10 most common ego defense mechanisms

By Hanan Parvez

Your ego is your sense of self or ‘I’. Technically, your ego is your conscious mind. We all desire to feel worthy and stay psychologically stable.

Now when something happens that threatens our well-being or decreases our self-worth, our ego gets hurt in the process and our psychological stability is disturbed.

Any kind of emotional pain or trauma that we experience harms our psyche just like a physical injury harms our body. When you cut your hand with a sharp object for example, your body’s defense mechanisms come into play and heal your wound after some time.

Similarly, when our ego is under a possible threat or has already been hurt in some way, there are certain defense mechanisms that are launched by our subconscious in order to protect it and maintain our psychological well-being.

In other words, our subconscious mind employs these operations to protect our conscious mind from emotional pain. These defense mechanisms can sometimes be very helpful in allowing us to cope with a traumatic event but at other times they may just be means of self-deception.

Following are some of the common subconscious ego defense mechanisms…

1) Rationalization

It means justifying your wrong actions by providing reasons that seem reasonable. If you were unable to achieve something then instead of admitting that you failed and hurting your ego, you might say “It wasn't worth it anyway”. This ego defense technique was employed by the famous legendary fox who, after failing to reach the grapes above, declared that they were sour.

rationalization cartoon
An extreme case of rationalization
2) Displacement

It means dumping your negative emotions on ‘safer’ people or objects. If your boss angered you, then it won’t be a good idea to release your anger in front of him lest you get fired. So you go home and yell at your family members or punch a punching bag to release your hostile feelings.

3) Projection

When you blame other people, things or situations for the misery you may be going through. Also, it involves attributing your own negative thoughts and feelings on to others. For example, a person who himself has short-temper may constantly complain that everyone but him is short-tempered.

4) Sublimation

When you fulfil your socially unacceptable needs and drives in a socially acceptable manner. For example a person who has a need for violence and aggression may desire to become a policeman. 

5) Suppression/Repression

Memories of a traumatic/painful event if recalled can cause emotional pain. So our mind chooses to forget about them. When this is done consciously, it is called suppression and when it happens subconsciously, it is termed repression.

6) Compensation

It means displaying greatness to hide your inner weaknesses. Narcissism- a personality disorder in which a person exaggerates his own self-importance, is a good example of compensation.

7) Fantasy

We fantasize when we can do nothing about a problem that we encounter or when we want to satisfy a strong need. It helps us create an alternate reality in which our problem is solved and our needs are fulfilled. A poor man imagining himself as a billionaire is an example of fantasy. 

8) Escapism

Escapism means escaping from the current unpleasant and uncomfortable reality. For example, trying to forget about your problems by taking drugs or drinking is a classic example of escapist behaviour.

9) Denial

It means denying that a negative event ever happened or denying the possible threat of a negative event. People who lose their loved ones sometimes go through an initial phase of denial in which they claim that the dead person isn't really dead!

10) Reaction formation

It means converting unwanted thoughts and feelings into their opposites so that other people are mislead and don't look down upon us. For example, a person who's bored to death in a party may start behaving weirdly- dancing around crazily, cracking cheesy jokes and laughing pretentiously.

By making him do all this, his mind tries to ensure that his friends don't get to know how much he hates the party! 

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