Reconnect to your Core
a practical guide on how to feel good and be happy

The most common Defense Mechanisms

Generally we can divide defense mechanisms into two broad categories. These are the tactical defenses and the formal defenses.

Two broad categories of defenses: tactical and formal

The tactical defenses are used by a patient in therapy in order to avoid emotional closeness with the therapist. His tactic is to keep the therapist at a distance. But people don’t only use tactical defenses in a therapeutic setting, they use them in every interaction between themselves and other people. Through verbal and nonverbal ways of avoiding letting anyone close, people live their lives by keeping a distance to others without even being aware of doing so most of the times.

Tactical defenses are sometimes referred to as character defenses. This because they’re often so ingrained in the whole character and personality that a person usually thinks that these defenses are him. Hence they’re difficult to become aware of because they’ve become ingrained habits or unconscious automatic ways of interacting with other people. The most common verbal tactical defenses are: being vague, using generalities, using contradictory statements, sarcasm, changing subjects, and speed of talk (either too fast or too slow). The most common non-verbal tactical defenses are: avoidance of eye contact, giggling and smiling, weepiness, and a detached position.

The formal defenses are between the Me and the Real Me. They prevent a person internally to get in touch with his feelings and his true Self. They can be divided into two broad categories: the repressive and the regressive formal defenses.

Repressive means to try to hold back or keep a lid on things. Repressive implies that something (i.e. a thought, feeling, impulse, fantasy) is pushed back out of conscious awareness. They’re the mechanisms that lets you «stay asleep even though you’re wide awake» so to speak. These defenses include intellectualization, rationalization, minimalization, displacement, and reaction formation.

Regressive means to act in infantile or childish ways. The ego will often hijack the mind and use the very first defenses it learned in life to ward off feelings. They include projection, denial, acting out, and defensive affect.

There are hundreds of defense mechanisms and to cover them all would go beyond the scope of this book. Below is a diagram of the defense mechanisms that will be covered in this chapter, and they’re the most common defenses people use. Many of them overlap and are somewhat identical.

Defense against emotional closeness (DAEC)

Defenses are either directed internally against our own feelings or they’re directed externally against meaningful contact with others. When a person unconsciously wards off contact with others this process often involves a cluster of defenses all operating together to form a wall against meaningful emotional contact. This wall (or cluster of defenses) is referred to as the Defense Against Emotional Closeness.

The ego has a capability to lump together a stack of defenses that serves the purpose of not letting any feelings be shown anyone. Whether it be with spouses, family, girlfriends/boyfriends, colleagues, friends, neighbors, or strangers, the ego deals with everyone from behind this protective wall. In psychotherapy this wall must be addressed and removed before anything else can be accomplished therapeutically. Without the removal of this wall no change is possible.

When the DAEC is present the ego has over time created certain character traits, habits, and ways of doing things (talking, looking, walking, behaving, dressing, thinking and believing) that prevent a person from having any meaningful contact with anyone at all.

As an analogy, imagine going over to visit a neighbor and the difference between being let inside the neighbor’s house versus being rejected by the neighbor on the doorstep. If your neighbor opens his door and lets you in, that’s an invitation to be personal, friendly, and to connect with each other. Oppositely when your neighbor rejects you on the doorstep there’s not even an opportunity to connect and to get to know each other. A lot of people in our society do this without even knowing so, they unconsciously reject others through their demeanor before meaningful contact can even be possible.

By rejecting you on the doorstep, your neighbor isn’t willing to invite you into his personal sphere. Neither one of you will take part of each others emotional lives. If no one gets access to how your neighbor is feeling then no one can hurt him, so then his ego believes he’s safe because later down the road he will not be hurt and disappointed. This avoids rage towards a person he’s attached to and subsequent unconscious guilt, grief, and love as well.

Sometimes this way of living makes a person very unhappy and lonely, but most of the times the DAEC works so well that a person can keep up the wall his whole life without any awareness of what he’s missing out on. Yes he may be bored, stuck in life, neurotic, and unhappy, but he ignorantly believes that this is the way life just is. Therefore he accepts his misery and it doesn’t even dawn on him to try to achieve a higher level of functioning.

Difficulties with closeness are often the result of defenses against reactive sadism and unresolved grief. In order to contain forbidden feelings of anger and grief, people will keep a detached position.

It’s epidemic in our society that people are getting more and more superficial and politically correct. Many believe it’s more important to «appear» the right way, rather than just «be» genuine and authentic. People like that don’t take a stance towards anything, and apparently have no other standards or values other than stubbornly protect their addictions and «important» opinions. Who the person underneath actually is nobody really knows.

An example is «the morally superior person». Hiding behind social norms and expected behavior she spends her time worrying how others perceive her and how she is coming across, rather than just being herself. She has stopped listening to what she herself really wants and desires and doesn’t even try to perfect her skills or knowledge in areas that interests her. Instead she craves approval and validation by others, and tries to be liked by everyone even though she knows that she doesn’t try to be the best she can be.

Most people with an ingrained DEAC are totally ignorant of how they actually come across to others and for most it’s a syntonic defense. They’re so identified with this protective wall that they don’t even see it. In most instances this person withdraws and goes passive whenever there is a «danger» of true intimacy. This so that he never gets to experience conflict within himself. His «ways of doing things» have become so entrenched and habitual that he doesn’t see how he’s continually avoiding genuine interaction with others.

The article above is an excerpt from Chapter 8 in Reconnect to your Core.

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