Our brain is fascinating. It's always there when we need it, giving us advice, encouraging us, prodding us to make decisions, and protecting us from all sorts of pain and otherwise hurtful memories. Our brain has our back, so to speak, but as a ruthless protector of our very selves, it sometimes relies on primitive tactics that can create more problems than they actually resolve.
In order to deal with the unpleasant events in our lives, our brain has the ability to create defense mechanisms. These mechanisms often operate in our subconscious and influence what we tell ourselves, or what we do to make ourselves feel better about the negative experience. Seventeen different defense mechanisms have been identified so far. All of them work to deflect our attention away from either accepting responsibility, or facing the painful situation altogether. In order to describe these mechanisms, I am going to tell you a story about Ludo, a fictitious character who sadly happened to possess most of them.
Ludo grew up in a large family, where everyone was expected to achieve - at something. His grades and accomplishments, however, were never noteworthy compared with the rest of the family and at times he felt like he was a disappointment to them. His parents encouraged, pushed, and finally simply gave up on him. Ludo grew up feeling unloved and sad much of the time.
The anxiety that these feelings caused him grew, and by adolescence he had developed his first defense mechanism. Whenever he felt hurt, he just got angry (Reaction Formation). Ludo soon became a bully, and through tormenting others (Acting Out) he not only let off some steam, but he developed a following of others that looked up to him and made him feel important.
One day, Ludo met Lottie, his first romance. It wasn't long, however, before their relationship started to crumble. Their breakup ended badly. Ludo sulked for days and refused to return Lottie's personal items (Regression). When his family asked what happened, he said he had gotten tired of her neediness and had broken it off, even though he knew Lottie had done the breaking (Rationalization). When out with friends, he would express concern for Lottie's "drinking problem" (Projection), placing his own traits and actions onto her.
Out for a drive one night, he happened to spot Lottie's car parked outside the movie theater and he dragged his key across the driver's side (Passive Aggression). After way too many drinks at the bar (Avoidance), he headed home. Ludo swerved to avoid an object in the road, but it was too late, "dumb animal" he shouted (Avoidance). It wasn't until he got home that he realized the family dog was missing. Ludo denied that he had anything to do with his dog's death (denial).
He tried to put the accident and the loss of his girlfriend out of his mind (Suppression) but found these feelings erupting in anger whenever something or someone reminded him. For a while, he took to driving recklessly through the neighborhood, yelling at anyone who gave him a look (Displacement). At the bar, he'd crack jokes about roadkill and bad girlfriends with his friends (Humor).
One day, during a particularly low moment, Ludo did some serious soul searching. Unemotionally, he did research on avoidance, anger and drinking (Intellectualizing). In an effort to find a way of channeling his anger in a more acceptable manner, Ludo signed up for martial arts classes (Sublimation). He put in extra hours at work so that he and others would see him as being a good employee (Compensating). He volunteered his time at the local humane society hoping to make amends somehow for his pet's death (Altruism).
Finally he sought out professional help for his anger. But, when he failed to show up for several of his appointments, the clinic refused to schedule him anymore. And you can only imagine what happened next.
The characters are not real, but the mechanisms are. Be aware of which ones might be present in your life and work to accept and face your true feelings.
To your health and happiness,