The Mechanisms of Defense

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Defense mechanisms are a variety of behaviors that keep a person from confronting and acknowledging uncomfortable feelings. They include denial, projection, repression, and suppression. Defense mechanisms are inherited from our parents and are often first manifested in childhood.

When you think about developing your characters, you need to find ways to show how emotions affect your characters. One way to do that is by exploring defense mechanisms.

Here are some examples of defining them:

ConversionUnconscious expression of intrapsychic conflict through physical symptoms
UndoingCounteracting transgression or wrongdoing
DisassociationUnconscious separation of painful feelings from unacceptable ideas, situations, or objects
DisplacementDischarging pent-up emotions on objects less dangerous than those that initially aroused the hostile emotion
RepressionBlocking threatening memory from consciousness
IdentificationModeling oneself after another
RationalizationJustifying failures with socially acceptable reasons, instead of the truth
Reaction-formationTransforming anxiety-producing thoughts into their opposites in consciousness
DenialRefusing to admit something unpleasant is happening, or experiencing taboo emotions
RegressionReturning to more primitive behavior
SuppressionVoluntary exclusion from awareness
IntellectualizationUsing logical explanations without feelings
IntrojectionUnconsciously incorporating wishes, values, and attitudes of others
CompensationCovering up weaknesses by overemphasizing or making up
SublimationChanneling instinctive drives into acceptable activities
ProjectionBlaming someone else for difficulties

We all have a defense mechanism that we use to deal with difficult or stressful parts of our lives. Whether it’s positive thinking, sleeping, or eating, some people use this type of coping strategy to reduce stress.

When coping strategies don’t work, some people turn to unhealthy behaviors such as excessive drinking, drug use, or eating unhealthy, like junk food, sugar, or saturated fat.

How would your character react to an unhappy moment or situation or memory? This guide will help you narrow down the possibilities.

Guilliean Pacheco (she/her) is a writer and editor of color, but you may also know her as the host of the Raconteuse Radio podcast. Her work has appeared in Nevada Humanities and Helen. She has an M.F.A. in Writing from the University of San Francisco. She’s a misplaced California girl who lives in Las Vegas normally if one could call living there normal. Follow her on Twitter.

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