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Common Defense Mechanisms: What Are You Defending and Why?

By: Bridgette W. Gottwald, LPC, NCC

More often than not, we defend ourselves and our actions – sometimes without even realizing it. Maybe if we weren’t so busy explaining ourselves to others, we’d have more room for important things like compassion, understanding, and empathy. 

What Are the Id, Ego, and Superego? 

Often when the word “ego” is used, many people think that we are referring to the way someone feels about themselves. In psychology, the id, ego, and superego are defined as follows:  

  • Id
    • The primitive and instinctive part of a personality
    • Impulsive and subconscious part of the psyche that responds immediately to our basic needs, urges, and desires 
    • Chaotic and unreasonable 
  • Ego
    • According to Freud, the ego is the part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world. This is the decision-making part of the personality. 
    • Works through reason in order to satisfy demand
    • Strives to avoid negative consequences of society
  • Superego
    • Incorporates the values and morals of society which are learned from one’s parents and surroundings
    • Controlling of ids reflexes, especially ones that are not socially accepted
    • Persuades the ego to turn to moralistic goals
    • Focuses on conscience and ideal self  

Why Do We Need to Defend Our Egos? 

In order to defend ourselves from undesirable feelings such as anxiety and guilt, we utilize defense mechanisms. This happens when we feel threatened, or because our id or superego becomes too demanding. These defense mechanisms tend to operate at an unconscious level and help to protect an individual from unwanted or unpleasant feelings. By knowing and learning about defense mechanisms and why we utilize them, we can better understand ourselves and why we do the things we do.  

Common Defense Mechanisms

In order to be able to fully understand the defense mechanisms, we must first be able to identify them. It’s okay if they all sound new to you because you and your brain typically use them unconsciously! They are as follows: 

  •  Denial
    • Blocking external events from one’s awareness
    • If sometimes the situation is too much for someone to handle, the person simply refuses to experience it and removes themselves from it emotionally.
    • Ex: A student fails to recognize their unpreparedness for an exam
  • Repression
    • Unconscious mechanism that is employed by the ego in order to keep disturbing or threatening thoughts from becoming conscious 
    • Ex: A person who has repressed memories of abuse suffered as a child may later have difficulty forming relationships
  • Projection
    • Attributing one’s own unacceptable thoughts, feelings, and motives to another person
    • Ex: A cheating spouse who suspects their partner is being unfaithful
  • Displacement
    • Satisfying an impulse with a substitute object 
    • Ex: An employee who is angry with their boss might take their anger out on their spouse when they get home
  • Regression
    • A movement or behavior in which the individual goes back in time (psychologically) when faced with stress
    • Ex: Crying on the floor, curled into a ball as you would have as a toddler
  • Sublimation
    • Satisfying an impulse with a substitute object in a socially acceptable way
    • Ex: boxing to deal with aggression
  • Rationalization
    • Involves a cognitive distortion of “the facts” to make an event less threatening, such as making excuses
    • Maintain self-respect and avoid guilt over something that you’ve done wrong
    • Ex: Someone who you really care about dumps you and you claim that you weren’t really that into the relationship anyway. 
  • Reaction formation 
    • Goes beyond denial and behaving in the opposite way to which the person thinks or feels 
  • Identification with the aggressor 
    • When the victim adopts the behavior of a person who is more powerful and hostile towards them
    • Internalizing the behavior of the aggressor in order to avoid abuse 

Now that you are aware of all of the defense mechanisms that we utilize, you will be able to catch yourself in the act and understand what kind of place your behavior and actions might be coming from. Good luck everyone!  


McLeod, S. (2020). Simply Psychology. Retrieved from:

McLeod, S. (2019). Id, ego, and superego. Simply PsychologyRetrieved from:

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