Common Defense Mechanisms Cheat Sheet

Defense mechanisms

  1. As anxiety increases, the individual copes by using defense mechanisms.
  2. A defense mechanism is a coping mechanism used in an effort to protect the individual from feelings of anxiety; as anxiety increases and becomes overwhelming, the individual copes by using defense mechanisms to protect the ego and decrease anxiety.

There are a large number of defense mechanisms; the main ones are summarized below.



Coping mechanisms and defense mechanisms are used by the client to decrease anxiety.

Types of Defense Mechanisms

Compensation: Putting forth extra effort to achieve in areas where one has a real or imagined deficiency

Conversion: Expression of emotional conflicts through physical symptoms

Denial: Disowning consciously intolerable thoughts and impulses

Displacement: Feelings toward one person are directed to another who is less threatening, satisfying an impulse with a substitute object

Dissociation: Blocking of an anxiety-provoking event or period of time from the conscious mind

Fantasy: Gratification by imaginary achievements and wishful thinking

Fixation: Never advancing to the next level of emotional development and organization; persistence in later life of interests and behavior patterns appropriate to an earlier age

Identification: Unconscious attempt to change oneself to resemble an admired person

Insulation: Withdrawing into passivity and becoming inaccessible so as to avoid further threatening situations

Intellectualization: Excessive reasoning to avoid feelings; the thinking is disconnected from feelings, and situations are dealt with at a cognitive level

Introjection: Type of identification in which the individual incorporates the traits or values of another into himself or herself

Isolation: Response in which a person blocks feelings associated with an unpleasant experience

Projection: Transferring one’s internal feelings, thoughts, and unacceptable ideas and traits to someone else

Rationalization: Attempt to make unacceptable feelings and behaviors acceptable by justifying the behavior

Reaction Formation: Developing conscious attitudes and behaviors and acting out behaviors opposite to what one really feels

Regression: Returning to an earlier developmental stage to express an impulse to deal with anxiety

Repression: Unconscious process in which the client blocks undesirable and unacceptable thoughts from conscious expression

Sublimation: Replacement of an unacceptable need, attitude, or emotion with one more socially


Substitution: Replacement of a valued unacceptable object with an object more acceptable to the ego

Suppression: Conscious, deliberate forgetting of unacceptable or painful thoughts, ideas, and feelings

Symbolization: Conscious use of an idea or object to represent another actual event or object; often, the meaning is unclear because the symbol may be representative of something unconscious

Undoing: Engaging in behavior considered to be the opposite of a previous unacceptable behavior, thought, or feeling


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