Angela Leong
Written & Posted by Angela LeongRegistered Clinical Counsellor, Founder of AEM

Behind the Shield: A Deep Dive into Defense Mechanisms

24 Jul, 2019
Featured for Behind the Shield: A Deep Dive into Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms, a term originally coined by Sigmund Frued, are the creative maneuvers the mind makes to spare us from feeling discomfort or psychological pain. These mechanisms are a response to avoid or delay anxiety, shame and guilt. Freud described these mechanisms as being unconscious, and at times they are. There are times when we can be unaware of what we are doing to avoid feeling bad.

Defense Mechanisms, or defenses for short, are not always a bad thing. They are helpful in the short term, like when we watch a funny when we need a break from a stressful assignment. So as long as we don’t overdo our use of defenses, they can be considered healthy. Defenses utilized long term however, ultimately keep us from experiencing our true core feelings. When chronically used, all the mental exertion required to ‘stuff down our feelings’ will take toll on our bodies. (See Dr. Gabor Mate’s book titled When The Body Says No, he cites literature which supports the fact that when we suppress our emotions, illness such as ALS and cancer can develop).

Are you aware of the things you do to avoid emotions, confrontations, conflict and uncomfortable situations? A defense can be any thought, action or maneuver we make avoid feelings of anxiety, shame, guilt or other distressing feelings.

Some Common Defenses Are:

  • joking
  • laughing
  • sarcasm
  • smiling
  • worrying
  • ruminating
  • vagueness
  • changing the subject
  • avoiding eye contact
  • eye rolling
  • mumbling
  • not talking
  • talking too much
  • not listening
  • spacing out
  • tiredness
  • criticizing
  • perfectionism
  • procrastination
  • preoccupation
  • irritability
  • negative thinking
  • judging others
  • judging ourselves
  • prejudice
  • arrogance
  • misogyny
  • misdirected aggression (getting angry at your dog when you’re really angry about something your boss said)
  • working too much
  • numbness
  • helplessness
  • overexercising
  • overeating
  • undereating
  • being secretive
  • cutting
  • obsessing
  • addictions
  • suicidal ideations
  • being wreckless

In conclusion, when we utilize defenses to suppress emotions, there will be costs to our well-being. The tension between the core emotions that beg to be recognized and the defenses that push back to keep them underground and hidden from consciousness take up our precious and finite energy. Think of it as a hidden, chronic stress that you are carrying around. Once you release the tension, you will feel lighter and calmer.

Defenses also keep us from experiencing our authentic selves — the person you would be if you weren’t held back by shame, guilt and anxiety.

To make an appointment to talk about your defenses contact or call 604-800-9285

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