Defense Mechanisms

Defense Mechanisms

We go through many, many changes as we move from infancy through childhood to adulthood. The one that came to mind for me the other day as I was holding a friend's new born baby in my arms and thinking about the psychological distance between his infant mind and my own, was a consciousness of all the personality defenses and coping strategies we learn while growing up; how important these things are for keeping us safe from the more predatory elements of our world, but also the openness we can lose as these defenses get built.

Personality defenses (coping techniques, defense mechanisms) are important things in that they strongly influence the ease with which people are able to form and maintain healthy relationships and reject unhealthy relationships. Developing organically in response to frustrating, difficult and painful situations and experiences, they function as the human equivalent of a computer firewall, helping to defend against hurtful and abusive relationships, while hopefully also allowing healthy and nurturing relationships to pass. Discriminating when to be defensive and when not to be defensive is key for health. You need defense to keep you safe from those who would mess with you, but you also need to know when to relax and let your defenses down so as to retain the capability for innocence, openness and healthy relationships. Defenses are important, an immune system unto themselves. They're worth spending an essay talking about.

Mapping the world and the self

Becoming defensive is all about learning to identify and avoid painful and dangerous situations. We are born mostly open and undefended. We learn to avoid painful and dangerous situations by learning to map or represent (in our heads, not on paper) the world and where the dangerous, painful things exist in the world. We start doing this even as very young children and continue it with ever increasing sophistication as we mature. As our representation of the world becomes more sophisticated, our ability to control, tolerate or avoid pain also becomes similarly sophisticated.

The first pains we become aware of are internal - having to do with instinctual drives such as hunger, elimination and emotion. These drives create tensions in our infant bodies that over time we learn to represent and react to. For example, we instinctually cry when we are hungry but probably can't initially distinguish the pain of hunger from other pains. Over time we learn to recognize and represent hunger pains as a distinct sort of painful signal that can be avoided by eating. More time goes by and we learn to request food, thereby cutting hunger pains off before they become compelling. This sort of self-knowledge and control is easy for adults, but it is a major learning project for infants and toddlers.

In addition to mapping our internal environment, we also start mapping our external social environment. We learn, for instance, that our initial infant-centric map of the world ("It's all about me") doesn't predict what other people will do with great accuracy. In response, we develop a social map of the people we are in relationships with and what they are likely to do for us. Our social map helps us to avoid people who are likely to hurt us and approach people who are likely to help us. As before, most adults can make this discrimination more or less easily, but children take years to properly master such discrimination.

The degree to which representation or mapping of the self and the social world takes place is always in relationship with a person's developmental level. Infants and young children (who are not very developed, physically or mentally) have representations of the self and of others that are more primitive, while older children and adults tend to have more sophisticated self and other representations. A person's developmental level is influenced both by biology and by experience. Children act in childlike ways both because they are inexperienced, and because their brains are literally immature and not fully physically developed. The biological aspects of children's brain development work themselves out by the teen years, and thereafter (assuming everything else has gone well), further development and maturity is mostly a function of experience and personality. Not everyone is able to benefit from experience, however. Most everyone has probably met someone chronologically adult who functions to one degree or another in an immature, child-like and primitive way.

I've spent some time talking about children's representation of danger because that is where personality defenses start. All people are motivated to avoid (or at least control) pain (physical and psychological both), and they do this by developing representations of themselves and their world that help them to predict when pain will occur. People use these personal representations of self and world to come up with a stable of strategies for avoiding pain. Such strategies (like the representations they are based on) start out primitive and flawed and tend to become more sophisticated, functional and adaptive as maturity occurs. At each stage of development people use their representations of self and other to cope as best they can. As people age and mature more sophisticated means of coping tend to be developed and older, less sophisticated and less effective means of coping tend to be discarded. At least, this is what happens in theory. In reality, many people get stuck, fail to move past particular developmental milestones in particular areas of their lives, and to not develop more effective means of coping in those certain areas. While they will have aged chronologically and may even function as adults in most aspects of their lives (holding down a job, being responsible, etc.), they may also show surprisingly child-like and primitive means of coping when stressed.

