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The concept of defense mechanisms is not something that is foreign to me. Growing up, defense mechanisms were a means of survival. I grew up in an environment of abuse, torment, and trauma. Due to these circumstances I developed an abnormal amount of defense mechanisms from an early age. My self-esteem and self-worth were in a fragile state and I felt that any negative situation would crush me if I were to face it head on. What I found most interesting looking back on my childhood is that these negative defense mechanisms carried on into adulthood. Those same defense mechanisms that I felt were vital to survival as a child negatively affected me in early adulthood.Phebe Cramer and Jack Block addressed my suspicion that defense mechanisms in early childhood could impact adulthood in their peer reviewed article “Preschool Antecedents of Defense Mechanism Use in Young Adults: A Longitudinal Study.” Their study consisted of assessing 90 preschool age children who were then reevaluated at the age of 23.(Cramer and Block, 1998) Their findings indicated continuity between preschool personality and subsequent defense use in young adulthood. It became apparent through the collected data that increased stress and over use of defense mechanisms potentially resulted in the defense becoming apart of a person’s personality in adulthood. Reliance on overdeveloped defense mechanisms in adulthood can be seen throughout a child’s behavior early in preschool.(Cramer and Block, 1998)As I look back on my childhood I was always known as the child who was well adjusted. No one seemed to know about the things in my home life that caused me extreme stress and anxiety. The stress and anxiety caused me overuse defense mechanisms.(Cramer and Block, 1998) Looking back though I can see how my brain used it as a means of survival. My home life was so destructive and unsafe that I subconsciously thought the only way to survive was to put on these defense mechanisms as metaphorical masks. I didn’t have anyone at home building me up or teaching me that I had value and worth. This caused me to feel like I needed to desperately protect the small amount of self-worth I had.   However, this shaped my personality as a child and the defense mechanisms I consistently used became a part of who I am.Many of my defense mechanisms were internal which made it difficult for others to see. When a peer would hurt my feelings, or do something upsetting I would take my feelings and display them as the complete opposite. I took the sentiment “Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.” to an extreme. I felt that even when others were harsh or critical of me I needed to be submissive or things would escalate to a level I couldn’t handle. An example is being nice to a peer after they said something hurtful out of fear that confronting the person would cause an even bigger problem. I feared that the person would somehow get my other peers to join forces with them and bully me even more. I felt the other solution to this was being overly nice to other; even those who hurt me. I ironically received the “Good Citizen Award” in elementary school for being nice to all my peers. My parents, teachers, and peers saw these mechanisms as positive things. They couldn’t see these specific “traits” were more likely defense mechanisms which in turn harmed my development and schema of the world around me. In short, reaction formation meant expressing the opposite of my inner feelings in my outward behavior as a child.(Essential guide to def) Fast forward to my adolescence and these defense mechanisms began to become more intelligent and clever. If you were to ask random classmates from any of my high school classes to describe me the most probable response would be: humorous, goofy, silly, or hilarious. Most of my time in high school was spent trying to mask depression and insecurity with large amounts of humor and silly antics. I tried to use humor to mask my fear of emotion and failure. (Whitbourne, 2011 Growing up I developed an avoidant attachment. I was essentially detached from emotions and the people around me. When others would come to me upset about something their feelings and emotions made me uncomfortable. Instead of being a shoulder to cry on, I tried using humor to evade the emotions they were portraying in front of me. This left me feeling uncomfortable and my friends feeling let down. They took the change to stand out on a ledge and reach out to me during their time of need and I attempted to sweep their problems under the rug. This left others feeling resentful and me feeling confused.In late adolescence I further developed my arsenal of defense mechanisms by diving deeper into my work when things in any area of my life became rough. When I got into arguments with friends, hit rough patches in romantic relationships, or I was simply on bad terms with my parents I would pick up extra shifts at work. Things involving emotions were extremely unappealing to me. I used to avoid any situations involving emotions at all costs because they were just another thing on the list of things I couldn’t control. I focused my gaze on quantitative research and scenarios rather than qualitative ones. I could wrap my mind around quantitative things and put the information into little secure boxes; but with qualitative information all bets were off. While aimlessly wandering through late adolescence I can confidently say fear of emotions and vulnerability kept me lost in a dark place for the longest.Eventually my overuse of defense mechanisms caught up with me. As Phebe Cramer stated in her essay Seven Pillars of Defense Mechanism Theory, “If the function of defenses is to protect the person from excessive anxiety, undue negative affect, and/or loss of self-esteem, then exposure to a situation that increases these reactions should result in an increase in defense use.” She created a study involving children fourth grade girls with the prediction that girls with a previous experience of rejection would react more heavily to rejection than girls considered popular with less experience being rejected by peers. As one would think, her prediction was quite accurate. Girls with a prior experience of rejection used a higher amount of defense mechanisms than popular girls with little to no experience of rejection.