Defense mechanisms are unconscious psychological strategies that help us to cope with reality whilst also preserving our self esteem. Normal, healthy people use them regularly. Examples could include humour, thought suppression or sublimation (transforming negative emotions into positive actions - like helping a friend when we’re feeling sad or down). They only become pathological when they lead to problematic behaviours that compromise our health or relationships. Examples of unhealthy defenses include:
Acting out: This is directly expressing an unconscious impulse without realising what is driving the behaviour.
Fantasy: This is retreating to a fantasy world to escape, or resolve, conflicts we are battling with.
Idealization: This is unconsciously choosing to see another person as being more ideal or perfect than they really are.
Passive aggression: This is expressing our anger indirectly, for example, through being late or doing something that “inadvertently” destroys another’s plans.
Projection: This is attributing our own unacknowledged, and unacceptable, thoughts and emotions onto someone else.
Somatization: This is translating negative thoughts and feelings into physical symptoms. For example, suffering from migraines when you’re dealing with a difficult relationship.
Denial: This is refusing to accept reality because it is too painful or threatening.
Regression: This is temporarily reverting to an earlier stage of development to avoid handling problems and concerns in a more appropriate and adult way.
Distortion: This is totally reshaping your picture of reality so it’s now consistent with your internal needs.
Splitting: This is a primitive defense where the negative and positive aspects are split off – and there’s no integration of these parts at all. For example, the person may view others as being either completely good or completely evil, rather than a mixture of good and bad traits.