Stress-related Disorders/Defenses

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Defense mechanism

Behavior patterns primarily concerned with protecting ego. Presumably the process is unconscious and the aim is to fool oneself.

  • It is intrapsychic processes serving to provide relief from emotional conflict and anxiety.
  • Conscious efforts are frequently made for the same reasons, but true defense mechanisms are unconscious.
  • Some of the common defense mechanisms are:
  1. Compensation
  2. Con-version
  3. Denial
  4. Displacement
  5. Dissociation
  6. Idealization
  7. Identification
  8. Incorporation
  9. Introjection
  10. Projection
  11. Rationalization
  12. Reaction formation
  13. Regression
  14. Sublimation
  15. Substitution
  16. Symbolization
  17. Undoing


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"One way to deal with emotional pain is to not think about what has happened."

  • We put it out of our mind.
  • We forget it.

With practice, this becomes an automatic process, we really don't remember what we did or what happened.
This is repression.

Unconscious (unintentional) blocking of thoughts and experiences is repression. Voluntary blocking of thoughts and experiences is suppression.


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"Displacement is simply taking an emotion that belongs in one situation and displaying it in another."

The most common emotions which are displaced are:

  1. Anger.
  2. Hostility.

Example of Displacement: Imagine, for a moment, that you have had a rough day at work.

  1. Your boss has chewed you out, and you are angry about it.
  2. It's not safe to take out your anger on your boss. You might be fired.
  3. So, when you get home, you yell at the kids and beat your wife.

That's displacement.


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"Projection is the process of taking feelings we have about ourselves (usually painful feelings) and focusing them on other people."

Examples of Projection:

  1. A person who fears he is drinking too much may point out another person who is drinking and put him down for being a drunk.
  2. A man or woman who has been cheating on his/her spouse may accuse the spouse of being unfaithful.

Types of Projection:
Blame is a form of projection.
Examples of blame:

  1. An individual, concerned about his drinking, may blame his parents for the way they raised him, or his wife for the way she treats him.
  2. Eventually the alcoholic comes to hate himself, but he finds this emotional state too much to bear so he expresses this as hatred for those closest to him, usually his wife and children.


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"Denial is the refusal to believe or accept the reality that certain events have happened (are happening) or will happen."

  • To accept the reality would bring emotional pain, so the events are denied.
  • This is the single most common psychological symptom of chemical dependency.

Co-Relation: Related to denial is the defense called minimizing.

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Events are accepted, but only in a watered down version. Example: Sure I drink once in a while. Everybody does. It's no big deal. Once in a while I might get carried away, but it really isn't a problem.


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"Withdrawal is usually used when a person is afraid of rejection or afraid to fail."

  • By withdrawing the person is attempting to avoid psychological pain.
  • The problem is it inevitably leads to strong feelings of loneliness, and it does nothing for the original fears.

Withdrawal takes several forms.
Most common are:

  1. Silence.
  2. Running away.

But the use of drugs and excessive sleeping (can) also occur.

Closely related to withdrawal are:

  1. Avoidance.
  2. Deflection.

NB! Many co-alcoholics use avoidance extensively. i.e., they won't talk about the problems at home and they stay away from others to avoid feelings of embarrassment, shame, etc.


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"Deflection is a method of changing a subject that is or might be painful."

Commonest methods of deflection are:

  1. Humor
  2. Anger

These are the two of the most common methods of deflecting people away from difficult subjects.

Alcoholics frequently combine deflection and projection through the use of anger and hostility.


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"Rationalization is to justify your behavior or to make excuses for your behavior."


  1. The alcoholic, arrested for impaired driving, may tell himself, and everybody else, that the RCMP are out to get him.
  2. A person may fail to get a job he has applied for, and then tells people it was really a crummy job anyway and he didn't really want it.


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"When the world of everyday life becomes too painful or difficult too bear, some people turn to the inner world of fantasy."

  • Day dreaming and wishful thinking replace action.
  • Combined with avoidance you get retreats into fiction via books and/or TV.

NB! Alcoholics often combine rationalizing and fantasy. The result is: "IF ONLY... Syndrome"

  1. If only I had money...
  2. If only I didn't have a wife and children...
  3. If only I could do what I want...
  4. If only people understood me...
  5. If only I were younger (older)...


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"In order to avoid experiencing his real feelings a person may discuss his problem(s) in an analytical, rational, intellectual way."

Risk: 1. This is common among college educated people and alcoholism counsellors who have fallen off the wagon. 2. This defense often frightens or repels other people leading to isolation and a strong sense of loneliness.


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"Procrastination is another way to avoid painful feelings by convincing yourself that a problem can be dealt with later."

"I'll look for work tomorrow." "I'll stop drinking tomorrow." "I'll get the car fixed after I get a job."


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"This defense is simply faking your feelings or expressing the opposite of what you really feel."

  • This process can become so automatic that you actually do not know what your true feelings are.


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The major function of these psychological defenses is to prevent the experiencing of painful emotions.

  • There are several major problems with their use.


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Many of these defenses create new problems that are as bad, or worse, than the emotional problems they mask.

  • Some are just plain destructive.
  • Example:
    • Rejection literally destroys the relationships we care most about.


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  • These defenses distort our ability to perceive reality as it is.
  • And this prevents us from dealing with our problems in a constructive way.


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  • These defenses do not rid us of the painful feelings we have.
  • In fact, by masking them so that we do not feel them, we effectively store them up within ourselves.
  • Emotions are discharged through expression, so by denying ourselves the chance to feel them, we also deny ourselves the ability to get rid of them.


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  • These defenses do not just screen out painful emotions. They are, in fact, defenses against all emotion.
  • So the more effective our defenses become in protecting us from our

painful feelings, the less able we are to experience the joyful and happy feelings that make life worth living.


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  • These defenses are not perfect.
  • As more and more hurt is stored away, a tension is developed.
  • We become increasingly anxious, nervous, and irritable.
  • We become emotionally unpredictable.
  • And when our defenses weaken, as they will from time to time, we experience emotional explosions.


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  • These defenses prevent us from knowing what is wrong, but they do not prevent us from feeling bad.


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