Ego Defense Mechanisms

Not only does the body have defence mechanisms, but also the mind. The defence mechanisms used by the mind has been discussed by Sigmund Freud in his psycho-analytic theory. Most of the times, we do not recognize the mechanism that helps us in coping up.  These mechanisms are triggered in an unconscious manner by the mind and also they distort or transform reality.  Repression is one of the commonly used mechanisms in which we simply forget the uncomfortable / unacceptable thoughts.  Actually, our mind pushes these thoughts into the unconsciousness. Some of the other defence mechanisms are discussed below.


This is one of the best known defence mechanisms.  We deny something which is a fact and believe what is true to be false.   For example, a child eats the chocolates that were kept in the refrigerator without the knowledge of his parents.  When the parents enquire him as to what happened to the chocolates, he would simply say “How do I know?  I did not even know that there were chocolates in the refrigerator”.  This is simple form of denial. Mind employs this mechanism to avoid the unpleasant consequences if truth were to be accepted.

body defence-mechanism, sigmund freud defence mechanisms


It is a mechanism which most of us use often.  Most of us who watch cricket would have seen that when some batsmen get out, they hit the pitch with bat to show disappointment.  What does the pitch do to make them out?  Nothing.  It is sort of displaced reaction.  They could not hit the players who made them out; instead, they hit the pitch.  The target of reaction gets changed and someone / something that is not related to it become the object for showing anger.  We often shout at our spouse or child for no reasons.  But when we think a bit deeper, we may realize that it might be the reaction for the degrading remarks we received from the boss in the morning.


“If you had prepared the breakfast earlier, I would have been in the office on time”.  “If you had sat with me when I was preparing for examinations, I would have scored better marks”.  These are some of the angry expressions we hear in our daily course of life.  In this mechanism, we pass the responsibility of our inability / failure to others and try to escape.  It is also because of this mechanism we love to see heroes in cinemas to fight vehemently and single-handedly with villains and romance with beautiful girls which are not at all possible in real life.

Rationalization and Intellectualization:

“You know, the President of U.S.A. smokes, popular heroes of Hollywood smoke and many of the famous historical personalities were smokers.  Don’t they know that smoking is injurious to health? Why do they smoke? It gives relief to temporary mental tensions”. “Do people who do not smoke ever die of cancer? Cancer is mainly caused by genetic factors and smoking is not the only reason”.  This was the reaction of a smoker when he was asked as to why he continued to smoke despite knowing the risks.  Even when he knows the problems of smoking, he tries to find some good reasons for continuing his habit.  When we do something which we know as bad / immoral, our mind seeks either to rationalize those activities and provide justification to them or to give some intelligent answers which are irrelevant to the question.

Reaction Formation:

Suppose that a man loves eating non-vegetarian items.  He has been eating them regularly till recently.  But, when doctor tells him that either he stops eating non-vegetarian foods or face severe heart and kidney problems, he stops taking non-vegetarian items. After that once he is asked about the non-vegetarian products, he said, “I hate not only the non-vegetarian products / foods but also the people who consume it”.  This is called ‘reaction formation’.  When people start behaving in a diametrically opposite way towards the things / people which they usually would never do, it is because of fear of the danger that the thing / people might cause. 


When a child of 4 years old sees that the attention of his parents turns completely to their new-born infant, he feels ignored and starts behaving like a small kid.  A person starts to behave in a manner as if he were much younger than what actually he is.   This is a mechanism to draw attention from people.


A boy is so violent in nature. He could not express his violence because of the fear that the family and the society reject him.  But when the same boy becomes a policeman, he could show his violent behavior against the anti-social elements. The violent behavior of policemen against criminals is acceptable to society and they even get good credits for behaving so.  This transformation of socially ‘unacceptable’ behavior to ‘acceptable’ one is called ‘Sublimation’.

The following video show could illustrate these mechanisms.

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