4 Unhealthy Defense Mechanisms That We Need To Overcome


Unhealthy Defense Mechanisms Overcome

When someone finds it difficult and challenging to deal with unpleasant and unacceptable emotions, they might sometimes fall back on a few unhealthy defense mechanisms, that actually does more harm than good, in the long run.

The inability to deal with distresses can lead to feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. Lacking the ability to cope, some will erect powerful defenses in a desperate effort to avoid feeling pain. The person using a defense is generally trying to achieve emotion regulation and maintain their self-esteem (McWilliams, 2010).

Defense mechanisms work by changing the way we feel or interpret a situation. But they do not change reality. Keeping unacceptable feelings out of awareness results in the development of a “false self.” The price for this protection is the inability to develop resilience (Gabbard et al., 2012).

Here Are 4 Unhealthy Defense Mechanisms

1. Projection. 

Projection is a defensive behavior that protects us by attaching unacceptable feelings, or motives to someone else (e.g., “You are the selfish, angry, or incapable one, not me.”).

When we project our feelings onto another person, we empty out our own frightening emotions onto another. The act of projection is a distraction that allows one to ignore the real culprit, the problem within.

Related: 5 Projection Techniques Narcissists Use To Attack Others

2. Dissociation. 

Dissociation is the inability to articulate certain aspects of one’s experience in verbal language. We keep unacceptable feelings out of awareness. One might say “this is not happening to me.”

The unconscious motive for dissociation is to escape from the overwhelming emotions associated with the traumatic memory. The success of therapy and lasting change requires the patient to come into contact with previously inaccessible aspects of those inner feelings. The way out of trauma is by going through it (Epstein, 1994).

Unhealthy defense mechanisms
Unhealthy defense mechanisms

3. Self-medication. 

Addiction may be described as a defensive strategy to avoid feelings of helplessness or powerlessness (Ulman and Paul, 2006). The person tries to compensate with addictive behavior for painful subjective states of low self-esteem, doubts, and anxiety.

The use of drugs provides a feeling of acceptance and a feeling of temporary self-confidence. However, addiction also prevents the user from understanding his distress and developing the emotional capacity to self-soothe.

4. Denial. 

The term denial (or repression) can be defined as the selective ignoring of information. Denial can be a protective defense in the face of unbearable news, such as a cancer diagnosis, to create a false sense of security.

Denial is a form of self-deception that detaches an individual from reality. To maintain a positive view of themselves, people revise their beliefs in the face of new evidence of good news but ignore bad news.

Related: Denial Of Bad Behavior: What You Can Do

For instance, alcoholics insist they have no drinking problem. Addiction can be a source of terrible shame, self-hatred, and low self-worth. Indeed, the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous is to admit that you have a problem and begin to seek help.

Defense mechanisms are forms of emotional regulation strategies for avoiding or minimizing emotions that are too difficult to tolerate. We use psychological escape mechanisms where physical escape is impossible and learn to hide from ourselves. Psychological growth requires self-acceptance, which is a state of mind that marks the end of the life-consuming struggle to transform oneself into the person one wishes one were.


Epstein S (1994). Integration of the cognitive and the psychodynamic unconscious, American Psychologist, 49, pp. 709-724.

Gabbard G.O., Litowitz, B. E., & Williams, P. (2012).  Textbook of Psychoanalysis (2nd edition), New York: American Psychiatric Publishing. 

McWilliams N (2011). Psychoanalytic Diagnosis: Understanding Personality Structure in the Clinical Process (2nd edition). New York, Guilford.

Safran, J.D. (2012). Psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic therapies. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Publications.

Ulman, RB and Paul, H. (2006) The self Psychology of Addiction And Its Treatment. London: Routledge.

Written By Shahram Heshmat 
Originally Appeared In Psychology Today
Unhealthy Defense Mechanisms Overcome pin

— Share —

— About the Author —

Up Next

When No Place Feels Like Home: 3 Ways To Find Where You Belong

Ways To Find Where You Belong: No Place Feels Like Home

To find where you belong, can be a nuanced journey, often filled with self-discovery and realizations about what makes a place feel like home. Here are three insightful ways to navigate this path, uncovering where you genuinely belong and creating a sanctuary that resonates with your inner self.

