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:

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 must 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
SuppressionVoluntary exclusion from awareness
IntellectualizationUsing logical explanations without feelings
RegressionReturning to more primitive behavior
IntrojectionUnconsciously incorporating the 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 to deal with difficult or stressful parts of our lives. Some people use this coping strategy to reduce stress through positive thinking, sleeping, or eating.

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.


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Guilliean Pacheco (she/her) is a writer and editor of Filipino heritage and the host of the City of Writers podcast. Her work has appeared in TechTarget, Nevada Humanities, and Helen: A Literary Magazine. She has an M.F.A. in Writing from the University of San Francisco and is an Anaphora Arts poetry fellow. She’s a misplaced California girl who lives in Las Vegas normally, if one could call living there normal, on Southern Paiute land. Follow her on Twitter.

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