Most Common Defense Mechanisms Explained

Sometimes in life, when the going gets tough, our minds do something funny. Instead of trying to face our problems head-on, it tries to mentally twist and turn the situations happening around us and build completely different scenarios in our minds. These scenarios are far from the truth, but we accept them because they feel more acceptable and within our control. There is a name for this habit of the brain in psychology – defense mechanisms.

Defense mechanisms in psychology are strategies or subconscious behaviors that people use to shield themselves from the stress, anxiety, and discomfort attached to different life circumstances. They help a person deal with and process overwhelming feelings and emotions. 

Most of the time, people are unaware that they are using these self-protective methods. This is because defense mechanisms have been internalized in our lives as survival adaptations. They help a person dissociate from reality and the unwanted feelings of fear, shame, or guilt. 

However, despite their ability to provide momentary relief, defense mechanisms are not a healthy way of dealing with life circumstances. They tend to block your awareness of situations, create unnecessary tensions in your body, and make it harder for you to accept your vulnerabilities internally and with others. 

This is why a basic understanding of the types of defense mechanisms in psychology is important to avoid their usage in your lives. On that note, here are the most common defense mechanisms that are likely to block your worldview and obstruct your understanding of the present. 

Common Defense Mechanisms

1. Projection

In the projection defense mechanism, a person feels extremely guilty and ashamed of the kind of behavior they demonstrate. To avoid shame, they try to project a scenario in which someone else is demonstrating the behavior they are guilty of. For instance, a person with anger issues might yell at their friend for being too angry.

2. Denial

Denial is a person’s inability or refusal to accept the occurrence of a particular life event. While using denial as a mechanism of self-defense, a person denies the existence of a certain distressing life event to shield themselves from the pain associated with it. It is common for people with substance abuse disorders to stay in denial about their behavior and its consequences. 

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3. Repression

In the repression defense mechanism, instead of accepting uncomfortable thoughts and painful memories, people try to repress them in the hope of eventually forgetting them. However, this does not mean that such memories will vanish. They continue to exist below the surface and ultimately affect every aspect of a person’s life.

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4. Rationalization

Rationalization as a defense mechanism means creating acceptable but incorrect versions and explanations of a specific life event. Using rationalization, a person justifies unacceptable behavior using false logic rather than accepting the facts. 

5. Procrastination

As per mainstream belief, procrastination is touted to be laziness. However, more than laziness, procrastination is resistance. It is not that a person cannot gather their energy to get started on their work. In fact, the person is unclear about what they want to do or how they want to do it. 


People use various defense mechanisms to protect themselves from the uncomfortable feelings and emotional pain attached to certain events. It is practically wrong to categorize defense mechanisms into right or wrong. Defense mechanisms have played a huge role in helping us survive difficult circumstances. However, despite this, they can eventually contribute to relationships, work-life, and emotional issues. 

Now that you know about defense mechanisms, let us take to another interesting brain characteristic. Heuristics are small mental processes that help humans learn new concepts, pass judgment, and solve problems quickly. To learn more about them, click here.

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