Posted in Self Care, Therapy

Defense Mechanisms (visual) and Intervention to Overcome (free worksheet)

Too many people dismiss Sigmoid Freud because he had a few controversial ideas, but I try to point out that many of Freud’s ideas were very influential and can, with a little attention, be seen in everyday life. Part of His theory is based on — Super Ego: The part of you that tells you that what you are doing it right or wrong. The “Id”: The emotional immature part of yourself, has all the needs and wants. The Ego: Your Personality – the part of yourself that tries to strike a balance between what you feel and how you think you should feel. There is a conflict inside of us between our “Id” and our “super ego.” When we are unable to resolve the conflict easily – it causes us Anxiety. If we cannot Deal with our uncomfortable feels – we use Defense Mechanisms to “put them off.”


  • Repression: Blocking a threatening idea, memory, or emotion from consciousness.
  • Reaction formation: Transforming anxiety-producing thoughts into their opposites in consciousness.
  • Regression: Returning to more primitive levels of behavior in defense against anxiety or frustration.
  • Rationalization: Justifying one’s behavior or failures by plausible or socially acceptable reasons in place of the real reason.
  • Denial: Refusing to admit that something unpleasant is happening, or that a taboo emotion is being experienced. Note: Denial distorts the way you perceive events (“I am NOT angry at you”) repression blocks or distorts your memory of events (the so-called “repressed memories” in which a person was molested but up to this point had no memory of it).
  • Displacement: Discharging pent-up feelings, usually of hostility, on objects less dangerous than those that initially aroused the emotion.Examples of Rationalization:
    • After Carla rejected him, Phil told his friends that he didn’t think she was very attractive and interesting, and that he really wasn’t all that crazy about her.
    • Jack told his parents that he got a C in his psychology course because all the As and Bs went to students who cheated on tests and had professionals write their papers.
    • Bill said that the reason he flunked out of college was because of the poor quality of teaching there.

    Examples of Reaction Formation:

    • George feels that his younger son, Gary, is unattractive and not very smart. He accuses his wife of picking on Gary and favoring their other son.
    • Lucy dresses in provocative clothes and uses suggestive language although she fears that she is unattractive and she really isn’t very interested in sex.
    • John has a lot of unconscious hostility toward his father but he acts very affectionate toward him and tells other people that he and his father have a wonderful relationship.

    Examples of Regression:

    • After Sue Ann’s baby brother was born, she began to talk baby-talk and suck her thumb.
    • Mary was homesick and anxious when she moved into the dormitory and started her first year in college. She began to sleep with her favorite teddy bear again.

                   Examples of Denial:

  • Sixteen-year-old Tom had started using drugs, and the changes in his behavior made it pretty obvious, but Tom’s parents didn’t believe the school principal when she called to talk with them about the problem.
  • Bill, who is 50 years old wears clothes that you would see on teenagers and drives a sports car. He can’t see that he doesn’t look 30, or even 40, anymore.

Click Here to listen to a PodCast on the PsychFiles on the Topic of Defense Mechanisms.

Inventory of Positive Psychology Interventions

Download worksheet here: Exercise_Avoiding-the-sinkholes

This worksheet includes What to do about each faulty thinking. Here is some of the text (but not all) in this worksheet:

Goal of this intervention:

This intervention is a continuation of the cognitive behavior theme and a sequel to the Reframing the situation exercise. It delves deeper into how some beliefs are formed and what can be done to challenge these beliefs before they lead to regrettable actions.

The goal of this exercise is to become more aware of the common traps we sometimes fall into when situations occur (how we often internalize, explain or rationalize things). More importantly, we seek to redirect these negative thoughts into more positive and productive cognitive behaviors.

How to conduct this intervention:

Try to complete this exercise using recent events in your daily life or things that happen to you over the next week or two. Record examples of these events that might fit into any or all of the following categories. Here’s an example for jumping to conclusions: my sister called yesterday and asked what I was up to. I immediately assumed she was looking for a favor- like covering for her down at the club where she works. I could feel my blood pressure rising- I felt like I was being backed into a corner.

Questions to ponder:

  •   How many situations/examples were you able to come up with from your daily life
  •   Do you tend to fall into one or two “sink holes” consistently— or are there more?
  •   What might you take away from this in terms of understanding yourself?
  •   How do you think your mood might be affected by your sink holes?
  •   How do you feel about yourself after a sink hole reaction?
  •   For each example you give, what might be a different way to reframe the situation? How might your

    response change with this reframing?

    Expected outcome

    Resilience is depleted when we take actions that are based on false or inaccurate beliefs. Conversely, resilience can be bolstered when we can consider problems more comprehensively– with all the information that is available at hand. Information helps us make better, more accurate judgments.

    Things to watch out for

  •   It’s often easier to practice this skill after a situation of adversity—when emotions have died down and you have a fresh perspective. It might be better for your client to practice this exercise several times (or more) before expecting it to work during an actual incident.
  •   It is not uncommon for us to see issues as black or white. Trying to reframe situations to see that there might actually be “gray” is not an easy task, especially in the heat of the moment. But practice does make it easier.
  •   Reframing sink holes may challenge life-learned habits of induction (x therefore y). This exercise may surface the fact that mistakes can and do happen—even when it disputes natural induction tendencies.

    Is there any science to support this intervention

    This exercise has its roots in the cognitive therapy work originated by Aaron Beck. Cognitive therapy is based on the belief that patients learn to change their thinking to overcome depression and anxiety.

    The Penn Resiliency Project (PRP) has done extensive research in the areas of optimism and resiliency including 13 controlled studies among 2000 participants. Majority of these studies showed positive effects on anxiety and behavior.


Mother, Pediatric Nurse and a Trail Blazer for Positive Change.

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