Defense Mechanisms

We all have struggles between what we know we should do and what we really want to do, how we should think and how we want to think, what we should feel and how we want to feel. Our mind is truly a battlefield of conflicting desires, opposing emotions, and betraying thoughts. So much so, that even the Apostle Paul said in Romans 7:15, “For what I am doing, I DO NOT UNDERSTAND. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” Paul was not describing a period in his life before starting a relationship with Christ. He had met Jesus, was indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and yet his knowledge of his own human behavior was still confusing to him. That should fill us with hope, knowing that we don’t have to have all the answers nor do we need to be perfect in order to be saved from ourselves. Romans 8:1 says “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. PERIOD! (the NU-text omits the rest of this verse)

With this foundation in mind, God has given us revelationary truth that can and should coincide with the Biblical truth we know and understand. Human behavioral, emotional and thought patterns can be studied. Just because someone who was not a Christian discovered them does not mean they should be discredited altogether.

This brings me to the subject of Defense Mechanisms. Ways in which our brain/mind tries to protect itself from seemingly overwhelming conflicts between right and wrong. I will mention just one but there are many that have been studied. 

Projection occurs when individuals push their unacceptable thoughts, feelings, or impulses outward, onto another person. For example, someone denies their own anger but then perceives anger in everyone else. “I’m not mad. You’re the one that keeps losing it!” Another example would be a person who does not like someone, but has the belief that she must like everyone. So she projects onto the person she dislikes the feeling that “he does not like me.” This allows her to avoid him and also to handle her own feelings of dislike.

Examples like this happen all the time. We don’t have to think about them consciously. They just happen. The struggle comes when we try to change these thoughts and discover a new, healthier way of approaching our problems. In the struggle, don’t get discouraged. God is patient with us. As therapists and as people in general, we need to be patient with ourselves.

Question: What real life examples can you come up with that illustrate some of the defense mechanisms we have been studying? Be creative. If you’ve seen a movie clip, read a book, heard a song, or even have a real life example, I’d love to read about it and discuss it.

photo courtesy of www.dennisholmesdesigns.com

  1. Jackson Wanjeru’s avatar

    One of the defense mechanism is Displacement. Displacement is when we take out our frustrations and feelings and express our anger at those who who poses no threat. I find myself stuggling alot in this area after a having a rough and difficulty day at work. Rather than expressing out my frustrations, feelings, and impulses at my supervisor or collegues, I often feel tempted to express it to my family. These days, in attempt to overcome this problem, I usually close myself inside my computer room in my office for about an hour so that I can release myself from these frustrations before joining the rest of the family. Somehow it seem like its working in that my children know everytime I come home and head to the computer room, thats a signal of bad day at work.

    Another type of Defense Mechanism that I find rampant in the Christian Community is Reaction Formation where people try to reduce their own anxiety by reacting in the opposite way. A good example is when some people want to be appointed to various positions in church leadership and after failing to get the appointment, they react negatively by trying to discredit the same offices they once desired. To me this is hypocrisy and it does more harm than good.

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    1. purposebeyondpain’s avatar

      Great examples, Jackson! Becoming more aware of these defenses both in ourselves and in others equips us to more effectively minister.

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    2. Mira Ahn’s avatar

      I want to quote two kinds of Defense Mechaisms from the movie(and novel, which i did not read it), which is one of my favorite ones, ‘Anne of Green Gables.’ Those are ‘Denial and Sublimation,’ Anne Shirley and Gilbert grew up together at the small village, Green Gable. Gilbert always loved Anne, but his expression was always immature. On the other hand, Anne’s character was strong, and expressed her emotion directly and fullfilled her dream as a writer. Anyway, in this movie, Anne always treated Gilbert just as a hometown friend. Even she loved him in the deep inside of her heart, she DENIED and rejected Gilbert’s love toward her. I believe that as an adopted girl, she had to do many things by herself. And I guess her personality was not fully informed from the early childhood. Fortunately, she had a close girl friend and an adopted mother, and it helped informing her personality.
      Gilbert went to the medical school, and got engaged with someone else. It seemed like their relationship was over. But both of them loved one common thing,their hometown, Gables. When Anne came back to her home, she heard that Gilbert got sick and almost dying. She brought her book which was published for dedication to Gilbert. She finally admitted her love to the deep genuine love for Gilbert. After her visiting, Gilbert got well. It was sublimation. The Anne’s affection brought Gilbert’s life back. It stimulated Gilbert to act positively.

