The defense mechanism is an unconscious psychological response that protects people from anxiety, threats to self-esteem, and things they don’t want to consider or deal with. Sigmund Freud first described in his psychoanalytic theory that the role of the defense mechanism is to prevent anxiety.
This article discusses what defense mechanisms are and how they work. It also covers some different types of defense mechanisms and how to use these defenses.
10 key defense mechanisms
Sigmund Freud’s daughter Anna Freud described 10 different defense mechanisms used by the self. Other researchers have described various additional defense mechanisms.
How does the defense mechanism work?
In Sigmund Freud’s personality model, the self is the personality aspect that deals with reality. In doing so, the ego must also deal with the conflicting requirements of the id and the superego.
- The id: the part of the personality that seeks to satisfy all desires, needs, and impulses. The id is the most basic and primitive part of our personality. It does not consider social suitability, morality, or even the reality of satisfying our desires and needs.
- Superego: The part of personality that tries to make the self behave in an idealistic and moral way. The superego is made up of all the internalized morals and values we obtain from our parents, other family members, religious influences, and society.
In order to cope with anxiety, Freud believed that the defense mechanism helps protect the self from conflicts caused by the id, superego, and reality. So, what happens when the ego is unable to deal with our desires, the limitations of reality, and our own moral standards?
According to Freud, anxiety is an unpleasant inner state that people try to avoid. Anxiety is a signal to the self that things are not developing the way they should. As a result, the ego then adopts a certain defense mechanism to help reduce these feelings of anxiety.
Types of anxiety
Not all types of anxiety are created equal. These anxieties do not originate from the same source. Freud identified three types of anxiety:
- Moral anxiety: fear of violating our own moral principles
- Neurological anxiety: unconsciously worrying that we will lose control of the impulse of the self, leading to punishment for improper behavior
- Reality anxiety: Fear of real world events. The cause of this anxiety is usually easy to determine. For example, when a person approaches a threatening dog, they may be afraid of being bitten by the dog. The most common way to reduce this anxiety is to avoid threats.
Although we may intentionally use coping mechanisms to manage anxiety, in many cases, these defense mechanisms can unknowingly distort reality.
Although all defense mechanisms may be unhealthy, they may also be adaptive, allowing us to function normally.
The biggest problem arises when the defense mechanism is overused to avoid dealing with problems. In psychoanalytic therapy, the goal may be to help the client discover these unconscious defense mechanisms and find better and healthier ways to deal with anxiety and pain.
Very good sentence
Some of the most famous defense mechanisms have become common parts of everyday language. For example, you can describe someone as “denying” the problem they are facing. When someone regresses to the old way of doing things, you can call it “returning” to an earlier point of development.
Remember, there are good and bad defense mechanisms.
They can play a beneficial role by protecting your self from stress and providing a healthy exit. In other cases, these defense mechanisms may prevent you from facing reality and may become a form of self-deception.
If you find that overuse of certain defense mechanisms has a negative impact on your life, please consider consulting a mental health professional. Whether you are seeking traditional face-to-face therapy or online therapy, psychotherapy may help.