Mental health professionals differ on what to call these personality defenses. Psychoanalyst types (followers of Freud & company) have tended to call them 'defense mechanisms', emphasizing the more primitive and less functional means of coping people have come up with. Other writers refer to 'coping methods' and tend to emphasize the more functional, sophisticated and effective means of coping that people use. I and many other mental health professional types just know that there is a spectrum of coping strategies/defense mechanisms varying from the primitive to the sophisticated. I'm here calling them 'personality defenses', to emphasize their defensive (pain avoiding) nature and to also call attention to the fact that people often tend to use their favorite defenses habitually, incorporating them to a very great extent into their personalities.

I've arranged the following descriptions of personality defenses so that more primitive strategies for defense (based on more primitive representations of self and other) are featured first, and more sophisticated strategies are featured last. It's not a complete or perfect list and the placements I've chosen are not necessarily definitive. The list is close enough for the purposes of this essay, however. As you read through these descriptions, think of them as strategies that make sense in the context of particular stages of development. Also, think about how use of each defense strategy would influence people's ability to maintain healthy adult relationships and reject bad ones. An adult's use of a primitive-seeming defense offers an archaeological window into that adult's self/world representation, perhaps suggesting that something happened to interrupt or delay their development (abuse, trauma, loss, addiction, etc.), or alternatively that there is something else exceptional about them which has led them to act in primitive ways.

More Primitive Defenses

The most primitive (or developmentally early) defense strategies are often predicated on a mistaken or inaccurate representation of social reality - which is the major reason why we call them 'primitive'. Though they may work somewhat as a means of avoiding short term pain, they also generally do not usually result in constructive outcomes and aren't much help to someone looking for ways to solve problems. As a class, they are likely to be the defenses that are present during early childhood, and which may persist in adults who were harmed in some significant way during childhood.

Dissociation is the term given to a condition where memories and attention become unnaturally disconnected. Under normal conditions, people's memory and attention are fairly integrated and continuous (meaning that a person can move between memories without any trouble and that they are able to remember where they started and the route they took to get to a particular thought. In contrast, dissociated memories are isolated from each other with no clear association between them that leads from thought to thought. A certain amount of dissociation is normal; everyone dissociates to one degree or another even if it is just occasional forgetfulness. However, some people have a talent for dissociation, and they use it as a way of coping with emotion. In extreme cases, significant disorders based entirely on dissociative processes (such as what used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder, fugues, or amnesia) can occur. More commonly, however, dissociation figures as a process upon which other defenses form.

A case in point is Splitting, which is said to be occurring when positive and negative representations of self and other are dissociated from one another inside a person's mind. It is often related to early abuse and appears to be a mechanism by which people can preserve some semblance of happiness in the face of very negative experiences. Unlike people with more integrated self and other representations who can represent people's complexity (their ability to have both good and bad aspects at once), people with split representations struggle with highly polarized "black or white, but not gray" views of others and self. They may substantially devalue someone for what others would consider minor failings, or unrealistically idealize someone else, perhaps expecting that person to save them.

In Projection people come to believe that other people are experiencing the feeling that they themselves have. This doesn't happen with all feelings, but rather, with feelings that are considered inappropriate or otherwise unacceptable. Owning that one feels an unacceptable feeling would be painfully anxiety-provoking, and defenses are all about avoiding pain, remember? Anger is frequently projected onto other people, for example, as many people have a hard time acknowledging that they are angry.

Projection involves a failure to appropriately distinguish between representations of self and other, and as such, represents a bit of a break with reality. Although a person's feeling is identified, it is inaccurately identified as originating inside a separate person, rather than being correctly identified as originating within the self. People make a very similar mistake in Reaction Formation, wherein people react strongly to their own unacknowledged desires by acting to suppress or even destroy those desires in others (all the while denying that they themselves have those desires). My favorite example of Reaction Formation is Roy Cohn, a politically connected lawyer who was gay and died of Aids, but who viciously persecuted gays during the middle 20th century because he was too cowardly to accept himself as he was.

Acting Out occurs when a person who is otherwise unable to articulate their feelings, acts those feelings out in a directly impulsive manner. Performing the acted out actions serves as a pressure release and in some way calms or reassures the actor, even if the actions are incomprehensible to outside observers. Self-mutilation ('cutting'), explosive tempers and abusive actions can fall into this category.

