Defense Mechanisms For a Medical Assistant

Defense mechanisms are unhealthy coping strategies that people employ to protect themselves when they feel emotionally threatened. Some of the most common types of defense mechanisms include:
1) rationalization
2) compensation
3) regression
4) repression
5) displacement
6) denial
7) projection.


When a person makes excuses to justify inappropriate behavior, that person is making rationalizations for her behavior. For example, when an employee steals supplies from the workplace, she might rationalize such actions by stating, They don't pay me enough anyway.


Compensation is a psychological response in which a person attempts to offset feelings of  inadequacy in one aspect of life by achieving success in another. This response is not always unhealthy, but certainly may be. For example, a parent who feels guilty for not spending time with his or her child might attempt to compensate by buying the child expensive toys.


When a person reverts to behavior associated with earlier (younger) developmental stages, he or she is exhibiting signs of regression. For example, a 12-year-old child might regress to thumb-sucking behaviors when hospitalized or when dealing with family trauma, such as death or divorce. Self-limiting regressive behaviors provide emotional protection and comfort during a time of emotional trauma. The behavior usually disappears when the emotional turmoil ends. However, prolonged periods of regression may signal serious adjustment difficulties and the need for therapy.


Repression occurs when a person eliminates from conscious thought traumatic memories or painful or conflictual thoughts or impulses that the person believes are unacceptable. For example, an adult who forgot for many years about experiencing sexual abuse as a child has repressed those memories. Yet the experience has the potential to have a lasting impact on his or her ability to form healthy relationships. A man who finds himself physically attracted to his wife's best friend and recognizes his impulse to act on these feelings as unacceptable may continually forget the woman's name.


When a person expresses anger or another emotion at a person or object that is not the cause of those feelings, he or she is employing the defense mechanism of displacement. For example, a man who is angry at his boss goes home and vents his anger on his family by picking a fight with his wife and yelling at his children. In the workplace, this behavior sometimes manifests in coworkers mistreating one another, rather than addressing issues they have with the manager.


When a person refuses to acknowledge the validity or reality of something that is obvious to everyone else, he or she is said to be in denial; for example, a person who suffers health problems, relationship problems, and professional problems due to chronic alcoholism but refuses to acknowledge that he or she has an alcohol problem. Friends, family and coworkers are usually well aware of the problem that the individual himself or herself refuses to acknowledge. In some cases, those persons closest to the individual join in the denial. For example, the wife of an abusive alcoholic who makes excuses for her husbandfs actions is also in denial.


When a person accuses others of having certain feelings, attitudes, or behaviors that he or she has, he or she is projecting. For example, a man who projects feelings of guilt about cheating on his wife might accuse her of being unfaithful to him.