Definitions and Examples of Freud's Defense Mechanisms

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Defense mechanisms noted by Sigmund Freud to be used as a way of dealing with stress and emotion. (alphabetically)

Denial - Often referred to when one is considered to be "in denial." Through this defense mechanism, one denies, or refuses to acknowledge, the existence of an emotionally tolling event.

Ex. Bob has been dumped by his girlfriend, Susan. Instead of moving on and accepting the end of his relationship with Susan, Bob continues to call her everyday calling her "honey" and "sweetheart" and acting as if nothing had happened.

Displacement - The transferring of one's aggression from one target to another, usually more innocent target.

Ex. Bob has been dumped by his girlfriend, Susan. Instead of moving on and accepting the end of his relationship with Susan, he goes to work and is rude to all of his customers. By doing this, he is transferring his aggression and anger towards his ex-girlfriend to his more innocent customers.

Fantasy - Hiding one's anxiety with fantasy or "finding a happy place"

Ex. Bob has been dumped by his girlfriend, Susan. Instead of moving on and accepting the end of his relationship with Susan, he finds comfort in video games and cartoons and being a happier environment. By doing this, he is able to avoid the negative feelings of the break-up.

Humor - The hiding of one's anxiety by expressing an outward sense of humor about an emotionally tolling event.

Ex. Bob has been dumped by his girlfriend, Susan. Instead of moving on and accepting the end of his relationship with Susan, he jokes with his friends and tells them he must be the ugliest son of a gun in town, and that's why she dumped him. By doing this, Bob is covering up his pain and anxiety with a false sense of humor.

Intellectualization - Focusing on the intellectual aspects of an emotional tolling event in order to avoid focusing on one's inner emotions.

Ex. Bob has been dumped by his girlfriend, Susan. Instead of moving on and accepting the end of his relationship with Susan, Bob checks his credit card statements and receipts to figure out how much money he must have spent on his girlfriend during their relationship, and how wasteful he was with his finances. In doing this, Bob changes his focus from the emotions to the more intellectual side of the situation having to do with money.

Overcompensation - Defending ones inferiority by constantly mentioning or focusing on strengths in other areas.

Ex. Bob has been dumped by his girlfriend, Susan. Instead of moving on and accepting the end of his relationship with Susan, Bob calls up and takes out every girl who has ever been romantically interested him. By doing this, he tries to show off his romantical prowess with other women because he failed to prove his male prowess with Susan.

Procrastination - Putting off one's required yet undesirable tasks both conciously and unconciously.

Ex. Bob has been dumped by his girlfriend, Susan. Instead of moving on and accepting the end of his relationship with Susan by removing all of her things from his apartment, he always says he will start the cleaning tomorrow. By putting off the cleaning, he continues to put off having to deal with the emotional toll of the break-up.

Projection - Placing one's own feelings onto someone else as if he or she were feeling it.

Ex. Bob has been dumped by his girlfriend, Susan. Instead of moving on and accepting the end of his relationship with Susan, he continues to talk to his friends and tell them that he thinks their girlfriends will break up with them. By projecting the idea of a break-up onto them, he is able to avoid the emotions paired with his own break-up.

Rationalization - Justifying one's own negative actions, thoughts, and experiences through society.

Ex. Bob has been dumped by his girlfriend, Susan. Instead of moving on and accepting the end of his relationship with Susan, he continues to rationalize the break-up by telling people that Susan only broke up with him because she was having a bad day, or reasurring himself that everyone breaks up sooner or later. By doing this, he is able to avoid the emotional pain and the thought of his own incompetence as a mate.

Reaction Formation - Forcing oneself to become the opposite of what is considered socially acceptable.

Ex. Bob has been dumped by his girlfriend, Susan. Instead of moving on and accepting the end of his relationship with Susan, Bob tells everyone that he hates Susan and was going to break-up with her anyway. By doing this, Bob is able to avoid feelings weak or void of his affluence as a male.

Regression - Moving oneself back to a once secure place when experiencing an insecure state of emotion.

Ex. Bob has been dumped by his girlfriend, Susan. Instead of moving on and accepting the end of his relationship with Susan, he goes to his parent's house and whines to his mother about the break-up as a child would do. By doing this, he relives the security and comfort of childhood as opposed to the insecurity of his current emotional state.

Repression - "Putting away" the bad one is going through in order to avoid the emotional toll that follows

Ex. Bob has been dumped by his girlfriend, Susan. Instead of moving on and accepting the end of his relationship with Susan, he goes on with his life avoiding any thoughts that have to do with his past relationship with Susan.

Sublimation - Transferring one's negative emotions from being displayed in a socially "unacceptable" way to a more "acceptable" way.

Ex. Bob has been dumped by his girlfriend, Susan. Instead of moving on and accepting the end of his relationship with Susan through crying and whining about the break-up to his friends, he starts his own blog about how to deal with certain problems within a relationship.

Undoing - Overly trying to make up for one's wrongdoings in order to get rid of negative feelings about the bad event or even undo the bad event itself.

Ex. Bob has been dumped by his girlfriend, Susan. Instead of moving on and accepting the end of his relationship with Susan, he continues to buy her expensive gifts and flowers in hopes that it will repair his relationship or get rid of his negative feelings to restore his affluence as a male.



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Comments 4 comments

mizwoody profile image

mizwoody 3 years ago from Clarksville, TN

Interesting post. It is rare to read things about Freud. I think his psychosexual stages warrant comment on your post. Many people may not agree with this; however, all of Freud's stages (oral, anal, phallic, latency, genital) have shown that the lack of nurturing during these stages can lead to faults in adulthood, such as some of the items mentioned in your post. Would you agree?


Pensive Pages profile image

Pensive Pages 3 years ago Author

Absolutely agree, this lack of development in adulthood also corresponds with Maslow's idea of what's called the hierarchy of needs. Maslow argues that, without meeting the early childhood requirements of security and belonging, it is extremely difficult or even impossible to achieve higher level emotional satisfaction in adulthood.


mizwoody profile image

mizwoody 3 years ago from Clarksville, TN

Absolutely. It is very interesting when completing a timeline with clients and when one finds out that there were issues in their childhood, which essentially has lead to this adulthood behavior.


self-counsel profile image

self-counsel 3 years ago

Thanks for defining each defense mechanism. Examples are indeed helpful to differentiate the terminologies. Very helpful.

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