Defense mechanisms are automatic, involuntary, usually unconscious psychological activities by which human beings attempt to exclude unacceptable thoughts, urges, threats, and impulses from awareness for fear of disapproval, punishment, or other negative outcomes. The defense expresses the forbidden impulse in symbolic, external form and serves to bind anxiety.
The Major Mechanisms:
Repression: a key mechanism; expressed clinically by amnesia or symptomatic forgetting serving to banish unacceptable ideas, fantasies, affects, or impulses from consciousness
Compensation: enables one to make up for real or fancied deficiencies
-e.g. a person who stutters becomes a very expressive writer
Conversion: repressed urge is expressed disguised of body function, usually of the sensory, voluntary nervous system
-e.g. pain, deafness, blindness, etc
Denial: primitive defense; inability to acknowledge true significance of thoughts, feelings, wishes, behaviors, or external reality factors that are consciously intolerable
Displacement: directing an impulse, wish or feeling toward a person or situation that is not its real object, thus permitting expression in a less threatening situation
-e.g. a man angry at his boss kicks the dog
Dissociation: a process which enables a person to split mental functions in a manner that allows him to exprss forbidden or unconscious impulses without taking responsibility for the action, either because he is unable to remember the disowned behavior, or becuase it is not experienced as his own
-e.g. pathologically expressed as fugue states, amnesia, dissociative neurosis or normally expressed as daydreaming
Idealization: overestimation of an admired aspect or attribute or another, may be conscious or unconscious
Identification: universal mechanism whereby a person patterns himself after a significant other. Plays major role in personality development, especially super ego development
Identification with an Aggressor: mastering anxiety by identifying with a powerful aggressor (such as an abusing parent) to counteract feelings of helplessness and to feel powerful oneself. Usually involves behaving like the aggressor.
-e.g. abusing others after one has been abused oneself
Incorporation: primitive mechanism in which psychic representation of a person is figuratively ingested.
Inhibition: loss of motivation to engage in (usually pleasurable) activity avoided because it might stir up conflict over forbidden impulses
e.g. writing blocks, social shyness
Introjection: loved or hated external objects are symbolically absorbed within self (converse of projection)
e.g. in severe depression, unconscious unacceptable hatred is turned towards self
Isolation of Affect: unacceptable impulse, idea, act is separated from its original memory source, thereby removing the original emotional charge associated with it.
Projection: primitive defense; attributing one's disowned attitudes, wishes, feelings, urges to some external object
e.g. believing a spouse is angry at the kids when one is angry at them oneself.
Rationalization: third line of defense, not unconscious. Giving believable explanation for irrational behavior, motivated by unacceptable unconscious wishes or by defenses used to cope with such wishes
Reaction Formation: person adopts affects, ideas, attitudes, behaviors that are opposites of those he harbored consciously or unconsciously
e.g. excessive moral zeal masking strong but repressed asocial impulses
Regression:partial or symbolic return to more infantile patterns of reacting or thinking. can be in service to the ego.
e.g. dependency during illness
Sublimation: potentially maladaptive feelings or behaviors are diverted into socially acceptable, adaptive channels
e.g. a person who has angry feelings channels them into athletics
Substitution: unattainable or unacceptable goal, emotion, or object is replaced by one more attainable or acceptable
Symbolization: a mental representation stands for some other thing, class of things, or attribute. This mechanism underlies dream formation and some other symptoms (such as conversion reactions, obsessions, compulsions) with a link between the latent meaning of the symbol and the symbol; usually unconscious
Undoing: a person uses words or actions to symbolically reverse or negate unacceptable thoughts, feelings, or actions
e.g. a person compulsively washes their hands to deal with obsessive thoughts
Turning Against Self: defense to deflect hostile aggression or other unacceptable impulses from another to self.
Splitting: defense mechanism associated with borderline personality disorder in which a person perceives self and others as "all good" or "all bad". It is a process in which introjects of opposite quality are kept apart, resulting in ego weakness that cannot neutralize aggression. this process leads to a selective lack of impulse control. splitting can serve to protect the good objects. a person cannot integrate the good and bad in people.
Projective Identification: a form of projection utilized by persons with BPD; unconsciously perceiving another's behavior as a reflection of one's own identity
Devaluation: a defense mechanism frequently used by people with BPD in which a person attributes exaggerate negative qualities to self or another
Acting Out: emotional conflict is dealt with through actions rather than feelings
e.g. instead of talking about feeling neglected, a person will get into trouble to get attention
Decompensation: deterioration of existing defenses.