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Psychological defence mechanisms

Defence mechanisms are psychological strategies used by the unconscious mind to manipulate, deny, or distort reality to protect the mind/self/ego defend against feelings of anxiety and personally unacceptable impulses or stimuli.

They may include:

  • Rationalisation: consciously unconsciously concealing your true motivation by explaining your actions and feelings to make them appear more acceptable (to others or to self)

  • Repression: the burying of a painful feeling or thought from one's conscious awareness

  • Denial: refusing to acknowledge or comprehend external factual events

  • Projection: attributing one’s own unacceptable thoughts, feelings and motives to another person

  • Displacement: satisfying an impulse with a substitute object (e.g. acting out anger with your spouse by kicking the dog)

  • Regression: acting with reduced maturity in the face of stress or anxiety

All mentally healthy individuals use defence mechanisms regularly. These become pathological only when their persistent use leads to maladaptive behaviour such that the physical or mental health of the individual is adversely affected.

Sigmund Freud was one of the original proponents of this concept.

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