The role of defense mechanisms

Defense mechanisms, as the name suggests, serve us in defense, they are precisely preventive. As soon as the information about the threat appears, the brain automatically sends information to the whole organism about the probable or already existing danger. Then the heart rate increases, muscles tighten and the general information is simple “fight or flight” Such reactions appear in a stressful situation. And it is the most healthy normal function of our body that protects us from danger.


It is a bit different with the mechanisms that appear in the pure nature of our psyche. Such creations also appear in stressful situations, although the reactions are slightly extended than just “fight or flight”. Our Ego is responsible for stimulating defense mechanisms in the mind and it was it that, with the help of the superego and subconsciousness, created a given defense system, called as mentioned in the title “defense mechanisms” which I will discuss below. It is your Ego who is the judge whose role is to fulfill the requirements of the Id and the Superego. The pressure of these forces causes anxiety and fear in individuals. To defend the body against fear and fear, the body reaches deep into its capabilities and creates a defense mechanism appropriate to a specific situation and one that restores the body to a state of balance and peace.

Defense mechanisms are automatic forms of reacting to situations of unconscious fear or anticipation of possible danger. Examples of common defense mechanisms include avoidance and denial. Both act as situations that trigger thoughts or emotions that a person cannot tolerate at the moment. In the short term, such defense mechanisms can improve the functioning of the body as mentioned above, allowing you to control potentially overwhelming feelings.

However, such processes can cause problems in practice if they tend to obscure or distort reality.

For example, a student who is expected to study for an exam spends time playing online games or using social networking services instead of studying. To counteract the intense anxiety a student feels when he is about to start studying, he chooses another option that helps him become relaxed. The same situation arises when we have to learn or finish an unwanted project, suddenly we clean, wash, etc. what we don’t do on a daily basis. Our brain will always give us something to do so that we do not have to stress. Such a stepping stone can be a defense against avoiding boring studies or difficult math. However, it is a programmed part of our mind, as can already be seen from the introductory description.

Another example is when we have to finish an ASAP project and say “I have time to do this later” and we automatically feel better in a stressful situation because we have replaced the behavior with procrastination. As we can see, our mind protects us from stress by creating situations that exclude it.

In order to understand defense mechanisms, it is worth knowing a little about the psychodynamic view of our personality.

Freud believed that our psyche is not our physical brain, but rather our nature. Using the iceberg analogy, Id is hidden from sight in our subconscious. Ego and Superego are predominantly above the water and in our consciousness.
Id is a primal and instinctive part of our personality and can refer to a wild child who is guided by emotions such as death, sex, and libido. According to this hypothesis, we are born with only the Id part of our personality, developing the ego and superego around the age of three to five.

It seems that the defensive phase develops very early in human life and thanks to it we can survive like any other living organism.

Freud’s basic concept is to recognize first experiences relevant to the situation and transferred to the original state of mind. Experience creates an inherent pattern of behavior in adulthood. Thus, defense mechanisms are used to protect against feelings of anxiety or guilt that arise when we feel insecure or when our Id or Superego becomes too demanding.

As an example here may be a child who, as a rule, does everything against parental expectations or other requirements and demands. When we ask a child who is hungry to give away food, sweets, toys, etc. This is the child, caused by his instinct, to refuse to give up what is necessary for him in his understanding. Another could be lying to avoid punishment.

If you have other examples, follow to the comments section. Thank you

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Published by

Marcin Bogucki

Counselling & Psychotherapy for both English and Polish speakers.

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