Our psyche is a clever strategist. To avoid too much pain, it uses special tools: defense mechanisms. Some are good and responsive, while others are more troublesome. What are these? How you detect them? Is it possible to change them?

Each of us has something called a reality model to avoid some painful emotions overwhelming our consciousness. We use defense mechanisms. Most often, and fortunately, they are used appropriately; that is to say, with moderation and flexibility. However, if they are too engrained and rigid, some problems may arise.

Depending on the school of thought, the exact number of defense mechanisms varies. But we can say safely that there are about two dozen of them. Health & Happiness magazine aims to offer you an introspective journey to allow you to pursue the issue. Today, we focus on rationalization.

Rationalization

Faced with internal conflict and stress, rationalization is to streamline and develop explanations that are reassuring and beneficial to oneself, as compared to what one or other people experience in reality.

Analysis of Rachel’s Case

Rachel was adopted at birth. Now an adult, this is her interpretation of it all: “Because I don’t remember it, it may not have had any impact on my life. True, I was an adopted baby. But I have never actively thought of it as such and I love my adoptive parents. I owe them everything!”

However, Rachel does have an exaggerated fear of leaving her ten-year-old child alone. She invokes a very good excuse to justify not letting him participate in his class trip: “He’s allergic to dust.” This allergy is real, yes, but is that really a sufficient reason for not allowing her son to travel?

It is easy to imagine the discomfort experienced by the child when his friends ask him probing questions, when he begins to feel isolation in the classroom while others are out traveling, and so on. In addition to this, the mother-child relationship may become more complex, because the child may develop feelings of anger vis-à-vis his mother. In short, things may well soon become very confusing and difficult.

Why Rachel Used This Defense Mechanism

One function of rationalization in this case was to avoid Rachel having to cope with emotions, apparently painful, related to her adoption. Trite as it may sound, being adopted means to have been abandoned before. This raises many questions like, “Why me?” “Was I so undesirable?” “What did I lack as a mere baby that my parents refused to keep me?” “How could my mother have abandoned me?” – all questions that lead to the extension: “I would never do that to my own child.”

A priori, the psyche does not want to live with this distress. However, and despite the well-crafted argument that Rachel has built, her past catches up with her through her son. Thus the need for her to be aware of how her denial of her own issues risks difficulties with her relationship with her son.

What Rachel Can Do to Live Better

If Rachel wants to work on herself, a professional can help her realize that what she believes to be a minor detail in her life – her abandonment and adoption – is perhaps not so minor after all, and that she uses a defense mechanism known as rationalization to cope. The therapist will help her connect to hidden emotions, and links can be made with her current difficulties.

Be positive!

Until now, Rachel did not feel much when it comes to the issue of her abandonment. But today, because she wants to love her child properly, she feels ready to seek professional help.

Thanks to the class trip she finally let her son go on, she can grow. It’s safe to say that if Rachel had not resolved to change herself, she would perhaps have never outlived her past. During interviews, there always is a time when clients smile. Their “guilt” of having used a defense mechanism becomes relative.

Now Rachel can move on to another stage. Life is a great teacher!

Tip

To try to find what defense mechanism (s) you use, ask yourself: “Basically, what do I do with the real difficulties of my life?” Because deep inside ourselves, we know! Then you will more easily find out what you do to hide it to yourself and your family.

Examples of Other Commonly-Used Defense Mechanisms

Hypochondria (somatic complaints through which the person asks for help), idealization (of attributing exaggerated positive qualities to oneself or others), omnipotence (assuming one’s capacity or powers to be aligned with an exaggerated, all-powerful and superior self-image to others) and repression (inability to remember certain experiences or feelings). Remember that these are all not very positive defense mechanisms.

Good to know

There are defense mechanisms that are thought of as “mature” and even “sophisticated”, such as humor, foresight, assertiveness, self-observation, altruism and affiliation!