The Wonders of the Mind - Psychological Defence Mechanisms

Posted by mentalhealthtv on October 24th, 2019

Psychological defence mechanisms are there to protect the individual from unpleasant feelings like anxiety, guilty, anger, and many more. They’re there for when things become too demanding for us. What is considered ‘demanding’ can vary from person to person.

Most people will have heard of at least some psychological defence mechanisms. An example would be ‘repression’. Repression stops the person from thinking of certain things that are too threatening or disturbing for them to handle. This is often used as a device in films and television for dramatic plots. Sometimes people who were abused during childhood repress these memories.

Another commonly discussed defence mechanism would be ‘denial’. Denial is when somebody refuses to acknowledge that something is happening or has happened. An example would be in one of our programmes when a widow refuses to acknowledge the death of her husband. A more common case of denial would be when a smoker refuses to admit that they’re addicted to nicotine.

Some people may not be familiar with the term ‘sublimation’, but it is commonly recommended to help deal with emotions using other words. Sublimation is a way of expressing or using the excess energy that comes with certain emotions and putting it into something else that is more useful or constructive. A very common example of this would be putting feelings of anger and stress into a sport like Rugby. This is a socially acceptable way to use this emotion and to deal with it.

Displacement is similar, but not quite the same. Displacement is somebody holding in their emotions and taking them out on somebody or something later. This is not ideal and can lead to dysfunctional relationships and harming others.

The last two I will write about are regression and projection. Regression is a movement back in time (psychologically), which can result in a person doing things that they may have done as a child. One of the more common instances of regression is bed-wetting. In our short documentary on psychological defence mechanisms we hear the story of a young boy who has begun to wet the bed again after years of no bed-wetting. It is concluded that this has come about as his parents are getting a divorce. This is a classic example of how facing stress can cause somebody to regress back to childlike behaviour.

Something else considered as a defense mechanism is ‘psychosis’. Psychosis is very serious and urgently requires treatment, so it doesn’t sound much like a defence mechanism. What psychosis defends the mind from is reality. It’s an ultimate distortion of the world around you, causing hallucinations or delusions. I heard a story a while back about somebody who was going through a stressful period in their life, and then their dog died unexpectedly. It triggered an episode of psychosis, in which they began to talk like a child, were completely unaware of their surroundings and hallucinated about their dog. It took 3 weeks before there was any improvement in her mental health. 

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