Denial is perhaps the most famous of the classical defense mechanisms, in part because it was an important concept as taught by Freud, but also because is has been emphasized by addiction recovery communities. In denial, a person simply refuses to accept that something which is true is in fact true. Examples of denial are legion and vary with regard to the depth of reality distortion present. Examples of greater reality distortion include the alcoholic who denies she has a drinking problem, and the battered wife who cannot make the connection that her life is in danger. Examples of lessor reality distortion include the lover who doesn't pick up on the subtle signs that his relationship is breaking apart.

In-Between Defenses

'In-Between' defenses also play somewhat fast and lose with social reality, but far less so than the primitive defenses (or in a less destructive manner). They are not necessarily constructive in nature, but using them probably won't make problems worse. Adults use these defenses all the time, but they're nothing necessarily to be proud about.

The concept of Repression has a history. Originally, Freud though of it as a sort of force holding uncomfortable thoughts beneath the surface of consciousness. Though such 'repressed' thoughts wouldn't rise into awareness, they would motivate behavior in round-about ways. The term Suppression has a similar but more voluntary meaning; where people are never conscious of repressed thoughts, suppressed thoughts are consciously pushed out of consciousness by people who decided they simply did not want to think about them.

More recently, the same term Repression has been used to describe a coping style designed to reduce anxiety by way of avoiding information that might provoke anxiety. An opposite conception, Sensitization, describes an anxiety coping strategy in which an anxious person seeks out more and more information, regardless of how anxiety provoking it might be, so that a more complete threat picture might be obtained.

Displacement is the classic "kicking the dog" defense. A person is upset about something they cannot control (such as a boss' bad review), and takes that upset out on something that they can control (the dog), in effect displacing their upset feeling, in the process, transforming their psychological position from one of powerless humiliation to dominant control.

In Intellectualization, people cope with painful or anxiety producing events by retreating into a cognitive analysis of the event, in so doing, creating a sort of insulating distance from the emotions surrounding the event. A very similar maneuver, Rationalization, occurs when people make up reasons post-hoc (after the fact) to explain away a course of action they have taken that they feel conflicted about.

Where Intellectualization and Rationalization use inventive thought to buffer painful emotion, Undoing uses compensatory behaviors to achieve the same end. In Undoing, conflicted actions and motives that one may or may not be conscious of are counteracted by other 'atoning' actions that, on the whole, attempt to balance things out.

Mature Defenses

The 'mature' defense strategies are based on a pretty solid and accurate understanding of social reality, and tend to be more constructive and adaptive in nature than their younger cousins. Using them may work to correct underlying problems rather than just gloss them over. Though helpful, they are difficult for people stuck in more primitive defensive modes to appreciate and engage.

Sublimation occurs when people consciously redirect energies away from unacceptable impulses and put them to productive use. While Freud originally had in mind the substitution of art work for deviant sexual urges, the strategy is far more flexible than that. Sublimation is in operation, for example, when a student grieving a significant loss pours her energy into school and pulls straight A's.

A number of mature defenses work by helping people to gain perspective on their problems. Humor works well to break up negativity, to inject silliness and laughter into what is otherwise serious and deathly, and to force people to look at a brighter side of their various predicaments. Humor simultaneously distracts (allowing distance from seriousness) and instructs.

Affiliation, or the drive to socialize with others so as to benefit from their company and counsel, is probably not a proper defense, but it is a perfect offensive strategy for effective coping with anxiety and pain. Being with others provides opportunities for venting, distraction, reality testing and a host of other helpful emotional supports. Self-Observation (such as through journaling) is an alternative to seeking out others that offers some of the same benefits, including venting of feelings, distancing and increased perspective.

Assertiveness is a communication posture that exists between aggressiveness and passivity. Passive postured people allow others to invade them, while aggressive postured people invade other people. Assertive postured people defend themselves against the invasions of aggressive people, but do not themselves become aggressive and invade others - not even those who try to invade them. Assertiveness seems simple enough, but actually requires considerable finesse, self-confidence and a healthy and accurate understanding of social dynamics to function, unlike passivity and aggressiveness which do not require a whole lot of thought.