(Cramer. 2008) My childhood trauma made me more susceptible to feeling the need to use defense mechanisms when facing real or perceived criticism and rejection. According to Phebe Cramer, “If the function of the defense is to protect the person from excessive anxiety, undue negative affect, and/or loss of self-esteem, then exposure to a situation that increases these reactions should result in an increase in denfe use.”(Cramer. 2008)  Instead of simply gaining more intelligent defense mechanisms and letting the immature ones fall back behind I couldn’t seem to dispose of the immature ones. I felt that I needed all the protection I could get. Even with my extensive arsenal I could not seem to generate enough defense mechanisms to match the magnitude of stress on my shoulders. I began to crumble and had some sort of mental breakdown my second semester of college.Due to my fragile mental state and high amount of stress I decided to seek outpatient therapy in hopes of eradicating my “symptoms.” I met with a therapist who came highly recommended by one of my professors. The first time I met with her I quietly sat down and stated “Okay, so I just need you to fix my constant anxiety and stress. I don’t need to talk about my feelings, childhood, and family stuff. Just fix the anxiety.” Little did I know that all of my symptoms stemmed from my feelings, childhood, and family. I was formally diagnosed with PTSD and learned to work through my trauma history. The hardest part of the entire process was recognizing my defense mechanisms used to keep others at bay and my self-worth protected. By the time we tore down each layer of defense all that was left behind the layers was a hollowed out shell of my sense of self. During this time I struggled with using identification as a defense mechanism. I didn’t know who I was so I tried to be like everyone else around me that I thought “had it all together”. In the present I am currently the most “emotionally healthy” I have ever been. I am only able to verbalize the defense mechanisms I used throughout my childhood due the intense work I did in therapy. Cramer’s studies created a trend showing that once children learn what a specific defense mechanism is and can identify when they are using it they tend to use that defense less frequently.(Cramer 4) This idea resonates with me and the work I did in therapy. The first few months consisted of learning about coping strategies and defense mechanisms. I would often leave sessions feeling frustrated and like nothing was being accomplished; however, the more I studied these defense mechanisms the more I was able to identify which ones I frequently used in my personal life. From that point I learned to sit with this knowledge and seek out the simple question “Why?” Why did I use these defense mechanisms so frequently in my life. Why had I not grown from the immature defenses and moved on to mature and adaptive defenses.(Whitbourne, 2011) This laid the framework for my healing in therapy.Looking back I can clearly see why I subconsciously clung to overusing defense mechanisms throughout the developmental stages of my life; however, I have now learned better ways to cope with the stress I consistently face. My overuse of defense mechanisms has drastically been reduced and I have graduated onto more mature and less frequent defense mechanisms. The most common reason I use humor in my current life in an uncomfortable situation is because I feel uncomfortable with others’ emotions. I want to “fix” them immediately for them so I can stop feeling the anxiety. A more positive strategy I am trying to incorporate is mindfulness. Instead of immediately retreating to my defense mechanisms I try to focus on the words being said by the person and the emotions they are portraying. By doing so I remain present and refrain from putting on the mask of defense. A defense mechanisms I struggled with constantly in therapy was repression. I had a difficult time recalling childhood traumatic memories voluntarily. Instead of being able to take these memories out of storage on command they would creep up on me at unwanted times causing flashbacks. The coping strategy I found most beneficial was practicing breathing exercises during flashbacks. As I began to be able to work through flashbacks my anxiety decreased and my subconscious felt it no longer needed to repress all of the traumatic childhood memories.Slowly but surely the memories came bubbling up to the surfaces; but this time I was prepared for them. A defense strategy I still wrestle with to this day is sublimation. I tend to take negative experiences and/or criticism and transform the attached emotions into productive energy in my career. When a great negative feedback it makes me want to work harder to prove to myself I’m not a failure. I try my best to keep this in check by reminding myself I cannot be perfect and criticism is inevitable. Using positive self talk is a great coping skill I have picked up to combat sublimation.The most important thing I have taken away from identifying my defense mechanisms is that it completely normal to use them from time to time. I just need to lessen the frequency and comes to terms with who I am. Learning to own my vulnerability was a huge beneficial step in accepting my defences. The more I accept them to more they return to a normal baseline. Having defense mechanisms is adaptive and necessary for humanity to thrive individually and as a whole. I think the concept of “Defense Mechanisms” coined by Anna Freud wasn’t meant to make us attempt to eradicate the mechanisms. She brought them to light to show us our brain is constantly trying to work for our inner utmost good. Even when we feel we are worthless or are failures our brains are subconsciously protecting us and trying to adapt to the world around us.

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