Defense mechanisms are a key component of behaviors that are perceived to be maladaptive. Rationalization, repression, displacement, regression, projection, identification, reaction formation, and sublimation are among the most prevalent defense mechanisms. This article will attempt to briefly highlight and underscore a few of those defense mechanisms as they have been empirically observed first hand. Names have been changed to protect the anonymity of persons involved in the vignettes.
Rationalization generally implies that an individual gives a false but potentially plausible reason to justify behavior. For example, in my sales career it was not uncommon for an individual to call and inquire about a product or service… and subsequently say something like “thanks for the information; I need to speak to my spouse.” There are a number of different canned rebuttals that are designed to overcome that objection, but the point of this story is that statistically it is very unlikely that the individual really needs to speak to the spouse to make a purchasing decision. The more likely scenario is that the individual has some underlying objection that remains uncovered… like budget, or a competitive offer.
Repression isn’t an uncommon reaction for individuals who have gone through serious trauma. One specific example I recall was a friend of mine who came back from Iraq. We were having a pretty in-depth conversation about some of what he had seen while he was deployed, and at one point in the conversation he said “I’d gladly tell you if I remembered, but I remember almost nothing about that day.” I asked him what he meant by that… and all he said was “out of sight, out of mind.” Now I know, he was repressing the event… it was obviously painful for him to talk about it.
Displacement is something that happens in lots of different situations, but a recent example involved an individual whom I support. In part because the individual is developmentally disabled, they get persistently picked on and ridiculed at school. Although I am fully aware that it’s just “kids stuff” this particular individual really takes it personal… it’s a pretty frequent complaint and some of the statements are downright cruel. On one occasion, I had asked this individual to help me with a simple task around the house and the individual burst out in a fit of anger and rage… I know now that they behavior had almost nothing to do with my request, or with me at all… the anger or rage was displaced from a peer whom had demeaned the individual I work on the bus ride home.
Identification is very common, especially among men who associate themselves with one or more sports teams. I am one of those guys… fortunately, or unfortunately… depending on how you see it. I take a good deal of pride in being a Texas Longhorns fan, despite the fact that I never attended UT. I’m not entirely sure why the Longhorns… I guess I like the heritage and tradition that goes with cheering for a team with that kind of history. Bevo makes me smile… I mean, how could he not… the Texas Longhorns tote a steak to every game. Most of all, I really like that the Texas program focuses on recruiting players with integrity. Aside from an occasional Ricky Williams, very rarely do you hear about serious character questions from the men and woman who play for the University of Texas. The bond is entirely imaginary… but the bond is real to me. HOOK EM’ HORNS~!
Bergen, D. (2008). Human development: Traditional and contemporary theories. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.