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What are Defence Mechanisms and how are they created?

A Defense Mechanism is an enduring pattern of protective behavior designed to provide a defense against the awareness of that which is anxiety producing.

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The term is reserved for processes that are subconsciously motivated, subconsciously acquired and developed to protect the EGO/SELF from unpleasantness of mental pain of many kinds. Defense mechanisms are psychological strategies brought into play by the subconscious mind to manipulate, deny or distort reality in order to defend against feelings of anxiety and unacceptable impulses to maintain one’s sense of SELF.

Everyone uses defence mechanisms; they are one of the tools the human mind utilizes to deal with everyday and out of the ordinary life stressors. Almost all defence mechanisms are subconscious, meaning we do not purposely use them, they just occur. However, it is possible through careful introspection to become aware of the various defence mechanisms we use and to adopt newer, healthier alternatives. The use of defence mechanisms alone is not unhealthy but the overuse of particular defence mechanisms can be maladaptive and thus unbeneficial to our lives. Listed below are some specific examples of anxiety relieving defence mechanisms to aid us to understand what they are and how they work and what they do. Defence mechanisms mainly develop during infancy and childhood and continue throughout adulthood. They become ingrained in the subconscious mind to a greater extent by Sensitising Events and are difficult to consciously change. However, through the art of clinical hypnosis, learning new more adaptive defence mechanisms or eradicating them completely can be achieved easily and effortlessly.

“Everyone uses defence mechanisms

Repression

Repression functions to protect the conscious mind from thoughts and memories that would produce anxiety at the conscious level. Repression acts to keep memories out of awareness. However, these memories don’t just disappear; they continue to influence our behavior. Repression ensures that what is unacceptable to the conscious mind would, if recalled, arouse anxiety and is thus prevented from entering into it. It’s a psychological attempt by an individual to repel one’s own desires and impulses toward pleasurable instincts by excluding the desire from one’s consciousness and holding or subduing it in the subconscious. Repression plays a major role in the psyche of most human beings. Sometimes we do this consciously by forcing the unwanted information out of our awareness, which is known as suppression. In most cases however, this removal of anxiety-provoking memories from our awareness occurs subconsciously. Generally, repression is considered the basis for other defense mechanisms. 

Examples

  • A person who has repressed memories of abuse suffered as a child may later have difficulty trusting people and forming relationships
  • An optimist remembers the past with a rosy glow and constantly repeats mistakes
  • An infant who is abused by a parent has no recollection of the events, but later as a child experiences trouble learning good behaviour
  • A woman who found childbirth particularly painful continues to have children, (and each time the level of pain is surprising to her)
  • A person has a phobia of spiders but cannot remember the first time they were afraid of them
  • A person greets another with ‘pleased to beat you,’ (the repressed idea of violence toward the other person creeping through)
  • A person is raped and can’t recall their attacker’s face

Intellectualisation

Intellectualisation is an exaggerated preference for thought over feelings. It’s the analysis of a situation, ignoring the emotional content where reasoning is used to block confrontation with a subconscious conflict and its associated emotional stress where thinking is used to avoid feeling.  It involves removing one’s self emotionally from a stressful event. Intellectualisation is a flight into reason where the person avoids uncomfortable emotions by focusing on facts and logic. The situation is treated as an interesting problem that engages the person on a rational basis, whilst the emotional aspects are completely ignored as being irrelevant. Intellectualisation works to reduce anxiety by thinking about events in a cold, clinical way. This defense mechanism allows people to avoid thinking about the stressful, emotional aspect of the situation and instead focus only on the intellectual component.

“Intellectualisation is an exaggerated preference for thought over feelings.

Examples

  • A person who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness might focus on learning everything about the disease in order to avoid distress and remain distant from the reality of the situation
  • Giving a public speech and using language their audience doesn’t understand to make themself sound smarter. They’d be defending against the internal and subconscious fear/anxiety of rejection 
  • Learning that a loved one is dying from a disease, but using medical jargon to talk to others or arguing with the doctors and nurses about technicalities rather than grieving or expressing sadness. They’d be defending against the internal and subconscious fear/anxiety of death or loss