Defense mechanisms are a phenomenon of the human psyche described by Sigmund Freud as a mechanism of reducing and coping with anxiety. This behavior is a direct result of a dangerous stimulus or when the superego, or identity, challenges the ego. Thus, when a potentially hazardous or allegedly threatening variable is encountered by a person, they try to avoid the uncomfortable feelings from the item or event. Freud outlined defense processes that can be easily spotted in human behavior, regardless of age, gender, race, or mentality.
To illustrate the process of defense mechanisms, five of them will be described and explained:
- Repression is a process of ignoring the demand for action or memory processing, leaving it in the unconscious, and, thereby, forgetting about it. This mechanism is the most unfeasible one in regards to long-term consequences. For instance, when repressing a feeling of hate towards a parent, a child is not liberated from the desire to kill them. Thus, as a result of growing tension, the repression gives way, releasing forgotten memories and emotional responses.
- Displacement, in turn, is a defense mechanism of projecting negative and anxious feelings on a subject that a person does not feel threatened by. For instance, in an abusive household, a mother can be abused by her spouse and express displacement towards her child. She does not fight her husband back because she feels too threatened to do so. However, she displaces her anger by screaming and arguing with a child as an individual she does not feel threatened by to process and let go of the negative feeling.
- Denial is characterized by the rejection of the truth to contain the desired state of reality. For example, even though a woman’s husband has disappeared, she denies accepting the fact that he is probably deceased and is never going to return, thus relieving her sense of anxiety or containing her feeling of insecurity.
- Identification urges the person to process a traumatic experience through projecting and adopting the characteristics of the desired or feared subject. More simply, however, it is described as an unconscious replication of the mannerisms and behaviors of the person that a subject feels most threatened by. For example, the abusive relationship victim can unconsciously copy the offender’s actions to comfort a traumatic experience.
- Lastly, the process of sublimation is generally discussed as a positive coping strategy. This mechanism is attained as a process of projecting the intense emotions from the subject that provokes them to a neutral stimulus. For instance, a person can sublimate anger into aggressive exercise instead of lashing out at their family.