What are psychological defense mechanisms?Sometimes - many times - healthy people venture into fantasyland thinking. When we do, our chosen defense mechanisms generally flow from one of three places:
They are psychological strategies used by individuals (and by extension--groups of individuals and even entire nations at times) to cope with reality and to maintain his/her self -image intact.
A healthy person will use many different defenses throughout life. A defense mechanism becomes pathological when it is used persistently and leads to maladaptive behavior that will eventually threaten the physical and/or mental health of the individual.
Denial - of reality. A second helping won't hurt me.
What you deny ... will always eventually get you. Always. Every time. Think of yourself as a deer, and of what you deny as an 18 wheel truck which is bearing down on you. That truck exists. Do something, or it will get you.
Projection - this is when you dislike some trait about yourself - such as being selfishly tight with a nickel; and you project this dislike about yourself onto someone else, as in:
"Fred is sooo selfish and cheap. I am sooo mad about the way he is."
Displacement - this is when you have strong feelings, and circumstances surrounding the object of those feelings create a psychologically jarring situation. In response, you displace those feelings away from that object, and onto a more comfortable object. Now you get to have the feelings, without facing the consequences of having those feelings about that object. You get to
"feel more safe - even though that is not the case." (1)An example would be a devout person who is angry at God, but doesn't feel free to acknowledge that anger. Instead, the devout person displaces their anger onto a more comfortable object - such as their spouse, or a friend, or a family member.
Displacement is classically characterized by anger which is out of proportion to a circumstance.
Example: A spouse or a friend spills a drink in the car. A person who is displacing feelings may fly into a rage which is out of proportion for the offense. Their rage has actually been triggered by... anything, really. Maybe a fear of losing their job, or of losing a loved one to disease, or... whatever. The displacer, being an intelligent and adaptable human being, will rationalize a justification for their out-of-proportion anger. But the actual genesis of these feelings will have nothing to do with the spilled drink, or with any rationalized story which is concocted around the spilled drink, or around the carelessness of the person who spilled it. That person maybe was careless. But that is irrelevant, and has nothing to do with the actual genesis of these feelings. The actual genesis of these feelings has everything to do with their true, and uncomfortable, object: maybe an employer, or a client, or a friend you do not want to risk angering, or whoever. These feelings are being displaced onto the safer, more comfortable object: the person who spilled the drink.
(1) Dr. Sanity: Psychiatry 101- Defense Mechanisms
Dr. Sanity: Let's Discuss Bush Derangement Syndrome Again