Defense Mechanisms–Getting Out of Your Own Way
Defense mechanisms are the means we use to reduce anxiety. They are typically deeply embedded in our daily function and we are often unaware of them. They operate automatically to protect us from distressful thoughts or feelings. Many of our defense mechanisms were learned as children. We also develop them in periods of adversity such as when we experience trauma. They may have worked well in the original situations, but they often cause problems when we use them other places.
Self-Sabotage and Defense Mechanisms
Many of us cling to defense mechanisms even when giving them up would be better for us. We feel anxious, vulnerable and even fearful sometimes when we’re challenged to move beyond them. This is particularly true when we are faced with the need to make significant changes in our lives, like giving up a dysfunctional relationship, or getting sober.
Types of Defenses that Get in the Way
There are many types of defenses that serve us well in ordinary life. However, on the other hand, there are many that get in the way. Some defenses that can sabotage us are:
- Denial–denial is the inability to perceive reality or to accept it. Denial in codependency, for instance, helps us accept a dysfunctional and even harmful relationship. We deny there is a problem and we can continue on without leaving the situation. Denial in addiction acts similarly. We deny that substance use is problematic and we continue use.
- Acting Out–acting out is the use of extreme or exaggerated expression to gain control of a situation. Escalated behavior can shut down another person and so end an uncomfortable discussion. It can divert attention away from a topic we want to avoid. It can also garner power for the person who uses it, teaching others what not to do in the future.
- Projection–projecting is putting one’s own thoughts, feelings, beliefs, etc onto someone else. For example, we may be angry and insist that someone else is. It is not usually a conscious defense. We tend to have very little insight into what we are doing when we project. It leads to blaming others for things that are ultimately under our control. Essentially, it lessens personal power.
- The Victim Stance–acting as if one is a victim serves to give away responsibility and blame for something. It defends us against being held accountable for what has happened. This defense leaves one with hopelessness and helplessness. It is a perspective of having no control over one’s own life.