Defense Mechanisms

Many times human behavior cam be explained if we look at coping mechanisms. People use defense mechanisms to guide and direct them. When used excessively, it creates faulty thinking.

Defense mechanisms help you cope with adversity. They are typically developed to protect you, but when they are used to the extreme, they create distorted thinking. The most common defense mechanisms include:
• Rationalization
• Minimization
• Denial

As you read about these defense mechanisms, decide how many of them apply to you or someone you love.

Rationalization: As a child, you grew up trying to make sense of the world. There is much research to support that children have difficulty comprehending complex situations until they are about age seven or eight. Prior to this age they must try to connect reasons to the things that happen to them. Consequently, rationalization occurs. Children create reasons for what the world delivers to them.

Rationalization means that you make an excuse for what has occurred in your life, or you make excuses for your own behavior. As an adult, have you ever said, “I deserve to eat this piece of cake.” when you are on a diet, or “I have had a hard day and I deserve to have this drink.” or “I will buy this outfit because it’s 60% off (knowing you don’t need another outfit).” These are frequently used rationalizations to justify behaviors.

Teenagers report that this is the number one defense mechanism they use when breaking a family rule. They comment, “I sneak out of my room because my parents are too protective.” or “I take drugs because my parents drink alcohol.” Although rationalization helped children to make sense of the world, when used to extremes it keeps people from being responsible for their own behaviors.

Minimization: This allows you to decrease the intensity of a situation. When minimization is used to protect, it keeps the child from experiencing an intense feeling. If parents divorce, most children feel responsible for their parents’ breakup, so they may minimize it by saying, “My parents don’t fight, they just argue a lot.” When adults use minimization it decreases the significance of their behavior, consequently they don’t recognize the effect their behavior has on others.

Denial: Denial helps to regulate the intensity of what is happening to them. If you find out that someone has cancer, the defense mechanism of denial might kick in and reassure you that your loved one really doesn’t have the illness and is not at risk for death. Denial should decrease once you get more comfortable with the reality. As you begin to accept the illness and the potential medical treatments, denial should subside. However, if denial does not subside it keeps the person in a delusional state. They are not able to adjust to the crisis.

People who are addicted to drugs and alcohol are often in a state of denial. They do not believe they have a physical addiction and do not realize how their addiction affects others. The denial allows them to continue their behavior that supports the addiction. Denial can be a very strong defense mechanism.

As you can see, it is easy to overuse defense mechanisms. Not only does it change the perception of what is happening to you, but it also interferes with how you handle life.

If you are utilizing defense mechanisms as your primary way of coping, you will need to seek professional help to increase healthier coping skills. It will improve your life and the lives of others around you.

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