What do you do when NO place feels like home? What if when watching Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz clicking the heels of her ruby slippers three times and crying out that famous line – “there’s no place like home” – you found yourself shaking your head, feeling very much alone, and silently wishing that you HAD a place – ANY PLACE – that felt like home?

If that sounds like you, you’re not alone.

Up Next

How To Get Over Infatuation: 10 Tips For Gaining Emotional Balance In Relationships

How To Get Over Infatuation: Ten Tips To Gain Emotional Balance

Ever found yourself deeply infatuated with someone, experiencing an overwhelming rush of emotions that consumes your every thought? Infatuation can be an exhilarating experience, but it can also be a double-edged sword that leaves us feeling vulnerable and emotionally imbalanced. Let’s explore how to get over infatuation.

How to Get Over Infatuation

Whether you’re infatuated with someone who is not available or struggling with infatuation while being married, it’s important to find ways to navigate these intense feelings and regain your emotional equilibrium. 

Up Next

Understanding Atelophobia Symptoms: Fear Of Imperfection Unveiled

Understanding Atelophobia Symptoms And Seven Ways To Overcome

Do you ever find yourself plagued by self-doubt, constantly fearing failure, or feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to be perfect? If so, you might be experiencing atelophobia symptoms, a condition that affects countless individuals worldwide. 

Let us explore the depths of atelophobia, exploring its definition, symptoms, and related factors. By gaining a deeper understanding of this condition, we can empower ourselves and others to overcome the paralyzing fear of imperfection and embrace personal growth and self-acceptance.

Atelophobia Definition

Up Next

Your Mental Health Matters: 5 Habits You Need To Let Go Of Right Now

mental health matters

Everyone talks about the importance of having good physical health, and a healthy and strong body. But what about mental health, or rather the importance of good mental health? Just like physical health, mental health matters equally. 

As caregiver to my mom and sister, both of whom were diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, I got good at pretending I was fine. From the outside looking in, I played the role of someone who had it all together.

On the rare occasion when somebody would ask me, “Are you okay?” or “What’s the matter?” my automatic responses would be “I’m fine” and “Nothing.” Few people ever bothered to

Up Next

“I’m Not Like Other Girls”: 5 Telltale Signs of A Pick Me Girl

Toxic Signs of A Pick Me Girl And How To Stop Being One

Ever heard of “Pick Me girls”? These are individuals who go to great lengths to prove they’re “not like other girls.” Let’s dive in and explore this phenomenon!

In this article, we’ll dive into what is a Pick Me Girl and, how to spot her, and provide examples to help you better understand this phenomenon.

What Is A Pick Me Girl?

Pick Me Girls are individuals, typically women, who go to great lengths to be chosen by someone they’re interested in romantically. They often believe that by being overly accommodating, agreeable, and submissive, they can

Up Next

What Is Emotional Constipation? 13 Symptoms and Ways You Can Release The Emotional Logjam For A Healthier You

What Is Emotional Constipation? Signs Of Blocked Emotions

Life today feels like a whirlwind. With endless tasks and pressures, it’s easy to side-line our feelings and emotions. This busy routine can lead you to a place where you’re stuffing down your emotions, a jam-up that’s often called – emotional constipation. In simple terms, it means you might be having a hard time understanding and expressing your real feelings.

Ever felt like you’re about to burst but don’t know why? Or you just can’t find the words to explain how you’re feeling? That’s a sign. This article will help you understand what is emotional constipation, major emotional constipation symptoms, and how to deal with emotional constipation, so that you can break free and get your emotional groove back.

Up Next

How To Calm Down Quickly? 5 Best Tried And Tested Self-Calming Methods

How To Calm Down Quickly? Five Best Self-Calming Methods

We all have moments when we feel extremely overwhelmed and stressed out, and no matter how hard we try, it feels impossible to calm down quickly. So, how to calm down quickly? This article is going to talk about some of the most effective ways to calm down quickly, that won’t be hard on you but will also be good for you in the long run. . 

When you experience intense anxiety, anger, or sadness, you might need to calm yourself. Do you know how? It’s important that you find self calming methods that work best for you. Give these methods a try!

How To Calm Down Quickly? 5 Best Self Calming Methods