Defensiveness, Maturity and Relationships

In reading through this brief and incomplete survey of the spectrum of defensive coping strategies you have hopefully picked up on the way relationship skills correlate with maturity of defenses. Being able to maintain reasonable relationships is a pretty necessary ingredient for a happy and functional lifestyle, inasmuch as relationships are a primary means for satisfying basic human needs for affection, attachment and economic support. Defenses based on more accurate understandings of social reality tend to enhance people's functioning and their ability to relate to others. Vice versa, defenses based on more primitive, distorted understandings of social reality tend to sabotage people's ability to distinguish good from bad relationships. Knowing this, it may strike you as ironic to note that relationships are perhaps the best means known through which people whose representation of social reality are faulty can receive correction (Such folk need to be in healthy relationships to mature, but they all too frequently sabotage those relationships to which they have access).

Fully functioning mature adults are flexible - they are capable of a range of defensive maneuvers ranging from reactive pain avoidance to constructive and adaptive efforts at problem solving. They are able to meet their needs through this flexibility - the need to protect themselves, and the need to connect with others to satisfy intimate and economic needs. An important part of a mature adult's coping flexibility has to do with their ability to know when to be which way. Since their fundamental understanding of social reality is sound, they are less likely to misjudge situations; trusting when trust is worthy and mistrusting when mistrust is appropriate. In contrast, people operating at a more primitive level tend to lack this important balance and instead fall into more rigid applications of their defenses.

A lot of ideas here, most of which I have not done justice to. But that is what tends to happen when you try to compress a topic worthy of a book into an essay. Hopefully you've found the reading to be worthwhile. Feel free to add comments and to share any ideas of your own so that others can read them.

Comments
  • bk

    I like your descriptions of defense mechanisms. I have not read your book. I would like to know if their is a medication that can help somebody who has reached an age of 60 years and all of a sudden finds themselves in a terrible situation because of a flaw in their defense mechanisms. In other words is there a medication out there that helps with a non-functioning defense mechanism.I am not sleeping at the moment and wondered if there was anything that could help me through this. My family are at their wits end as to know what to do with me.

  • Mika

    It would be very helpful for those reading this article in search of change if you identified and described more of the healthy defense mechanisms. Thank you.

  • Mary Gregoire

    Thank you for writing this essay, Mark. It was a quick, light and informative read on a subject I have not given much thought to. The information may help me more effectivley navigate my emotional landscape. Mary

  • josh

    what happens when their are no nurturing relationships, only psychological abuse from every person for extended(years) periods of time?

  • Dominic

    I am struck by the vast amount of knowledge generated in the last century and continuning now, on mental health issues. However what would it take to get all these professionals to standardise their definitions terms and concepts, to come together and say hey were all calling this thing a different name, lets work together? An even greater effort I suspect than generated the data in the first place. When this does happen there will be tremendous advantages. What makes professional people resist other peoples ideas and theories. Scientists do it all the time. Thats a mental health issue.

  • annie

    I really needed this article b/c I was just explaining to my 18 yr old daughter the importance of "being flexable" as we all know she knows everything and I know nothing...

  • Anonymous-1

    This essay is great. The examples are helpful animators.

  • wishi!

    hi mark, it was very comprehensive and informative description of ego defense mechanisms. can you please entertain us with a detailed account of the disorders where these defenses are used? if possible! thanks for such a brilliant effort! wishi! pakistan

  • Shonali

    Quite a layman's understanding of the complex matrix that evolves and displays itself in the variety of behaviors we see in human beings. Perhaps before stating that the psychoanalytic school's interpretations are "primitive" , it might do to read up on it. Try Anna Freud's book: The Ego & Defense Mechanisms. This is where it began. Otherwise it is an interesting introduction to personality defenses.

  • washington, dc

    i really appreciate what you have written here in this essay. the examples used helped to explain one particular concept that i have had a hard time wrapping my head around for years. yours is the FIRST clear and understandable example of reaction formation i have read. i finally GET IT! thanks.

