France Villandry

Some behaviours seem to have us locked into unbreakable patterns

Psychological and emotional defence mechanisms are used by all human beings and may be necessary for survival in some situations.

However, people from dysfunctional families (co-dependents, adult children of alcoholics for example) may have developed defence behaviours that are increasingly dysfunctional.

When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.- Alexander Graham Bell

We’ve all used defences to distance ourselves from distressing feelings and maintain a sense of emotional stability.

Our defence patterns began in childhood when they prevented us from becoming overwhelmed with anxiety. However, as an adult we outgrow their usefulness. If we continue to use outgrown defences we are more likely to create rigid constrained relationships and risk never truly encountering another human being.

Part of therapy is identifying our defences. If we can discover which defences we use, we can replace outgrown ones with more healthy ones. Defences are not conscious excuses to avoid problems. Actually, we are usually unaware we are using them.

Counselling can be helpful in uncovering our most used defences, and help us learn new ways of defending and coping in life.-helpful defences are:

  • Rationalisation: providing “explanations” to excuse inconsistent or irrational behaviour, and not being aware that this is happening.
  • Minimising: protecting yourself from worry or anxiety by viewing significant events or problem behaviours as being less important (smaller) than they actually are.
  • Externalisation: believing outside forces or circumstances are the cause of your self-destructive behaviours. This defence mechanism allows you to avoid accepting responsibility for behaviour.
  • Intellectualisation: using lengthy argument or small detail (deflecting behaviour) to distract from the task at hand.
  • Projection: attributing your own undesirable traits or thoughts onto another person.
  • Displacement: redirecting emotions such as anger form the source of frustration, and discharging them onto other persons, objects, or ideas.
  • Undoing: engaging in behaviour designed to symbolically make amends for or negate previously unacceptable thoughts, feelings, or actions. This is not to be confused with actual and direct amends made to persons we may have harmed.
  • Regression: returning to a less mature level of behaviour.
  • Fantasy: escaping from an unpleasant or undesirable situation through daydreaming, “tuning out”, or not paying attention.
  • Acting-out: acting without reflection or apparent regard for negative consequences.
  • Passive aggression: indirectly and un-assertively expressing aggression toward others.
  1. See also;
  2. Language of Letting Go
  3. 3 Steps to Positive Thinking
  4. Al-anon / Alateen
  5. What does Letting Go Mean?
  6. Self-care Boundaries

Related Reading:

Paths to Recovery: Al-Anon's Steps, Traditions and Concepts
Having Had a Spiritual Awakening
Discovering Choices : Our Recovery in Relationships
Codependents' Guide to the Twelve Steps