Defence Mechanisms are what do we do to protect ourselves from vulnerability, judgement, pain, fear, and shame, but at the risk of meaningful connections, success, growth, true happiness and freedom.
They can become our armour, knowingly or not, that we carry with us out in the world for protection from harm. Let’s discuss these further and see how they manifest for each of us…
What are Defence Mechanisms?
Defined as “Defense mechanisms are thought to safeguard the mind against feelings and thoughts that are too difficult for the conscious mind to cope with.”
“A defence mechanism is an unconscious psychological mechanism that reduces anxiety arising from unacceptable or potentially harmful stimuli.”
Why can they be bad for us?
Wearing an armour all the time is bad because it’s heavy; it’s weighing you down. It’s a tiring life to live if you are always on-guard, walls up, ready to defend yourself even when there is no real fight.
Sometimes, there are people who seek to hurt us; or situations that aren’t easy to be in, but armouring yourself and using defence mechanisms isn’t authentic. It isn’t fair. It is keeping you from a life of freedom, connectivity, and abundant love.
You see, defence mechanisms can sometimes become so natural that we don’t notice them. They become a part of who we are and seep into other areas of our lives, where they’re definitely not needed. This is mainly in our personal relationships.
How can someone open up, be themselves, and be loved for all that they are, if they have walls up and armour on and guns at the ready?
What are the most common Defence Mechanisms?
As we all know from Chandler Bing from Friends; humour is often used as a defence mechanism, a way of hiding from real or tough emotions. It’s like saying, if I make a joke then everyone will laugh and like me and move on from the difficult situation where I feel vulnerable.
It’s choosing to joke around or be silly instead of saying with a confident, whole-heart that you love someone; or that you feel afraid; or that you’re sad and you don’t know why. Instead of opening those doors where you’re vulnerable to criticism, rejection, judgement, shame, or loss, you lock the door with misplaced humour (just in case).
We put ourselves down, undersell our achievements and our worth, and let people walk over us. This is a defence because it’s easier to shrink and give people what they want than to stand in your truth and own your worth.
You avoid the difficulty of being yourself and standing up for yourself by shrinking and minimising who you are, thus avoiding conflict or rejection.
This is the other way that a difficult encounter can go. Instead of shrinking, we puff up and boast. Actually, I’m this and I’m that and I’m worthy. We try to convert people into seeing how great we are by puffing out our chest.
Instead of simply being authentic, being yourself and giving yourself self-worth, you’re instead puffing up and demanding validation of your worth from others. This is the Ego shouting out and demanding to be seen.
We may see this as defending our worth, but it is actually diminishing it because it says, “my worth comes from their approval, not from within” which is very negative.
Of course, this is a big one. When an animal is backed into a corner, it attacks. If someone feels vulnerable, threatened, afraid, or judged, they bite back. They get cruel and point out all the imperfections, mistakes, failures, and insecurities of a person to tear them down and feel superior.
This is what a bully does; they have their own insecurities that they don’t like poked at, so they beat up on everyone else.
This is also known as Displacement: “taking out our frustrations, feelings, and impulses on people or objects that are less threatening.”
It is also similar to Projection: “Projection is a defence mechanism that involves taking our own unacceptable qualities or feelings and ascribing them to other people.”
Cruelty is a big one, which varies in many ways. It can be aggression; or subtle with passive-aggression. It can be feeding on the insecurities of others; or projecting your own feelings onto them.
Lying or withholding truths
When we feel threatened or on display, we can begin to change who we are to suit the situation. This can be to people-please, to fit in, or to withhold our truth for fear of shame and judgement.
From there, the defence mechanism comes in the form of lying about what we’ve done or who we are; or at least nitpicking and withholding the truth.
Instead of saying, “I’m unemployed at the moment” (which can be tough to admit), we say “I’m working for an insurance company” which is not true; or “I’m looking for another job” then withholding the fact that it’s because you were fired.
This is like what politicians do, they steer their answers in another direction if they aren’t comfortable with the question! This isn’t the same as lying; it’s a more tactful defence mechanism. These people avoid uncomfortable situations either by removing themselves from them; or steering a conversation or situation to another topic.
Denial is “an outright refusal to admit or recognize that something has occurred or is currently occurring.”
I like to think of this one as the “I don’t care” defence mechanism. It is either you really convince yourself that something isn’t true, or you shrug things off with an untrue “I don’t care” to deny it’s power over you.
Vices and Bad Habits
To suppress feelings of discomfort, vulnerability, shame, fear, or judgement, we can turn to things that aren’t healthy for us. Smoking, drinking, overeating, bad decisions; these are all examples of defence mechanisms. They say, “I’m afraid or uncomfortable and so I’m going to suppress that feeling with XYZ.”
All forms of defence mechanisms come down to the same thing: the protection from shame, judgement, fear, loss, rejection, criticism, conflict, discomfort, challenges, vulnerability, and insecurities.
We hope to use DMs as a way to avoid pain.
The truth is, pain is unavoidable. It is a part of life, but suffering doesn’t need to be. By being ourselves, stepping into vulnerability, and feeling but not identifying with the hard to handle emotions listed above, we are able to be authentic and strong and deal with things better.
By doing this, we are choosing ourselves, our real selves, without hiding or fighting. We are practising love and trust in ourselves in our entirety.
In doing this, we are open to real connection. Open to lessons learned and growth. Open to the authenticity and strength that comes with just being yourself.
So, be aware of the armour you wear and ask yourself why it’s there. Then, take the time to take it off. Also, recognise the armour on others; practice compassion and empathy when dealing with theirs.
If you need any help in bettering your mental health, or better coping with anxiety, depression, and stress, then my book “You’re As Mad As I Am” may be for you. Check it out here, and download a free sample to see what it’s all about.
If you want to hire me to write about mental health (or other), then don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Definitions used – https://www.verywellmind.com/defense-mechanisms-2795960