Defense Mechanisms: Here are The 8 Most Popular That Hurt Us

The Most Common Defense Mechanisms Explained


One of the more popular and widely used defense mechanisms is denial. The definition of denial tells you all you need to know. “The action of declaring something to be untrue”. What better defense mechanism is there than to flat out say that something never happened or isn’t happening.


Ever had a bad day at the office and then came home and took it out on everyone within ten feet of you? If so you practice displacement. Often people refer to this as displaced aggression. Your boss asks you to work on Saturday but instead of yelling at him or her, you come home and punch the walls, the door, and kick the dog. (please don’t kick the dog)


Push it down, way down. When we practice repression we push the feelings or actions way down into our subconscious. This type of defense mechanism is often used in cases of trauma and abuse. Instead of confronting the issue, the person buries the feelings inside. If these feelings are not dealt with they can fester over time and make matters much worse.


In projection, you’re taking your negative feelings or thoughts and assigning them to other people. For example, you don’t like a person so you project that the person doesn’t like you, though you might not even know if that’s true or not. Projection is often based on insecurity.


Sublimation is defined as modifying the natural expression of an impulse or instinct to one that is socially acceptable. This is the most positive defense mechanism of them all. In this defense mechanism, you might argue with your spouse and decide afterward to go for a run as a means of getting rid of the anger.


Have you ever seen a grown adult stomp their feet if they don’t get their way? In regression, your behavior goes back to when you were a child. Let’s look at the same argument with your spouse. Instead of going for a run like in sublimation, you decide to stomp off and slam the door behind you. You almost always regret using regression as a defense mechanism. Though it may help you feel better at the moment it won’t in the long run.

Reactive Formation

Have you ever gone over and above to be friendly with someone who you absolutely couldn’t stand? Killing them with kindness? If so you have used reactive formation. You are hiding how you truly feel by acting opposite.


A defense mechanism where your real motivation is concealed by explaining your actions and feelings in a way that is not threatening. You try to explain the bad behavior and make excuses for it. You tend to distort the facts to make them fit your narrative. Overly sensitive people tend to use rationalization the most. Most of the time rationalization backfires because it comes off as placing the blame on someone else and people find the behavior to be childish. Don’t pass the blame if it’s yours to own.


Compartmentalization occurs when you separate your life into sections to protect yourself. Think of it like building a wall around an area of your life.


Intellectualization is a defense mechanism in which you use reasoning and thinking to block confrontation and emotional stress. It involves removing yourself, emotionally, from a stressful event. When you’re hit with a trying situation like cancer, you may choose to remove emotion from your responses and instead put together spreadsheets on drugs that work and survival rates instead of facing the emotion of the diagnosis.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store