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More defence mechanisms



Regression is the avoidance of anxiety by regressing to an earlier pattern of behaviour leading to the temporary or long-term reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development adopting more childish mannerisms rather than handling unacceptable impulses in a more adult way. When confronted by stressful events, people sometimes abandon coping strategies and revert to patterns of behavior used earlier in development. The defense mechanism of regression in psychotherapy occurs when an individual’s personality reverts to an earlier stage of development such as, an individual fixated at an earlier developmental stage might cry or sulk upon hearing unpleasant news. Behaviors associated with regression can vary greatly depending upon which stage the person is fixated at:


  • An eight year old child returns to sucking their thumb after a traumatic event
  • A clear example of regressive behavior in fiction can be seen in J.D. Salinger‘s The Catcher in the Rye. Holden constantly contradicts the progression of time and the aging process by reverting to childish ideas of escape, unrealistic expectations and frustration produced by his numerous shifts in behavior. His tendencies lean to reject responsibility and society as a whole because he ‘doesn’t fit in.’ It also pushes him to prolonged use of reaction formation, unnecessary generalizations and compulsive lying

“Rationalisation is the concealment of the real motivations


Rationalisation is the concealment of the real motivations of one’s behaviour by providing good reasons rather than real reasons. Rationalisation occurs when a person is dealing with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by concealing the true motivations for their own thoughts, actions, or feelings through the elaboration of reassuring or self serving but incorrect explanations. Also known as making excuses, rationalisation is a defence mechanism in which perceived behaviours or feelings are justified and explained in a seemingly rational or logical manner in order to avoid any true explanation, and are made consciously tolerable – or even admirable and superior – by plausible means.

Rationalisation also encourages irrational or unacceptable behaviour, motives, or feelings and often involves ad hoc hypothesising. This process ranges from fully conscious, (to present an external defence against ridicule from others) to mostly sub-conscious (to create a block against internal feelings of guilt).

People rationalise for various reasons. Rationalisation may differentiate the original deterministic explanation of the behaviour or feeling in question. Sometimes rationalisation occurs when we think we know ourselves better than we do. It’s also an informal fallacy of reasoning.


  • Rationalisation can be used to avoid admitting disappointment: “I didn’t get the job that I applied for, but I really didn’t want it in the first place.”

Rationalisations often take the form of a comparison. Commonly this is done to lessen the perception of an action’s negative effects, to justify an action, or to excuse culpability:

  • “At least (what occurred) is not as bad as (a worse outcome).”
  • In response to an accusation: “At least I didn’t (worse action than accused action).”
  • As a form of false choice: “Doing (undesirable action) is a lot better than (a worse action).”

“Projection is the act or technique of defending oneself against unpleasant impulses…


Based on anecdotal and survey evidence, common excuses made in the medical profession are:

  • “Why disclose the error? The patient was going to die anyway.
  • “Telling the family about the error will only make them feel worse.”
  • “It was the patient’s fault. If she wasn’t so (obese, sick or other), this error wouldn’t have caused so much harm.”
  • “Well, we did our best. These things happen.”


Projection is the act or technique of defending oneself against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence in oneself, while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude, the unacceptable thoughts and feelings about the self are projected onto others. Although rooted in early developmental stages, and classed as an immature defence, the projection of one’s negative qualities onto others on a small scale is nevertheless a common process in everyday life and tends to come to the fore in people at times of crisis.


  • Projection of marital guilt: Thoughts of infidelity to a partner may be unconsciously projected in self-defence on to the partner in question, so that the guilt attached to the thoughts can be repudiated or turned to blame instead, in a process linked to denial 
  • Projection of bullying: A bully may project their own feelings of vulnerability onto the target(s) of the bullying activity. Despite the fact that a bully’s typically denigrating activities are aimed at the bully’s targets, the true source of such negativity is ultimately almost always found in the bully’s own sense of personal insecurity and/ or vulnerability. Such aggressive projections of displaced negative emotions can occur anywhere from the micro-level of interpersonal relationships, all the way up through to the macro-level of international politics, or even international armed conflict 
  • Projection of general guilt: Projection of a severe conscience is another form of defence, one which may be linked to the making of false accusations, personal or political 
  • Projection of hope: Also, in a more personal light, a client or patient may sometimes project their feelings of hope onto the therapist or practitioner