mark doesn’t deal with his three pack a day habit, claiming that
“I’ll probably die from an accident before cancer gets me.”
• After some especially frustrating and unfair criticism from her
professor, Jan starts an argument with her roommate during
• Dave has no memory of his 7th
grade class play which was marred
by his forgetting his lines and leaving the stage in tears.
• Jack explains his bad grade on the final by noting he had a long
phone call from his parents the night before the test.
• Carol uses her anger over a fight with her friend to set a school
record in the 100 meter.
Try it out…
• You are arrested for drunk driving several times but don’t believe
you have a problem with alcohol.
• You and your roommate get into an argument so you stomp off
into the other room and pout.
• You get really mad at your Dad but scream that he’s the one mad
• When you say your not angry but you really are
• Reaction Formation
• I always study hard for tests and I know a lot of people cheat so
it’s not a big deal I cheated this time.
• In a group of 2 or 3 develop a role play that you can perform
in front of the class. In it demonstrate one defense
• Both group members need to play a part.
• Write down three scenarios that each show a defense
• Read your best 2 to the class and see if they can guess them.
• Write down 10 different scenarios that each show a different
defense mechanism. Give it to the teacher.