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Engage your Defenses

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

It’s that time of year again, when we are “expected” to be social and gather with our friends and family. For some, that brings connection and joy, for others it’s a landmine fraught with complexities and frustrations.

A very typical “go to” for most people is the use of defense mechanisms – a way our mind allows us to “survive” and cope this time of year. Defense mechanisms are often unconscious and can be used to promote healthy self-views. However, more “primitive” mechanisms (learned when we are children and not adapted into adulthood) can often lead to less effective ways to cope. A few examples of these early learned mechanisms include:

Denial – used to avoid pain associated with difficult issues/situations – it is typically the very first defense mechanism children learn. However in using it, we reject “reality” for a closed version of an experience, leading to little or no growth.

Somatization – the transfer of negative feelings inward and onto ourselves, often leading to bodily pain and anxiety.

Acting Out – think of a temper tantrum –  throwing things, screaming, self-harm, using physical aggression instead of saying the words “I am hurt” “I am angry” to avoid the difficult conversations that lead toward more healthy exchange of feelings.

Dissociation – often a coping skill used in high stress/trauma homes of children, it’s the ability to “disconnect” from the present moment that is causing pain.

Compartmentalization – which stems from the use of two different/conflicting value systems – where we are not living an “whole” life.

Projection – where we “push off” our feelings/thoughts onto other people, attributing their views as the feelings we are truly having.

Passive Aggression – when we “show” our frustrations but we don’t communication them in healthy patterns

Reaction Formation – it’s a 180 show of what we are truly feeling – the “kill your enemies with kindness” thoughts instead of doing the hard work and setting boundaries based on your needs.

These early-childhood defenses can be transformed into more healthy coping mechanisms that can assist in resolving issues in our lives. A few of the more mature mechanisms include Humor, Introjection, Sublimation, Identification, and Assertiveness. One key to learning how to challenge the “immature” defense mechanisms and transforming them into the more mature mechanisms is therapy.





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