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      1. purposebeyondpain’s avatar

        My wife would love your examples from Anne of green gables! Her favorite movies ever! I’m a closet fan myself.

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      2. Bryan Lynch’s avatar

        I’ve found that I often resort to Projection. Whenever somethings bothering me, and my wife reacts to my frustration, I blame her for saying the wrong thing and making me mad. Of course, she was the one who made the “sarcastic” comment. It’s not my fault. I’m simply reacting to her sarcasm! My father was like this. He was a control freak, and always seemed to be mad about something. It was never his fault. We were the ones with the problem. I used to be exactly like him! Now, by the grace of God, I’m only a little like him. But try as I might, whenever things don’t go my way, that old sin comes out, and I blame others for my frustration. My dad had a saying when we were kids: “I may not always be right, but I’m never wrong!” I don’t use the same saying, because I hate it, but I sometimes find myself thinking, “Life would be so much easier if other people didn’t cause me so much frustration sometimes!”

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        1. purposebeyondpain’s avatar

          Awesome example of projection, Bryan. I appreciate your openness. You are not alone in your struggle with projection. I think it’s a common one!!

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        2. Mira Ahn’s avatar

          Confessions!!! I left my former comment because I did not revel my dark part in me. I just recalled the past when I was full of joy and passion for my life. I want to leave my real comments from my heart in prayer.
          Honestly, even now, I am revealing my psychological status using Rationalism, Regression,and Denial. Even though my life is in the deepest depression, I do not want to reveal it to the public. Instead I want to hide it using the old fashioned life style so that I do not want the broken part of my life be touched. I just want disguise and rationalize myself as a ideal being. But I am not a ideal being. Reality is just ‘as I am.’ I am now somehow inactive, unplanning life style, difficult in finance, and so on. What a wretched life! I am trying to restore my life. Sometimes, I feel hopeless.
          Nevertheless, a hope is in this:
          “Even though I walk through the valley of shadow of the death, I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)” Truly, King David worshipped God regardless of his status.
          Truth is that I want to be healed by the power of precious blood of Jesus Christ, my Lord once again.
          I need the Grace of God rather than Ignorance.

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          1. purposebeyondpain’s avatar

            Wow great words from a passionate follower of Christ. Reminds me of another great follower of christ who said “oh wretched man that I am, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory! So glad we can be weak and He is still strong! Amen?!

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          2. Ola Oyatayo’s avatar

            I believe every individual can identify with one or more of the various kinds of defense mechanism, when actually faced with coming to terms with reality. There is an exceptional movie, I will like to recommend to everyone and it is called GOOD WILL HUNTING-starring Matt Damon, B

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          3. Ola Oyatayo’s avatar

            Sorry about the break, in page, fast fingers but anyway movie also stares Ben affleck and Robin williams, there were 4 to 5 defense mechanisms shown,but the most was Projection where the client(Matt Damon) accuses his counsellor that he was the one with the problem, and instead of the counsellor analysing the client, it was the other way around. Bearing in mind that this client has been to 5 cousellors prior, before sticking to the 6th one, and throughout all the sessions he was in Denial(another defense mechanism) of anything being the problem with him.
            Displacement defense mechanism and Rationalization were also key in this movie, where he could not open his heart to love his girlfriend,but fearing that she will leave him for a richer guy.
            Basically the reason why the client was putting up all these various defense was simply due to the fact of FEAR OF ABANDONMENT.
            He was abandoned by people who were suppose to love him, so he pushes people away before they can get to him or even have a chance to get close to him.
            I am sure quite a number of us can relate to this story, the number one thing that eats at humans is FEAR-fear of life, fear of past,fear of future, fear of not knowing what tommorrow will be, fear of not fitting into society, fear of being abandoned, fear of being a failure, I mean i can just go on and on, but instead of facing these fears head on, we tend to put on defense mechanisms and rationalize our ideas and thoughts and trying to justify all of our actions.
            THIS MOVIE IS REALLY CONSELLING THEORY-DEFENSE MECHANISM 101 A-DEFINITE RECOMMEND FOR ALL!!!!

