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Defense Mechanisms in Psychological Practice

Psychological defense mechanisms protect individuals from experiencing unpleasant emotions, such as anxiety and guilt. Each person without exception utilizes them though may be unaware of this. In my life, there were a lot of situations when various defense mechanisms helped me to cope. For example, some time ago, I started to smoke tobacco once in a while. It began with a cigarette a day, and I was convinced that infrequent smoking in small amounts would not cause nicotine dependence. I was aware of the negative effects of tobacco on health, yet kept on using it and, shortly after, the number of cigarettes smoked each day increased. I continued to persuade myself that I smoked just because I truly enjoyed the process and that I would be able to quit at any moment. Nevertheless, by the time some adverse physical symptoms appeared and I decided that I did not want to use tobacco anymore, it became much more difficult to stop than I used to believe.

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The defense mechanism applicable to the described case is denial. Although I knew that tobacco use causes dependence, I denied this fact and refused to admit that I also can develop it. I preferred to enjoy the immediate pleasures of smoking and refused to face reality as it was (although such a choice seems evidently poor now). Obviously, thoughts about the detrimental effects of smoking on health are unpleasant and, therefore, denial helped me to block them from consciousness.

Another defense mechanism that I frequently used in various situations is displacement. It refers to using a substitute object to satisfy any emotional impulse, such as frustration or aggression, that was induced by another object or event. For instance, as a child, I had spent a lot of time drawing. Occasionally, I failed to make drawings look as I imagined them and it made me sad. However, instead of associating my sadness with the lack of skills and admitting that I needed to practice more, I could start to quarrel with my sister without any significant reason or burst in a tantrum shortly after a drawing session because of something absolutely unrelated to drawing. I substituted the objects for satisfying my frustration because thinking about my creative incapabilities would be very disappointing.

Avoidance is also one of the most commonly used psychological defense mechanisms. It refers to one’s refusal to encounter objects that cause unpleasant emotions or deal with distressing situations. I recall that the grandfather of a friend of mine became very ill. Since the realization that he could soon pass away was too hard to bear, she postponed visiting him and, instead, occupied her time with working and studying more than before. Clearly, seeing her grandfather in poor condition could induce anxiety, stress, and grief. Thus, my friend avoided meeting him and even thinking about his illness. For a short time, avoidance helped her to cope with unpleasant emotions. However, she was aware that avoiding the situation for a long time would not make things better. On the contrary, avoidance would eventually worsen anxiety because staying away from a loved person when they come through hard times could besides add the feeling of guilt. Moreover, wasting the last moments one can spend with a family member who is dying could also induce regret. Therefore, avoidance cannot be considered a positive coping mechanism even though it helps to reduce fear and anxiety for some time.

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