In My Defense
The human mind works in various extraordinary ways which allows us to view the world using different settings and deal with it using our own unique techniques. The mind is physically structured into physiological components, but according to personality psychology, it mostly depends on how the environment shapes our character. One of the main components of our personalities is the ego, which is responsible for the reality we all live in and endure. It’s the part of us influenced by the external world that directs our behavior by reason and helps create a balance between the good and the bad; hence “reality”. The ego strives for nothing but pleasure! Hence, it tries to avoid any negative consequences that might come our way from the world around us. It’s a tension detector. Whenever it spots any tension, it automatically formulates realistic strategies to reduce them. These strategies are what we call coping or defense mechanisms. They are tactics we use at an unconscious level (happens automatically without thought) to protect ourselves from feelings of anxiety or negativity that arise because we feel threatened. It’s normal and natural to use ego-defense mechanisms. It makes sense that whenever we undergo unpleasant feeling, we form an innate need to protect ourselves, but like everything in life, it has a limit. Meaning that it’s good to know the types of defenses we use, in what situations we use them in, and how they affect our functioning. But don’t forget to ask yourself “to what extent?” To what extent are they taking over your life? To what extent do you use them to escape all unpleasant emotions? To what extent do you feel that you lost control?
Defenses Down, Brushes Up!
As normal and natural as the usage of defense mechanisms are, we can fall easily into the habit of over-using them. Whether it comes in the form of them taking over your life, using them as a constant escape, or feeling that you’ve lost control completely. But don’t worry, there are plenty of ways to overcome them; one of which is through art therapy. Through an indirect way, we can be able to express all hidden emotions through art! We begin to lower our defenses and start displacing them into art instead. We finally feel that we are in control, as if they are smoothly moving from within our ego to the blank canvases in front of us. We begin unravelling and understanding our defense mechanisms through this form of therapy, to eventually deal with them in a healthier balanced way. Before we get into the how’s of things, here are some examples of the defense mechanisms we verbally use on the daily
Unconscious Protections (Ego-Defense Mechanisms)
The act of refusing to accept reality, consequently blocking external events from consciousness. Sometimes we feel that situations are too much to handle, so we might choose to deny that it even existed. “When I want to avoid dealing with painful feelings, I sometimes refuse to accept the fact that I need to seek professional help and instead act like everything is okay”.
The act of inhibiting threating thoughts from becoming conscious. This usually occurs with feelings of shame that are too much for us to handle, so we decide to internalize and suppress it in our unconscious. Yet, on the long-term it might get triggered by anxiety stressors from all the suppression we unintentionally perform. “I sometimes ignore certain fights I get into with my friends by repressing them, pushing them down. I later find out that those feelings find a way to lurk into my subconscious through a dream I had the other night”
The act of attributing one’s own feelings and thoughts to others who might not acquire those same feelings. This usually helps shift the focus of our own negative characteristics (like guilt) onto others, even if they might be untrue. “I used to hate my old roommate until I felt that “hate” is a big word to use and to feel, so I just convinced myself that my roommate was the one who hated me and not the other way around”.
The act of displacing negative emotions onto something else that won’t react or is considered powerless. This usually happens when anger is involved and there is a clash between what you want to do and what’s the right thing to do. “Whenever I feel angry towards my parents after we had a fight, I usually displace my anger aggressively by punching the wall”
The act of finding certain traits or habits we do back to a period where we felt safer. “Whenever I feel frightened, I usually curl up and cry facing the wall like I used to do when I was a child”
The act of giving reasons that might not be correct to justify the unpleasant situations we are put in. We do this instead of trying to find explanations or rationalizations for life’s hardships. “When I got kicked off the team, I automatically articulated that I didn’t like this group anyways in order to ease my pain” Repression