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          4. Ola Oyatayo’s avatar

            Displacement defense mechanism is an area I myself struggle with, where I tend to take my frustrations of the day or the week on someone else and it just goes down the ladder, you cannot yell or be rude to your Pastor or leader but you can take it out on the spouse or the Children, to the fact that on those days when I go through the rough times of displacement, everyone hides in their own little corners, and they have come to identify when I am going through those times. But you know what everyday is a learning process and the Grace of God is sufficient for me.

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          5. Mallory’s avatar

            Regression is another defense mechanism. It is shown when a person gets angry and then starts going back to an old pattern of thinking. This is most often seen when an adult begins acting like a child.
            I love watching the show “The Office”, and the character Michael Scott is a classic example of this. The more angry he becomes, the more immature he acts.

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            1. Mallory Kaptain’s avatar

              I just realized that my name has not been showing up correctly. I fixed it now. Sorry!

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            2. purposebeyondpain’s avatar

              That’s awesome!! Perfect humorous example of regression.

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            3. steve lee’s avatar

              I believe that we all should have a defense mechanism. I believe it has gotten a bad rap for being a bad thing. We should always defend ourselves in situations in which we need… Well defense.

              Personally With that said there are many times in which I get very Very annoyed when people point out my failures. For me it makes sense that the people that should point out our failures should do it in love.

              In that way the Defense is Down. However if a stranger came and told me I was a Bad Christian or … a horrible person. That is not time for me to agree with the random stranger who is slandering my name.

              Although Anger is not what I need to resort to =( I should try and get to the bottom of the issue and my brain should be working overtime to get to the bottom of the issue.

              So to sum up defense in love = correct… in my belief and defense in pride,self interest = wrong.

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              1. Jacobie Robinson’s avatar

                A possible example to what you are talking about, to me sounds like sublimation. To where you direct your feelings into a socially accepted activity. You really want to beat somebody up, but instead you tear down the debilitating fence outside, stack it up and hall it off. Or maybe you are really sad, but you can’t break down and cry right now. so you write a poem about your situation. I hear you, defense mechanisms are not necessarily all bad, I don’t think. However, just with any tool of DEFENSE, you have to be careful how you use it. For instance if we put on a shield to block out hurt, but we wear it all the time, we never experience the comfort that a hug might provide. If we are constantly walking around with a javelin to fight off dangerous predators, we may hurt the ones who truly love us and who we should allow to get close to use. In other words, every moment of life is not a battle field. Certain defense mechanisms should be used appropriately. I appreciate my colleagues for being able to recognize different defense mechanisms in their lives, and actually modifying their behaviors such that the mechanisms do not destroy them or the ones they love. As for me, I imagine that I struggle with rationalization. I am always searching for a reason why. If the reason is acceptable, then the action is acceptable. But I know that this is not always the case. We must have controlled responses to life’s situations.

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                1. Jackson Wanjeru’s avatar

                  Do we have more defefense mechanism other than those listed in the text book. If any of you knows more, pleas share as I find this topic very informative and interesting to say the least.

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                2. Mary Shuford’s avatar

                  Okay well I hear these defense mechanisms all the time on he radio!! You hear songs about being over a relationship, and talking negatively about people when really they are just hurting. I know that I tend to use sarcasm as a defense mechanism when I am too scared to show my real emotions about something. I also tend to use it to keep people out, and sometimes to avoid emotions all together. I understand the projecting, and see it all the time. I sometimes project on people because I don’t want to be the one to have a negative feeling about something.

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                3. Jeremy Hobbs’s avatar

                  Regression would probably the one I relate to. In my past, I used to deal with my issues by shutting everyone out and being extremely quiet. Sometimes I still find myself doing this when under extreme stress, where I will just shut myself away in a room for a while, not really talking to anyone. When i’m noticing that i’m doing this, i’m usually able to knock myself out of it.

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