Defence Mechanisms: Why Do People Use Them?

Defence mechanisms are coping strategies that people employ when confronted with threatening or upsetting stimuli. What do you do first if you feel physically threatened? You take all necessary precautions to protect yourself.

When faced with an emotional or mental danger, the same principle applies. To counteract them, you employ various forms of self-defense. These defences help us put some space between ourselves and negative emotions like guilt and shame. Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory explains defence systems. Defence mechanisms, for example, are thought to be automatic or beyond a person’s cognitive control, according to this theory. Without realising it, you employ defensive strategies.

Humans naturally create coping mechanisms to protect their minds from harm. Defence mechanisms are an integral part of human existence. They help us deal with anxiety and unwanted thoughts. Defence systems can be used constructively by some people and destructively by others. When and why do we resort to typical coping mechanisms? Find out more by reading on.

Coping Strategies: Why Do People Use Them?

You and I both use defence systems for the following reasons:

  • As healthy ways of thinking about and handling stress
  • To make an argument in favour of one’s bad behaviour
  • To prevent experiencing painful feelings
  • To prevent unpleasant feelings when under attack
  • To take a cerebral break and process the recent shifts in your life

The Top 10 Defense Strategies

Every day, people use defence systems, even if they aren’t always conscious of doing so. Examine the top ten strategies commonly employed by people in your situation.


Humans frequently use denial as a defence strategy. In reality, if a loved one dies, denial is the first stage of the grieving process. To deny is to decline to acknowledge the truth. You refuse to accept reality, even though everyone else can see it. Some people, upon hearing the terrible news, immediately do this.

Here’s an Ignorance Example

You wish you were dreaming or it wasn’t happening, and you refuse to face the fact that your loved one has died. Another example would be someone who drinks excessively but insists they have no issue with alcohol and therefore does not require any assistance.

Suppressing Emotions

Upsetting are recollections of pain, experiences of trauma, and news of tragic events. Some people unconsciously repress or hide their emotions rather than confronting them head-on. Others claim they don’t remember, while still others completely shut down their emotional responses.

Repression is a strategy for “feeling okay for now,” but it cannot make painful memories go away forever. It’s like trying to hide grime by sweeping it under the carpet; you can’t fool anyone. A person’s behaviour, mood, and relationships can all be affected if they choose unhealthy coping mechanisms over confronting their emotions.

A Repression Example

A kid who experienced physical abuse may have decided to block out the experience. If the trauma isn’t properly addressed, it can make it difficult to establish meaningful relationships later in life.


Regression, whose name comes from the word for “going back” or “returning,” is another frequent defence mechanism. Anxiety and worry can cause a person to regress to a more immature state of development than is appropriate for their current age.

Such as how middle schoolers who have recently stopped wetting the bed due to a traumatic event may start wetting the bed again after the event. In a nutshell, regression causes one to display behaviours more typical of someone much younger than themselves.

A Regression Example

If an adult is under too much pressure at work, they might start biting their nails or resort to watching their favourite cartoons to relax and relieve tension.

Emotional Displacement

You have probably also encountered the defence strategy of displacement at some point in your life. Taking your anger or frustrations out on other people or things is common as a coping strategy. Moreover, you project your anger onto people who are not responsible for your distress.

A Displacing Example

When you’re having a terrible day at work, it’s easy to let your frustrations out on your loved ones. You are taking your frustrations out on the wrong individuals. Don’t take your frustrations out on the people who matter most to you; doing so could damage your connections.

Emotional Projection

To avoid taking responsibility for their unacceptable actions, some people resort to the defence strategy of projection. In other words, you’re making it seem like the people around you are the ones exhibiting your undesirable or unacceptable behaviours or urges.

Some individuals have trouble taking responsibility for their actions, which can lead to projection. One’s anger is usually directed outward. What you attribute to others is essentially a reflection of who you are, and this is something you might not even be aware of.

Here’s a Projection Example

The spouse may become hostile because of his anger issues. Rather than admit his wife was acting out, the husband falsely accused her of having rage problems.

Reaction Formation

A coping strategy known as “reaction formation” occurs when an individual is aware of negative emotions but chooses to ignore them and instead take counterintuitive action. If people can tell that your behaviour is at odds with how you feel, they may label you as “pretentious.”

Individuals who rely on response formation may exhibit excessive displays of ostentation or obsessive rituals to the point where they become a distraction to those around them.

An Example of Reaction Formation

The job you so desperately wanted has been filled by someone else. You put on a competent front while secretly believing that you are more qualified for the position. As a defence mechanism, you over-congratulate that individual. You could exaggerate your joy or applaud your hands to show that you’re pleased for them.


When bad things happen, one common defence mechanism is to attempt to rationalise or find an explanation for them. You justify your poor actions by denying or downplaying their true motivations.

The process of rationalisation can be used for benefit or evil. A person who has rationalised their actions is less likely to worry about the consequences of those actions. A person’s sense of self-worth and identity can be safeguarded by the use of rationalisation. When a person engages in rationalisation, they attribute their success to their talents. But when they experience setbacks, they make excuses and attempt to place the blame on external factors.

Rationalisation in Action

You failed to complete a task on time. You make yourself feel better by saying that the problem is with your link speed. But the reality is that you were putting off working on the assignment even though you had plenty of time to do so.


This is the most optimistic defence mechanism. Sublimation is an indication of maturity, according to Sigmund Freud. How so? Because it is the process of channeling intense feelings into more manageable and beneficial outlets.

A Sublimation Example

It’s the workplace that’s causing you to worry. Instead of venting your anger at home, you take up a sport like boxing or work out at the club. Some people channel their bad feelings into their art or their writing.


When you compartmentalise your existence, you separate different aspects of it. By compartmentalising your life, you protect yourself from experiencing negative feelings about your job, your family, or your love partner. This way of thinking is beneficial, particularly when dealing with problems at work.

A Compartmentalisation Example

At work, you feel uncomfortable broaching the subject of your problems, and vice versa. If you’re having trouble keeping your mind on the job and keeping it off of problems at home, this might assist. The displacement defence mechanism might not kick in because you’re not thinking about job stress at home.


When you intellectualise, you choose not to feel the emotions that come with a difficult circumstance. Instead, think in terms of hard numbers. You can keep your cool under pressure and instead consider the theoretical aspects of a problem. Anxiety may be lessened through intellectualization.

Intellectualization in Action

The company decided to let you go. You decide not to wallow in self-pity but instead investigate potential employment options. Alternatively, you could use this time to better yourself in preparation for the work of your dreams.

Concluding Remarks

It is possible to self-deceive as part of a defence system. Whether they’re useful or not, it’s important to process negative emotions in a healthy manner rather than stuffing them down. Denial, projection, regression, repression, and displacement are harmful defence mechanisms; if you struggle with them, you must develop effective coping mechanisms. If you’re ready to make some changes, you can still alter these conducts.