Subconscious Mind - A List of Defense Mechanisms
Here we explore a list of defense mechanisms employed by the
subconscious mind to ward off anxiety and protect the conscious mind
from emotional pain. The amazing ability of the subconscious mind to protect the conscious mind is at the root of many "symptoms" and problem behaviors encountered in counseling, therapy, and personal growth.
Symptoms as Metaphors for Subconscious Conflicts
The subconscious mind is very symbolic and metaphorical. Many
professional helpers see symptoms as metaphors...symbolic of the
client's internal experience. These are usually subconscious solutions
to internal conflicts such as those outlined in the list of defense
For example, when a person would like to do one
thing, but instead can't seem to help but do another, it indicates that
there's a conflict between the conscious mind and some part of the
subconscious mind... In other words, part-of-me is aware that another
part-of-me is doing something of which I don't consciously approve...
something that may even interfere with my goals or needs.
A good example of this is when I consciously determine that I'm going
to lose weight and yet I repeatedly fail to stick to my nutritional
plan (we don't like the word "diet")... I try and try to stick to the
plan and feel very upset "with myself" for caving in again!
Another term for such internal conflicts is Cognitive Dissonance
-- Two cognition's (elements of knowledge)... usually one conscious and
the other subconscious... are in direct conflict with each other. The
two opposing cognition's are located on neural networks in the brain.
They create anxiety that steadily intensifies until the subconscious
mind employs a solution from its list of defense mechanisms.
List of Defense Mechanisms
- Rationalization - Subconscious justifications, excuses
or reasonings given to make a behavior seem logical -- "A student
fails the final he didn't study for and says... "I couldn't have passed
it anyway - that teacher has it in for me." Rationalization is included
at the beginning of any list of defense mechanisms because it's so
frequently recognized as "being defensive".
- Projection - Attempts to banish or "disown"
unwanted and disliked thoughts, behaviors, and even "parts of self" by
projecting or attributing them to someone else. May be as simple as
blaming someone else - "He should have let me off on that ticket but
that cop was trying to fill his monthly quota." Or as complex as seeing
and experiencing a repressed or "disowned" part of self in another
person - e.g., an excessively passive person marries an excessively
angry person - both experience their disowned "part" in the other.
- Introjection - The opposite of projection -
subconsciously "takes in" to self an imprint (or recording) of another
person including all their attitudes, messages, prejudices, expressions,
even the sound of their voice, etc. This is healthy if the imprinted
material is helpful advice, warnings, or other lessons from parents and
respected others -- unhealthy if shaming messages from parents, hatred, or aggression is turned inward on self.
- Identification - An ability available very early
in life that children use to attach themselves to certain qualities,
emotions, and attitudes of someone else...especially during the modeling period between eight and thirteen. This helps the child further develop the Adult Ego State and the Parent Ego State.
- Simple Denial - Unpleasant facts, emotions, or events
are treated as if they are not real or don't exist. -- a person told
that their spouse was killed in a motor vehicle accident acts as if he/
or she is still alive. (Not consciously lying) Addictive Denial NOTE: Simple denial and addictive denial are similar, but the
"denial" associated with addiction is really much more complex than
simple denial, because it is referring to an elaborate SYSTEM of
defenses that create a delusion for the addict or alcoholic that is is
OK for them to drink or use drugs even in the face of overwhelming
evidence that it is destroying them. Don's book, Thaw - Freedom from Frozen Feelings (Below), presents a model of the complex set of defenses characteristic of addictive denial...
THAW - Freedom from Frozen Feelings , is a book about the emotional wounds of abandonment, shame, and contempt created by growing up in a less-than-nurturing family. If you like this website, you will love this book! If you can relate to the Iceberg Model, or help people who can relate, THAW - Freedom from Frozen Feelings is a "must have".
- Isolation - Separation of memory from
emotion...can remember and talk about the trauma but feels no emotion --
the Person talks about the incident as if it is someone else's story
which is accomplished by taking Third Perceptual Position.
- Sublimation - Redirection of impulses into
socially acceptable activities -- normal and healthy, such as when the
sexual impulses of adolescence is channeled into sports and competition.
- Displacement - No list of defense mechanisms
would be complete without displacement. This defense reduces anxiety or
pressure by transferring feelings toward one person to another --
commonly known as "dumping on" someone...e.g., man is mad his boss and
kicks the cat when he gets home, or blows up and yells at his family.
- Repression - Painful, frightening, or threatening emotions, memories, impulses or drives that are subconsciously
pushed or "stuffed" deep inside. It takes a lot of energy to keep
material "stuffed"...energy that could be used for more productive
living. Healthy if the person does not have the psychological resources
available to deal with it.
- Suppression - Painful, frightening, or threatening emotions, memories, impulses or drives that are consciously pushed or "stuffed" inside. Again, it takes a lot of energy to keep material "stuffed".
- Conversion - Mental conflict converted to a physical
symptom... e.g., a soldier on being deployed into battle is conflicted
about his desire to serve his country but believes it is wrong to kill
for any reason develops paralysis, blindness, or deafness with no
- Regression - Giving up current level of development and
going back to a prior level... and older child under stress begins
wetting the bed or sucking a thumb after a long period without that
behavior. In extreme cases of PTSD an adult could regress into a
child-like ego-state and curl up in a fetal position on the floor unable
- Reaction Formation - Over-compensation for fear of the
opposite. Two conflicting parts of self -- one is strengthened while the
other is repressed...e.g., An overly nice and agreeable person may have
a lot of repressed hostility and rage of which they are completely
unaware on a conscious level.
- Fantasy - Retreating into a dream world
of times past... Can be unhealthy if it happens when action is required
instead. Healthy when used to go back and finish unfinished business of
the past...or simply for sentiment & nostalgia such exploring high
school yearbook or family album. Fantasy is so commonly experienced that
many people forget to include it on their list of defense mechanisms.
Go to Psychological Defense Mechanisms and Ego-State Scenarios to learn more.
Explore the following links to delve deeper into the workings of your very own super-computer:
Go to Controlling the Subconscious Mind from List of Defense Mechanisms