When Do Defence Mechanisms Become Problematic?

In the nineteenth century, Sigmund Freud, known as the father of psychoanalysis, began discussing defence mechanisms about the subconscious defences of the id, ego, and superego. This psychodynamic concept of defence mechanisms is now regarded as crucial in the understanding of human development and psychological functioning by professionals of various theoretical orientations. Freud defined it as "unconscious resources used by the ego" to ultimately reduce internal stress. Clients frequently develop these unconscious mechanisms to reduce internal conflict, specifically between the superego and the id. Clinicians use psychodynamic therapy to help clients become more aware of their unconscious processes which improve their self-awareness and also gain a new understanding of their behaviours. These insights could be beneficial to clients who are suffering from mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and personality disorders. These psychological defence mechanisms can persist from one phase to the next, regress to earlier phases in response to stressors, or evolve as we progress from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adulthood.

While all defence mechanisms have the potential to be harmful, they could also be adaptive and they could enable us to function normally. When defence mechanisms are overused to avoid dealing with problems, that is when the most problems arise. They may keep you from ever having to deal with emotional issues or anxieties. This could exhibit itself in many unexpected ways gradually. For example, defence mechanisms may make it more difficult to form relationships. They can also play a role in a few mental health issues.

Repression, regression, displacement, denial, projection, and sublimation are all defence mechanisms. Repression happens when your brain pushes the events and memories deep into your brain so you don't have to think about them, especially when they are traumatic. When you regress, your instinct is to return to a younger, safer mental state, such as going to your parents or guardian with every problem you have. When you relieve your stress or urges by doing something completely unrelated is referred to as displacement. For example, if you're upset with your boss but know you can't yell at them, you may end up accidentally yelling at a loved one and venting out your frustration on them instead. Denial is refusing to accept your problem and refusing to deal with it. Projection is the act of projecting one's own emotions onto another person or object. A common example of this is if you regularly cheat on your partner, you may develop paranoia that they are also cheating on you. Finally, sublimation refers to satisfying your desires in a socially acceptable manner. Each of these coping mechanisms began as Freudian ideas. Defence mechanisms exist, whether you agree with Freud's ideas or not.

ย Denial, projection, displacement, and regression are the most harmful of these defence mechanisms. Denying a problem is the most damaging defence mechanism for one's mental health. If you refuse to acknowledge that you have a problem, you won't be able to solve it, and it will only worsen. This will not affect those around you, but it is still unhealthy. Displacement is the most ineffectual relationship defence mechanism. It not only does not solve the problem, but it also drives people away. It is how people isolate themselves, which leads to behaviours such as dropping out of school, leaving jobs on bad terms, maxing out credit cards, having unhealthy dating experiences, and so on. Projection is a strange phenomenon that is usually done subconsciously. The main issue with this is that it is difficult to address issues in your own life when all you see are your problems disguised in the lives of others. However, if you can talk through your thought processes, this defence mechanism could lead you to the source of your problem. Sublimation can be extremely beneficial or detrimental to one's health. It could result in stress eating and shopping. These behaviours may be socially acceptable, but they are detrimental to you and your wallet in the long run. The best way to use sublimation is through exercise, which allows stress, fear, or change to provide you with the energy to make your body healthier while also clearing your mind enough to deal with the actual problems. When regressing is the only thing you do in the face of stress, it could also become a problem.

ย Some defence mechanisms are considered more "mature." That means that using them may be more sustainable, even in the long run. Using such "mature" strategies is sublimation. Other defence mechanisms, on the other hand, are still in their infancy. Prolonged issues could result in long-term issues. They may keep you from ever having to deal with emotional problems or anxieties. Through therapy, such as psychoanalysis or counselling, one can become more aware of the defence mechanisms one uses most frequently, and they can even work to shift your responses from immature to more mature, sustainable, and beneficial. Using more mature coping mechanisms may assist you in dealing with anxieties and situations that would normally cause you stress and emotional distress.


You can only improve your life and grow as a person if you deal with your problems. Do you, for example, despise your job? Fine. Just make sure you find a new job before quitting. Do you have a failing grade in a class? Okay, let's go see a tutor. If you're willing to look for it, there is always a healthy solution

Check out our blog All About Defence Mechanisms to learn more about defence mechanisms!


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