CLICK HERE FOR THE NEWEST VERSION OF THIS PAGE

 

Below is a handout I give to students that we use to discuss some of the typical defense mechanisms. After the discussion, I break the students down into small groups so that can develop role plays that demonstrate these defenses. Instructions for these role plays are described at the end of the handout.


Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms protect us from being consciously aware of a thought or feeling which we cannot tolerate. The defense only allows the unconscious thought or feeling to be expressed indirectly in a disguised form. Let's say you are angry with a professor because he is very critical of you. Here's how the various defenses might hide and/or transform that anger:


Denial: You completely reject the thought or feeling.

"I'm not angry with him!"

Suppression: You are vaguely aware of the thought or feeling, but try to hide it.

"I'm going to try to be nice to him."

Reaction Formation: You turn the feeling into its opposite.

"I think he's really great!"

Projection: You think someone else has your thought or feeling.

"That professor hates me."
"That student hates the prof."

Displacement: You redirect your feelings to another target..

"I hate that secretary."

Rationalization: You come up with various explanations to justify the situation (while denying your feelings).

"He's so critical because he's trying to help us do our best."

Intellectualization: A type of rationalization, only more intellectualized.

"This situation reminds me of how Nietzsche said that anger is ontological despair."

Undoing: You try to reverse or undo your feeling by DOING something that indicates the opposite feeling. It may be an "apology" for the feeling you find unacceptable within yourself.

"I think I'll give that professor an apple."

Isolation of affect: You "think" the feeling but don't really feel it.

"I guess I'm angry with him, sort of."

Regression: You revert to an old, usually immature behavior to ventilate your feeling.

"Let's shoot spitballs at people!"

Sublimation: You redirect the feeling into a socially productive activity.

"I'm going to write a poem about anger."


** Defenses may hide any of a variety of thoughts or feelings: anger, fear, sadness, depression, greed, envy, competitiveness, love, passion, admiration, criticalness, dependency, selfishness, grandiosity, helplessness.

Your Group's Role play: In your small group, develop a role play that you can peform in front of the class. In it demonstrate several defense mechanisms. Try to give everyone in the group a part to play. Good role plays usually spend a minute or so to develop the scene, the characters, and the situation at hand. At that point start to introduce the defenses into the scene. The whole role play should last about 3-5 minutes.

After you finish the scene, the class will try to guess which defense mechanisms you were demonstrating.


back to the In-Class Exercises page
back to the Teaching Clinical Psychology home page