  • Robert

    Your "outlines" are more than enough to help me understand my employees and myself. Where situations have arose and where future successes and failures may occur simply due to personality lapses by either my help, myself or both. Thanks again. Robert

  • Buff

    Like many, I'm trying to gain insight into defensive behaviors. Although I realize everyone has some level of defense mechanisms, I'm struggling to deal non-defensively to an overly defensive person. It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between what is simply over defensiveness, or what might be something slightly more insidious to a relationship. I shudder to write this in open forum, but my experience has been that women generally are more defensive, and generally unaware of that defensiveness. Maybe it is as Mark has said...I am sabotaging more healthy relationships, and remaining in a less healthy one due to my own issues. I will continue to try to adjust my behavior, until I know I've done everything possible. Only then will I be free.

  • L

    I understood everything I read in the article, and think you did an excellent job of conveying this topic in clear and concise terms.

    I was wondering if you could explain a person who "deflects" all his flaws onto another. I am dealing with a very difficult 17 year old Son, who refuses to accept any responsibilty for his actions. It's always "someone else's fault" when they are dissapointed or angry with him.

    I'm struggling to understand and help him.

    MOM

    Dr. Dombeck's Note: This behavior is often called "externalization". It is similar to "projection" and probably projection and externalization are two sides of the same coin. In projection, you are externalizing the source of a feeling, where as in externalization, you are externalizing intent.

    The defenses that people tend to use point to the way that their consciousness and appeciation of the social world is structured. I've been very influenced in my thinking by the work of developmental psychologist Robert Kegan. Kegan describes a progressive series of states of consciousness from infancy to adulthood. In developmentally early states of consciousness - common to all children and sometimes persisting into adulthood as narcissism - there is limited ability to understand the humanity and personhood of others. Others are essentially objects in your way or objects of gratification. As we grow, our appreication of our place in the universe grows and we become one among many - not unlike people used to think the earth was the center of the universe but now we know that not only does the earth revolve around the sun, but the sun is just one of billions upon billions of suns. it's humbling and often resisted to grow into this new conciousness because you are less important in it. Part of the reason why your son may be struggling and seeing things in the way that he is, is because in some sense he lacks the internal awareness of the rights of others e.g., that others have needs too and that it is wrong and rude and self-centered to blame others when they haven't done anything. When you are self-centered, you can't reflect on the fact that you are self-centered. So it is invisible to you. It is only after you start to grow out of it that it becomes visible.

  • faik ozdengul

    hi

    i am from turkey,

    i am a doctor md phd

    i thank you for your essay

  • Tarun

    I would like to recommend on your explanation regarding defense mechanism that, your conception is quite understandable and applicable. but if you should have mentioned clearly for the readers who are not so much familiar with this term. for example, you could mention the reasons, impact in our daily life and some guidelines you think to be effective to us to apply in our life easily. I would like to thank you once again for your nice explanation...

  • Anonymous-2

    Thank you Mark for a positively framed view of defense mechanisms - the other web-based references to come up on my first search page framed these behaviours very negatively. I found it much easier to imagine myself using them positively through your explanation, and it's validating to read an explanation I agree with - that rather than being defective, they are useful and often very clever ways of us getting along in the world. Cheers.

  • raghi

    Thank u very much for the explanations on defense mechanisms

  • Jason R. Douglas

    This was a very good article and just wanted to say thank you for posting it.

    Much appreciate.

  • khya

    i am from indonesia. thanks for your explains of defense mechanism :)

  • SgtHK

    I've learned alot today by reading this article. Thank you very much! :)

  • Anonymous-3

    Thank you for helping me see myself as not entirely a monster. Others have responded to the article more eloquently and succinctly, but I would like to thank you for giving a more generous perspective to the issues discussed therein than some of the other articles have put forth regarding similar subject matter.

  • Anonymous-4

    I greatly appreciate your outlook and definition on defensive responses. I used to be very primitive in my defensive tactics, and learned on a mission how to communicate and listen better which helped me to not be so defensive. I think that hyper-defensive people are oftentimes living in a very self-centered place. That was my case anyway. Once I realized that everything isn't about me, I was able to see that people are for the most part good, and that I don't have to be the skeptic who doesn't trust anyone and is always "being attacked" from every side.

    As I said, I appreciated the postitive view stating the necessity for defense, while also allowing us to see, and choose for ourselves to what extent we see, which defensive strategies are less appropriate. Thank you for not "bashing" anyone, while being sophisticated and sound in your analysis. And thank you for posting! It's refreshing to read an article from a non-skeptic!

