12 Most Popular Psychological Self-Defense Mechanisms

When we're threatened, we are not relational, we're hostile instead. The interaction becomes a zero-sum game where the importance is placed on gaining back control - sense of safety, agency and validation.

Agency and validation bring us a sense of safety and settles down the nervous system - we become calmer and curious. But when we are unaware that we're triggered and use words to fight over someone or something, we don't get to relate and regulate into safety.

When someone is triggered, know that you're not talking to that person, you're relating to that person's nervous system, and the things they say signal the level of activation.

Nervous system activation can be expressed by

  • fighting - attacking someone's character - criticizing, or
  • running away (flight) - going to the gym in the middle of an argument,
  • appeasing (fawning) - smiling and agreeing with everything, or
  • shutting down (freeze) - showing apathy or not responding for days or weeks.

I think that understanding the nervous system regulation is key to human relationships. When you know your triggers, you can give heads up to the people you're relating to. When you learn the cues about your person's dysregulation, you can address the matter later after the nervous system has been more regulated. Here are some cues for you.

As a resource, I'm using TherapyJeff's content that I liked and found useful for myself and also my clients to reflect on.

12 of the most popular defense mechanisms:

  1. Denial - "this is not happening, and even if it was, I do not want to talk about it";
  2. Projection - "I'm not the problem, you are the problem";
  3. Rationalization - "look, couples fight. We don't need to resolve every single little thing";
  4. Displacement - "it's not you, it's Jura's fault. She's making you question everything";
  5. Repression - "we got into a fight last night? Are you sure? Weird, I honestly cannot remember";
  6. Sublimation - "I'm headed to the gym for three hours. See ya!";
  7. Regression - "I don't care that we got into a fight. I don't wanna talk about it. I don't care about anything!"
  8. Intellectualization - "let's take a step back and analyze how we got here without getting all emotional and vulnerable";
  9. Avoidance - "what's for breakfast, babe?"
  10. Minimization - "oh, that? That was nothing... It's no big deal..."
  11. Passive aggressiveness - "I just LOVE how you let go and say whatever the fuck you want when we get into a fight with no regard to my feelings or emotional experience. How freeing that must be for you";
  12. Idealization - "it's all my fault. You're 100% right. I was in the wrong like I always am. I'll do better. I don't deserve you".

The next time you feel disconnected from someone who you want to feel connected to, and you hear yourself saying something like in these 12 examples, pause and pay attention to how you feel in your body, announce a break, and give yourself some time to feel and be with your own bodily experience. Have that conversation after some minutes or hours, or give it a day to cool off.

When you struggle to deal with your emotions and triggers, get support either from a trusted friend or a professional.

Written by
Jura Glo

I’m a certified NARM Practitioner and a former Radical Honesty Trainer with over 9 years of experience working with individuals and couples globally.

I specialize in addressing trauma-induced relationship dynamics and am known for my ability to cut through superficial issues to focus on what truly matters.

My efficiency in identifying core problems and implementing solutions, coupled with my commitment to psychological and emotional safety, underscores my approach, characterized by full transparency and authenticity in my work.

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