What are Defense Mechanisms

‘What are Defense Mechanisms? ‘ can be a very curious question for you that needs answers. The human mind is certainly very fascinating. The way that our body reacts to situations so that we can function as normally and as effectively as possible is almost miraculous. Even when it comes to dealing with anxiety, the human being has a very effective way of dealing with anxiety that allows functioning healthily. According to psychologists, especially of the Psychoanalytical school, these coping mechanisms are referred to as defense mechanisms.

Defense Mechanisms Definition

According to Sigmund Freud, the personality consists of three parts, id, ego and superego. Id operates on the pleasure principle. Ego operates on the reality principle and superego on the moral principle. In this context, in order to shield the ego from the excessive demands made by the id and super-ego, defense mechanisms are created by the ego to deny, transform or manipulate the reality. These defense mechanisms assist to reduce the anxiety felt by an individual.

Types of Defense Mechanisms

There are a large number of defense mechanisms employed by the ego. They are displacement, denial, regression, projection, rationalization, fantasy, conversion, isolation of affect, identification, introjections, sublimation, reaction formation, and intellectualization. Let us pay attention to some of the defense mechanisms that are being widely used by people.


Denial is when a person refuses to believe the reality or else denies accepting an event. This is quite common especially at the death of someone very close. For example, a wife who hears of the death of her husband due to an accident goes on as if the person is still alive. She would make tea for both, cook for both and shows signs of denial of the death of the husband. This occurs as the anxiety is too much for a person to accept the reality that the ego employs a mechanism to reduce it.

What are Defense Mechanisms


This is to transform the unwanted desires or impulses into something socially approved or else less harmful. Sports and artistic works are usually considered as a positive way of releasing the unwanted desires.


This includes focusing on factual information as a means of avoiding emotions. For example, a person who has cancer would read a lot and become fully aware of the technicalities associated as a way of avoiding the emotional pain.


When we face situations where it is difficult to accept an event, we make up logical explanations to understand it.


This defense mechanism helps to repress or bury uncomfortable and painful thoughts in our subconscious.


This is when an individual would go back in time and take the positions of a child to tackle the problems faced in the present. Rocking and crying, adopting a fetal position are some examples for this.


This appears when a person tries to project the uncomfortable feelings that he or she has on to another.


When a person fails to achieve a certain target he or she would shift it to a substitute target.


This occurs when the internal conflicts that a person faces are replicated through physical symptoms. A person who complains of headaches, muscle pains without any medical issues can be employing a defense mechanism to cope the anxiety that an individual feels due to some internal conflict.


This is when a person lives in her or his own little world detached from the reality that surrounds the person. A person who is suffering immensely due to relationship conflicts may employ this mechanism.

These types of defense mechanisms highlight that for the very protection of the individual from anxiety, ego employs a variety of mechanisms. However, these work unconsciously, making the person unaware that the ego is playing a trick on reality. Though the objective is to cope with anxiety, these can become maladaptive as well. Psychotherapy then assists the individual to deal with stress and anxiety through the usage of different defense mechanisms which are not harmful to the individual.


• Defense mechanisms are created by the ego to cope with anxiety through transforming or denying the reality.

• They help to reduce the anxiety level against the demand of the id and superego.

• There are a number of defense mechanisms, each with a unique function.

• These work unconsciously.

• Mostly defense mechanisms are effective and non-harmful, but they can also become maladaptive.

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