  • princewill oruma

    i just want to say the article was brilliantly done .it showed that you have a very good understanding of the subject matter.

  • anne

    superb !!

    it helped me a lot in doing my research paper !!! =)

  • John Walker

    excellent - thanks a lot - Ive found this just when i needed it!

  • Suzanne

    This article was organized and clearly written. As a teacher and mother of a teenager, this information gave me explanation and ideas of how to help/guide/understand myself and others

  • CMS

    Hello,

    I found your article very interesting and I was wondering if it is not to much to ask for your advice on an issue. I have long since thought that my mother has a personality disorder and some of your situations seem to fit. Could I possibly discuss this with you or have to refer me to other websites that could help me research this further? I am a college student just looking for answers.

    ~Thank-you very much

  • Jennifer

    Dr. Mark,

    i totally appreciate this article. i am in a relationship with a very angry and paranoid man. he gets angry at me for anything and everything, which is always"nothing". he projects onto me as well. and tries to control me with threats, ultimatums, isolation, and scare tactics. long story short, i just kicked him out today and told him i cant live with him but we can stay together. he makes me a nervous wreck yelling at me all the time. its making me physically ill. this was the first article that i found as i just started an online search to find out what exactly might be his issue. you are helping alot of people. thanx so much!

  • Pinson

    Dr. Mark very enlighting information, I certainly used it and shared it with my wife. She struggle with defense machanism's. I also used the information to apply to my own personality. I really enjoyed the feedback of "defense mecnanism's. Thanks Willie!

  • Anonymous-5

    After being "dumped" by my best friend of two years, I have been searching for what I did to ruin our relationship. Friends and family kept reassuring me that it wasn't something I did and although I wanted to believe them I wasn't sure. Now after looking at all the aspects of BPD I feelcomforted by the fact that I didn't do anything out of the normal aspect of friensdhip. I am not a Psychologist so I obviously can't diagnose my friend. I would like to buy a book on it to give her on again/off again husband. Wish I could talk to her myself but now realize that this disorder is very complicated. I am sad to have lost my friend, however, maybe this is a blessing in disguise as this looks like a hard illness to treat.

  • Susan

    This was good. I did't know any of this stuff but recognised me in quite a lot of it. Thanks for explaining it all in normal English because I am trying to understand why I am made my life so difficult in having acted so defensively. You are right it has spoiled job prospects and family relationships and dummy me has used probably the worst mechanism to save myself and others : avoidance. Now I see through what you say, there is lots for me to learn. Staying away from people I have missed out my learning curve and still have those childish solutions. No wonder! Sorry people about people like me. I will have to learn loads more to find a way to chill.

  • Ian

    Dear Sir,

    I have bipolar disorder and I have a lot of friends who have similar mental illnesses. I noticed that most if not all my friends have great difficulty dealing with stress. I personally shame myself a lot when I experience stress and I'm not able to cope.

    I decided to do something about my poor stress management techniques and I started to use as many of the defense mechanisms that I could find. When I experienced stress, I would try to palliate my stress with a defense mechanism instead of shaming myself. And I found that the blood flow in my brain changed and I also experienced less stress.

    I was wondering, is it possible for psychologists to teach people to use defense mechanisms to palliate stress because in all my years in the psychiatric system, no one has ever suggested deliberately using defense mechanisms to cope with stress.

    Respectfully,

    ian

  • ian

    Dear Sir,

    I'm sorry, I didn't include my email address. I believe that defense mechanisms could play a bigger part in the treatment of mental illness and I was wondering what your thoughts would be. Could you please email me at the above email address.

    Thanks,

    Ian

  • Ken Chan

    Dear Sir,

    I am Ken from Hong Kong. I am very interested about defense mechanism. I have read many information about that from the library. But I really want to know the advantages and disadvantages of using defense mechanism. How likely is it for a person to live free of defense mechanism and how may various defense mechanism contribute to mental health? I am looking forward to hear from you. Would you please reply me through my e-mail? Thanks a lot.

