She was the glue that held the whole family together and everyone knew it. So when she passed, it was more than just the loss of a member, it was an earthquake that shook their entire world. The eldest son couldn’t accept the news, he wouldn’t. He insisted that his mother had to still be alive, that he just knew she wasn’t dead. And the daughter. She blamed it all on the doctors, insisting that her death was their fault. They could have done more; they could have tried harder. And the kids, they couldn’t comprehend it all, they were much too young. Still, they felt the aftershocks and revealed their own emotions through their sudden temper tantrums.

Everyone had a different approach to dealing with the death: denial, displacement, acting out. And whether or not they wanted to react in this manner, they did. They were unconscious and involuntary responses, or defense mechanisms. You’ve probably heard of some other more obvious defense mechanisms, such as shielding your neck or covering your head. These are instant reactions that occur when, say, you hear a loud noise, or feel otherwise threatened. Well, we actually have some other defense mechanisms that you maybe never considered a tactic of defense before, such as the aforementioned denial, displacement, and acting out. These are unconscious, internal defense mechanisms, but nonetheless effective—at least in the short-term; however, some individuals resort to using these as a regular way of coping with stress or other traumatic events, which can be harmful. The previous examples are explored as well as a few other defense mechanisms:

    1) Denial

    Denial is the rejection of reality or fact, typically used in the case of painful events or feelings. People use this mechanism to avoid these events or feelings in their everyday lives or specific areas. For example, one may refuse to accept that his girlfriend wants to break up, or an individual may reject being fired from a job.

    2) Acting out

    Acting out is characterized by extreme behavior that serves the purpose of getting across feelings that are not or cannot be otherwise expressed. Though it seems counter-effective, it helps the individual feel better. You know those kids you see at the grocery store throwing a fit because their mom won’t let them buy anymore candy? Yeah, that’s a prime example of a temper tantrum—a perfect example of acting out, at least for children. For adults, this defense mechanism can present itself as self-injury. The individual can’t stand the emotions they’re being flooded with so they let it out through physical pain instead.

    3) Dissociation

    This defense mechanism is typically enacted after an individual experiences trauma. It’s when a person loses track of him or herself and/or time; their self-image may be obscured and they typically disconnect from the world around them. Dissociation ultimately allows people who are suffering to separate themselves from the feelings they’re experiencing and avoid confronting the given traumatic event.

    4) Projection

    Projection is when one pushes their own shortcomings or negative feelings onto another. For example, a man may grow angry with his daughter for not listening, when in fact, it’s the man who doesn’t listen. This is oftentimes a results of a lack of recognition or understanding of one’s own behaviors or feelings.

    5) Reaction formation

    This one’s a little trickier—it’s the conversion of undesirable or dangerous thoughts or feelings into the opposite. So, for example, it’s expressing happiness when you actually feel very upset. You just got fired from a job that you were really starting to enjoy. Instead of accepting and displaying your disappointment, you act as if you couldn’t be more excited to be relieved of your job.

    6) Repression

    Ah, we’re all familiar with this one. This is the unconscious blocking of unwanted thoughts or feeling. You probably repressed some negative feelings after your last breakup, for example. Or maybe even memories that you just didn’t want to play in your head again. While the memories still affect your current situation, it’s possible to block your access to recalling or reliving them.

    7) Displacement

    Displacement is the redirecting of thoughts or feelings. So instead of directing them at the actual person or object of concern, you put them on another. For example, I’ve discovered that I often take out my frustrations on my dad. I may be frustrated with work or a simple task I’m focused on, but I always take it out on my dad for no good reason. I’ve been working on it though, okay! Don’t worry about my father, he’s a toughie.

    8) Intellectualization

    This is basically dealing with undesirable situations or feelings by placing an overemphasis on thinking. Rather than facing the pain associated with the emotions, a person gets caught up in research or “rational thinking”. For example, an individual who was just diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer may focus their attention on researching the cancer, instead of showing fear or sorrow.

While these are typically unconscious, involuntary reactions, it can be harmful to get into a habit of using them to deal with difficult situations. So do your best to recognize how you’re dealing with a possible undesirable or upsetting event or circumstance, and confront the issue as well as your emotions head-on. It might be tough, but you can do it! I know you can.