When faced with difficult or unpleasant thoughts, impulses, memories, or feelings, the brain initiates unconscious psychological responses, known as defense mechanisms. These reactive mental processes help the mind arrive at compromise solutions to conflict situations that it cannot resolve. The operations modify and disguise the content of the brain and the perception of reality to protect an individual’s conscious personality from being disturbed by the unpleasant impulses or thoughts. These defense mechanisms include displacement, sublimation, projection, denial, and rationalization, among others.
In Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, a person may unconsciously resolve intrapsychic conflicts and obscure stressful mental representations through denial, displacement, and projection. The former is the definite refusal to recognize, acknowledge, or admit that a distressing event has occurred and the associated consequences (Perrotta, 2020). These reactions may involve negating reality, constructing fantasies to supplant the stressor, and maximizing anything that could assist in dismissing the unpleasant occurrence. For instance, a drunkard will deny that their alcoholism is problematic or claim to control their drinking habit. I have used this mechanism by believing that a unit in which I failed would not affect my final grade.
Individuals may also cope with acute anxiety or unpleasant thoughts by transferring or displacing their emotions about a stressor onto other people, activities, or objects. Displacement entails redirecting impulses, feelings, and frustrations from their original source to recipients who pose a comparably minor threat or danger (Talepasand & Mahfar, 2018). An example of this reaction is the father’s explosive anger towards his children because he had a stressful day at the office. The man redirects his rage because the children present minimal danger and are less threatening than the employer. I used this mechanism once after being punished for failing to complete my assignment. I went home and poured the frustrations on my siblings.
Projection is a reactive mental process that closely resembles displacement. It is characterized by attributing a person’s unacceptable or unpleasant impulses to another individual (Granieri et al., 2017). This mental process is anchored on the assumption or belief that other people hold similar thoughts. Consequently, a person is unable to admit their shortcomings or faults and instead ascribe them to others. For instance, individuals can have a strong dislike for another because they believe or assume that the other person hates them.
Granieri, A., La Marca, L., Mannino, G., Giunta, S., Guglielmucci, F., & Schimmenti, A. (2017). The relationship between defense patterns and DSM-5 maladaptive personality domains. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1–12.
Perrotta, G (2020) Human mechanisms of psychological defense: Definitions, historical and psychodynamic contexts, classifications, and clinical profiles. International Journal of Neurorehabilitation, 7(1), 1–7. Web.
Talepasand, S. & Mahfar, F. (2018). Relationship between defense mechanisms and the quality of life in women with breast cancer. International Journal of Cancer Management, 11(1), e11116.