    Ken

  • Anonymous-6

    Thank you Dr. Dombeck for the analysis. Once upon a time I was accepted to UCSD for cognitive psychology. Unfortunately, my ideals surrounding psychology were eventually tarnished by my perspection of the professionals leading the discipline and as a result, I switched majors. I felt that most of these "professionals" were not qualified to be presenting their analysis as "authority", had difficulty in acknowledging that they were regurgitating learned information, and provided that guidance/feedback in an incredibly negative manner or in such as way that there was no evident working solution or road map. I enjoyed reading your publication and find it comforting that you seem to hold all the professional virtures that are by and large missing from the field. (Or perhaps times have changed!!!) :) Thank you for carrying on the torch! :)

    Dr. Dombeck's Note: That's a hell of a compliment. Thank you!

  • Anonymous-7

    Good article. I learned quite a bit. Dealing with an adult that you love and care for and having them internalize all that is shared even when it has nothing to do with them. One opens up raw areas about themselves to have it turned on them. The other shuts down, walks out, anger and verbally abusive. Defensivness is common and almost appears like another person comes out. It's very hurtful. He has been told that he has a severe loose association personality by his family member PHD> Very hard to resolve anything, being abused in the meantime and now I'm taking out the bat and asking what I did wrong?

  • GG

    This essay has opened up so many doors of revelations! I believe that now I have a balance that now allows me to trust when it is worthy, and mistrust when it is appropriate.

    I have experienced too many times not being able to read people. I trust so easily and that is not socially realistic. So people have been able to perpetrate being someone else and hide who they really are.

    Thank you so much for this eye opener.

  • Nany M

    Have you read his book? I just read it and what you wrote reminds me of many of his ideas. interesting essay.

  • Roe Joy Ruiz

    I am Roe Joy Ruiz, college student from Philippines, I found your article very interesting, as I have learned more knowledge and understanding myself and others about "Defense Mechanism". It gives me complete guidance and help . Thank you.

  • JA

    At 55, I'm yet again in awe of how 'learned defenses' overshadow the ability to relate within my family. The need to be heard, the need to be right, and the habit of hearing any differing opinion as an attack is overhelming. Changing the subject to something happy doesn't remove the simmering defiant thought it is harbored and seems to gain momentum or pressure or polarization.

    A parent who is a REAL Jackie Gleason, Archie Bunker, "Mama's family" character is exhausting, not entertaining or even humorous. It was a "failed" Christmas...again. As the only sibling who had the wherewithall to spend the holiday with our parent, I was barraged with decades of harbored resentments brought out like heirloom Christmas ornaments--and new forms of ill-will for...just being there and doing something--anything--helpful or in good will. When good will is perceived as ill will...for everything...even mistakes--every action--and underlying intent are lost in a confusing miasma of...blame.

    I am convinced there is a very strong environmental factor of growing up with "mixed" signals of "safe" vs. "forgiveness" that results in repressed rage and repressed sadness--often diagnosed as bipolar. This parent grew up with insecurities and doubt and resentment, and groomed the family.

    Like the family dynamics portrayed in Cinderella and Snow White, how do some of us meet the prince or awaken from the sleep while others seem to find "unsafe relationships" or remain vulnerable to relive the hell--in the family or outside?

    If you can hear a kind response in your head when doing "a favor," but receive an insult instead of a thanks--and the longer you stay, the more exacting the aim and the more stinging the put down that even the ebb and flow of silence or pleasantries do not diminish...as much as you WANT it to be better or OK. It is wrong to blow up, but it is not bipolar. Or is it?

  • anthuvan

    I really appreciate this essay. the examples that were provided gave a clear understanding of a concept that was lingering in my head for a long time. Thanks for this thoughtful essay.

  • Anonymous-8

    This article has been very enlightening. I have recently come to the realisation that I have some pretty serious definsive problems and this article has very much cast light on a lot of issues that are relative to what I think is going on with myself. I can draw alot of similarities with what has been said and if anything this has clarified some things for me. Just wanted to say thanks, so thanks.

  • Kari Taber

    I'm a 40 year old stay-at-home mom. I was, 27 when I finally got diagnosed with Add. In an instant, my whole life, screw-ups, failures, and all, was validated. I have often wondered if my severe innatentiveness and inconsistenties are not only biological but also a coping mechanism that I developed as a child as a result of a drastically inconsistent home life and upbringing.?