Saturday, February 13, 2010

Psychology Class- Part 10 of 12

In Part 9 I provided a primer for this week's post (if you haven't read it, you might get lost on this one). This post is another "Reflection on Learning" assignment. As before, the question is in red. Let's get right to it:

In your own opinion, do you think that it is easier to identify the use of a defense mechanism in yourself or in other people? Why or why not? Most people tend to favor one mechanism over the others. Which one do you think you favor and why do you think that is your “defense mechanism of choice”?

For me, identifying a defense mechanism in myself is probably about as easy as identifying it in someone else. I’ve been conscious of my use of these for several years, and I tend to catch myself. I would say that the one that I prefer is definitely humor. I like humor anyways and use it in regular conversation all the time, so it comes naturally- which makes it interesting to determine if I’m using it as a defense mechanism or just making a regular joke (especially for other people who might be watching me- heh, heh, less likely someone will challenge me…See!? There it is again!). I am also personally familiar with many of the others; I used them a lot when I was growing up.

The personal familiarity with the different mechanisms has granted me the ability to easily recognize when they are in use by someone else. Since I still utilize humor as one, it is the easiest of the mechanisms to identify in other people. I am always watching people and paying attention to what they are saying…and analyzing it to death. It has become quite easy to identify when someone else is using a mechanism.

It is difficult to say which one is easier at this point, though. It really depends on who I’m around. Some people have more insecurities than I do, which causes them to use the mechanisms more often than I; and there are also others who have fewer insecurities than I do, which allows them to use the mechanisms less often. And even with this dependency, I’m only realizing the relative frequency, not really the ease of recognition. I’m still not sure about the ease of recognition.

It seems that one would only be able to reliably identify if they were accurately recognizing the use of a defense mechanism in himself. The reason for this is that it is extremely difficult to test someone else. If you were to recognize what you thought to be a defense mechanism in someone else, you would need to find out for certain by asking them. Since a defense mechanism is an unconscious action used to disguise an insecurity, they are not likely to admit they have the insecurity (otherwise they wouldn’t be using the mechanism in the first place). You may be correct in identifying the use of a defense mechanism, but you will not know until the person admits to you that they had the insecurity (which may never happen). Now, if someone denies that they have that insecurity and denies the use of a defense mechanism, you might be tempted to think that they are now using “denial”, but you still have the same challenges to overcome to figure out if you are correct- just this time, it is one more level deep. Using a defense mechanism to hide the use of a defense mechanism to hide an insecurity requires three admissions on the part of the person, which are three opportunities to damage the ego.

This difficulty in knowing if one is correct in their identification of the use of a defense mechanism in someone else is , of course, only difficult if the defense is used to hide an opinion of themselves (e.g. “I’m too fat!”; “I’m too short!”; “I’m dumb!”; etc…). It is easy to know if one is correct, though, if the person is attempting to hide their denial of a fact (i.e. “the earth is round”).

A while back I was discussing some recent scientific discoveries with a friend. I presented the information and provided a sound argument for a conclusion that my friend does not accept. I guess she felt “backed into a corner”, because she immediately stated, “Well, you’re just in denial of the facts!” This was clearly an example of emotions overriding reason, but she is using defense mechanisms in a quite advanced way to disguise the use of emotions over reason in her acceptance that the facts are wrong. She’s using a combination of two: Projection and Denial. Denial is in use when she is unwilling to accept what is true. Projection is in use when she accuses me of that same thing.

Something that I have noticed (not just remember from last week) about defense mechanisms is that it gives the person using them a false sense of control of the situation. In my friend’s case, she used her particular statement because she wanted to stop the conversation before she was forced to accept something that was uncomfortable to her (the emotions triggered by my conclusion stimulated her “pain center” rather than her “pleasure center”. See my post on the OLS for more on this). Because I recognized what she had done, I allowed the conversation to end. If I had continued by accepting her rhetorical challenge, she might have continued to erect walls as I tore them down. This would only lead to frustration for both of us and would only end in a damaged (if not, dead) relationship.

This was a case of my finding a person with a higher level of insecurity (at least about the topic we were discussing), and therefore a more fragile ego (in the same regard), than I and my ego. What helped me identify her defense mechanism so quickly and react in a nondestructive way, was that I had used the exact same combination of mechanisms regarding similar issues in the past.

Next week will be the final assignment. It is a "Reflect on Learning" regarding the entire course, so I pull much of what I discussed together into a striking realization. This won't be the conclusion of the series, though. The following week I will conclude with the analysis promised in the introductory post.

For easier navigation in this series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12


  1. What was your sound argument?
    What facts did she accuse you of being in denial of?

  2. Samuel,
    I was purposely vague on the details because the person is a good friend of mine and my wife. I do not want to appear that I am attempting to publicly humiliate anyone, especially a friend. Most discussions similar to this one will be addressed at some point on the blog, although I may not make reference to where or who inspired me to write about a particular topic. If you read the blog often, you will find the argument presented and facts discussed.


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