Dial a Counselor with Sybil Shaibu: How are you coping?


On a daily basis each one of us is faced with a ton of issues to deal with, and one would expect that as the days go by, managing life and its issues would become easier. But on the contrary if you would be truthful to yourself, you’d acknowledge that life isn’t a walk in a park kind of situation.

Sometimes you even realize that you might find yourself in similar situations but still you have difficulties working your way around it. However, nature has made provision for our mind to devise ways of handling our battles, this provision is known as defense mechanism.

Defense mechanisms are psychological strategies brought into play by the unconscious to manipulate or distort reality in order to defend against feelings of anxiety and unacceptable impulses and to maintain one’s mental health. In other words, defense mechanisms are behaviors people use to separate themselves from unpleasant events, actions or thoughts.

A defense mechanism is exactly what it sounds like, a mental or emotional defense used to protect us from stress and pain. Though some might not agree, we all have defense mechanisms and regardless of whether you agree or not, it is what it is.

Defense mechanism may result in healthy or unhealthy consequences depending on the circumstances and frequency with which the mechanism is used. Defense mechanisms are a normal, natural part of psychological development. While many are familiar and apparently useful in navigating the course of life, there are a few that tend to do more harm than good.

Healthy people normally use different defenses throughout life. A defense mechanism becomes pathological only when its persistent use leads to maladaptive behavior such that the physical or mental health of the individual is adversely affected. Among the purposes of defense mechanisms, the main purpose is to protect the mind, self and ego from anxiety as well as to provide a refuge from a situation with which one cannot currently cope with

The idea of defense mechanisms comes from psychoanalytic theory, a psychological perspective of personality that sees personality as the interaction between three components: id, ego, and super ego. This was first proposed by Sigmund Freud, and this theory has evolved over time and contends that behaviors, like defense mechanisms, are not under a person’s conscious control. In fact, most people do them without realizing the strategy they’re using.

Let’s take a look at very popular defense mechanisms, that many people frequently exhibit.

  1. Denial-Involves a person not recognizing the reality of a stressful situation in order to protect themselves from fear or anxiety.
  2. Repression-Involves avoiding thinking about something to block out painful or uncomfortable emotions.
  3. Projection-A person accusing someone else of having thoughts or feelings that they themselves are having.
  4. Displacement-It involves a person feeling that they cannot express a negative emotion toward a particular person, so they direct those negative emotions toward someone else.
  5. Regression-A person feeling threatened or anxious may unconsciously “escape” to an earlier stage of development.
  6. Rationalization-A person may attempt to explain undesirable behaviors with their own set of “facts”. This allows them to feel comfortable with the choice they made.
  7. Dissociation-Involves feeling disconnected from a stressful or traumatic event or feeling that the event is not really happening.
  8. Reaction formation-Involves acting in a way that contradicts unacceptable or anxiety-provoking thoughts as they arise.
  9. Compartmentalization-Involves a person separating their life into compartments, believing it may help them feel like a way to protect the many elements of it.
  10. Intellectualization-Involves a person using reason and logic to avoid uncomfortable or anxiety provoking emotions.

In the next couple of weeks, all subsequent articles will cover the various defense mechanisms, treatment available etc. So much is going on in our world now and I believe strongly that this topic is timely. I’m hoping that I can throw more light as well as clear some myths and misconceptions people have about defense mechanism. That’s because I have realized that many people are quick to deny that they have defense mechanisms. Which ironically is a defense mechanism at work right there.

Identifying defense mechanisms can help you better understand your own behavior and that of others. And this will most definitely aid immensely in managing relationships at all levels in your life.

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