Updated: May 9
Emotional awareness is the first step where we identify and define what is underneath all the layers and to take control of our lives. It is recognizing and understanding our emotions. Seeing them for what they are. We must become self-aware to recognize our emotions as they happen.
When we routinely employ our defense mechanisms, it can impede our emotional processing. We begin to feel as if we are not ‘feeling’ our emotions, which interferes with us working through issues. This is why it is important to become aware of your personal tendencies so you don’t let your defense mechanisms overtake your emotional growth in life.
How do you handle stressful situations? Do you live in a state of denial when you receive bad news? Do you constantly excuse your behavior or the behavior of others? These are just a few common defense mechanism examples that can get in your way or impact your relationships if you aren’t aware of them.
It is important that you understand some common types of defense mechanisms. These can range from shifting blame, to projecting, to shutting down emotionally. Each person has their own unique defense mechanisms with practice they can become easier to recognize.
Common Defense Mechanisms:
Denial - When a situation or emotion becomes too much to handle, you may cope by refusing to experience it. By denying reality, you are essentially protecting yourself from having to face and deal with the unpleasant event and pain that accompany it.
(Denial and repression may seem similar on the surface. To clarify, denial involves the outright refusal to accept a given reality.)
Repression - Repression involves completely forgetting the experience. Your mind makes the decision to bury the memory in your subconscious. The goal is to prevent painful, traumatic or dangerous thoughts from entering your awareness. This is often the case with child abuse or other traumatic experiences.
Regression - With this mechanism, you revert back to a childlike emotional state. Your unconscious fears and anxieties reappear causing you to revert to a younger level of development and in many cases, childish behaviors. This is done as a way of protecting yourself from confronting the actual situation. If during an argument with your spouse, you stomp off, slam the door and give your partner the silent treatment….. You are exhibiting regression. This mechanism shuts down communication and inhibits the ability of the relationship (and the person exhibiting this mechanism) to grow and evolve emotionally.
Avoidance - One of the MOST COMMON mechanisms. It is human nature to avoid uncomfortable situations or events. When we do this for too long, the issues weare ‘avoiding’ only tend to compile. People exhibiting an avoidance mechanism may appear to be resistant, defiant, or may procrastinate along with other traits.
Displacement - If you have ever had a stressful day at work, then come home and taken it out on your loved ones? Then you have experienced displacement. This is typical defense mechanism examples in busy adults. You’re transferring your emotions from the person or situation that is the target of your frustration to someone or something else entirely. Subconsciously, you may believe that confronting the source of your feelings may be detrimental, so you shift the focus toward a target or situation that is less intimidating.
Projection - A common defense mechanism for avoiding unpleasant feelings. You may be in a situation where you feel uncomfortable or anxious. You perceive that others are staring at you with criticism or judgment. They do not say anything or do anything that is objectively negative, but your insecurity causes you to “project” your feelings onto others. This defense mechanism is one of the most damaging. It can foster heightened feelings of paranoia and anxiety. It also contributes to limiting beliefs about ourselves and others that cause you to become bitter, suspicious or distrustful.
Reaction formation - With this defense mechanism, you are behaving in a way that is opposite of which you think or feel. By spotlighting someone or something else, you are trying to take the pressure off yourself instead of directly dealing with the issue.
Rationalization - When you try to explain your bad behavior away, or to justify your behavior. You blame someone else for provoking you. Or make excuses for why you did/said what you did.
Sublimation - The defense mechanism where you transform your conflicted emotions, unmet needs or unacceptable impulses into productive channels. This is a POSITIVE defense mechanism and can help you progress emotionally.
Disassociation - This mechanism centers on escapism. It involves mentally separating yourself from your body (mind-body disconnect) to distance yourself from traumatic experiences. This is a common response to trauma. However, it creates separation from your true BE-ing.
Pay attention to the mechanisms you employ when you are in an emotional or stressful situation. Once you learn which mechanisms you often employ, it is time to take responsibility for your own emotions. You can begin to break those patterns and stop using defense mechanisms. Implementing modalities like mindfulness and healthy expression of your emotions and practicing envisioning your NEW SELF can help you shift your mindset and see your world in a more positive way.