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  • Writer's pictureMelanie Rivera

Recognising Common Defence Mechanisms

Common Defence Mechanisms | Awareness

Defence mechanisms are psychological strategies used by individuals to protect themselves from unpleasant emotions, thoughts, or events. These techniques can help separate a person from perceived threats or uncomfortable feelings such as guilt, shame, or anxiety. The concept of defence mechanisms originates from psychoanalytic theory, which views personality as a dynamic interplay between three components: the id, ego, and superego.

The Origins of Defence Mechanisms | Psychoanalytic Theory

First introduced by Sigmund Freud and further developed by his daughter, Anna Freud, psychoanalytic theory suggests that personality consists of three parts:

  • Id: The primal part of personality that seeks immediate gratification.

  • Ego: The rational part that mediates between the id and the superego, dealing with reality.

  • Superego: The moral conscience that incorporates societal standards and values.

According to this theory, defense mechanisms are unconscious processes utilised by the ego to manage conflicts between the id and the superego, as well as external reality. Most people engage in these mechanisms without realising it.

Common Defence Mechanisms

Here are 10 common defence mechanisms, where they come from, and why people develop them:


Origin: Refusal to accept reality or facts.

Reason: Protects individuals from facing painful or distressing aspects of reality by blocking them from awareness.


Origin: Attributing one’s own unacceptable thoughts or feelings to someone else.

Reason: Reduces anxiety by allowing a person to express undesirable impulses in a way that is more acceptable.


Origin: Using logic and reasoning to block out emotional stress and feelings.

Reason: Helps to avoid dealing with uncomfortable emotions by focusing on intellectual aspects of a situation.


Origin: Pushing distressing thoughts out of conscious awareness.

Reason: Prevents anxiety by keeping disturbing or threatening thoughts from becoming conscious.


Origin: Redirecting emotions from a dangerous object to a safer one.

Reason: Allows expression of emotions in a way that reduces the risk of negative consequences.


Origin: Separating conflicting thoughts or feelings into different areas of one’s life.

Reason: Helps to avoid conflict and emotional discomfort by isolating different aspects of oneself.


Origin: Reverting to an earlier stage of development in the face of stress.

Reason: Provides temporary relief by returning to a state that feels safer and less demanding.

Reaction Formation:

Origin: Behaving in a way that is opposite to one’s true feelings.

Reason: Protects against anxiety by converting unwanted thoughts or feelings into their opposites.


Origin: Channeling unacceptable impulses into socially acceptable activities.

Reason: Allows for the expression of impulses in a constructive and acceptable manner.


Origin: Creating logical reasons to justify unacceptable feelings or behaviors.

Reason: Reduces anxiety by replacing the real, more threatening reasons with more acceptable ones.

Checklist for Identifying Defense Mechanisms

Use this worksheet to help identify which defence mechanisms you may be using:


Do I often ignore problems or pretend they don’t exist?

Do I refuse to accept evidence that contradicts my beliefs or feelings?


Do I blame others for my own faults or feelings?

Do I see my own unacceptable traits in other people?


Do I focus on facts and logic to avoid my feelings?

Do I often talk about things in a detached, impersonal manner?


Do I have trouble recalling distressing events or thoughts?

Do I feel numb or detached from my emotions?


Do I take out my feelings on someone or something less threatening?

Do I redirect my anger from one situation to another safer one?


Do I separate different parts of my life to avoid conflict?

Do I act differently in different situations to manage my feelings?


Do I revert to childlike behavior when I’m stressed?

Do I seek comfort in things that used to soothe me as a child?

Reaction Formation:

Do I act in a way that is opposite to what I truly feel?

Do I overly display behaviors that contradict my true feelings?


Do I channel my unacceptable impulses into productive activities?

Do I find socially acceptable outlets for my frustrations or desires?


Do I justify my actions with logical reasons even if they’re not the real reasons?

Do I make excuses to avoid taking responsibility for my actions?

By understanding and identifying these defense mechanisms, you can gain greater insight into your behaviors and develop healthier ways to cope with stress and emotional discomfort. Embrace who you are,

your patterns, and take steps towards a more conscious and balanced life.

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