Psychological Defense Mechanisms

Defenses are what we use to defend ourselves from any thing, which frightens us or challenges our sense of control. We all use them, and if we didn’t, we would be entirely vulnerable to any person, place or thing, which happened to come our way. However, too much of a good thing becomes a problem if it impairs our sense of reality, or communication, or ability to cope with life on life’s terms. Just as we can use defenses to protect us from legitimate fears, we can also use defenses to defend actions, beliefs, or lifestyle choices that harm others or ourselves. An example would be the alcoholic who defends his drinking by saying, “I drink because my wife nags me all the time, and I have to drink to deal with her.” They use these defense mechanisms instead of seeking addiction counselling and other forms of help for their issues.


DENIAL – there is no elephant in the living room

MINIMIZATION – there is an elephant, but it’s just a small elephant

RATIONALIZING—well, yes, there’s an elephant, but having an elephant in the living room may not be all bad. Elephants keep away tigers, for example.

PROJECTION – it’s YOUR fault that there’s an elephant in the living room. You set this up to get me in trouble with the CPS worker.

INTELLECTUALIZING – Let’s talk about just why this particular elephant came to be in this particular room. There is certainly a logical explanation.

JOKING/HUMOR – Whoa, hey! This reminds me — have you heard the one about the elephant walking into a bar?

ANGER/THREATENING/DOMINATING – you can’t talk to me like that in my house –what are you, trying to start trouble? Who asked you here anyway?

PLEASING/ACCOMODATING – pay no attention to that elephant over there, ok? Let me get you some cookies and milk. Tell me more about yourself.

AVOIDANCE – elephant? Oh yeah, I gotta get going. Bye.

OVERCONFIDENCE – elephant? I can handle any elephant that comes along.

BEING A VICTIM – Oh, no, don’t talk about elephants — it’s too scary. Listen, I’ve had a really horrible day.

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