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Defense mechanisms: How your way of coping with the world prevents your growth.

Defense mechanisms: How your way of coping with the world prevents your growth.

You are awful.

Seriously terrible.

I mean you just plain suck!


Did you feel that anger boiling up inside of you just a little bit? Or, did you start thinking of all the reasons why what I was saying wasn’t true? Or, did you feel your defenses raise up to safeguard you from the mean things that I was saying?

If you felt anger, disgust, an overwhelming urge to exit out of this article, or even a sense of pride start bubbling up inside of you, then you my friend just experienced your confidence preservation mechanism kicking in.

By the way, I didn’t mean all those things that I said about you, I was just trying to prove a point.


So what is a confidence self preservation mechanism?

A self preservation mechanism is a complex process that takes place in your mind; it is activated anytime your idea of who you are (your ego) is threatened.

Imagine that you see yourself as a lighthearted and fun person, and then all of a sudden, one of your friends starts telling everyone how serious you are; they tell you to lighten up, they tell that you need to learn to relax, and they tell you that you need to let go and have more fun.

If you have a pretty strong inclination that you are an easy going and fun person, chances are your defenses are going to spring up pretty quickly. At first you might try to laugh it off (diffuse the situation), then you might try to act like they never said it at all (denial),  you might get defensive and angry (anger), heck, you might even stop talking to this person all together (avoidance): all of these different reactions are your mind’s way of defending your idea of who you are.

A healthy mind (with adequate self esteem and confidence), has to be tough to get through the trials and tribulations of the world, so in a sense, your self preservation mechanisms (ego) was designed by your mind you keep you as effective, confident, and self actualizing as possible.

If someone tell you that you suck, it’s healthy to defend yourself and protect your self esteem; if you try to do something in life that is difficult and you fail, it is helpfull look for reasons why you failed rather than feeling inadequate; and, it is perfectly acceptable to get defensive when someone attacks who you are or if they start attacking your character.


But, your ego becomes a problem when it starts limiting who you think you are and who you could potentially become.

Imagine you just spent a ton of time getting situated in a smaller home, cutting back your expenses, and asking for favors from family and friends all so that you can go back to school full time. You believe that you can make it through the school and better yourself, so you do everything possible to ensure your success, but then tragedy strikes; something unpredicted happens and before you know it you fail most of your first semester’s classes.

A healthy self preservation mechanism will look to find what went wrong and find solutions to the problems (growth mindset) to ensure your success next time (this ensures that you maintain the confidence that you need to pass your classes the second time around). In order to do anything in life, you need to be confident, and by identifying the things that went wrong you can protect your confidence levels by shifting the blame from yourself onto things variables that you can control; but, an unhealthy self preservation method prevents you from fixing the problem, and it usually makes it worse.

In the denial scenario, you might just continue on into the next semester with no changes at all to your routines and habits. As your friends and family ask you about how school is going, you assert that everything is going great and you are really happy to be taking classes. The worse you do in school, the more inadequate you feel as a person, so your mind just denies that anything is wrong at all. Deep down you might even want to talk to your friends and family about how badly things are going, but acknowledging how badly you are doing will destroy your confidence; instead of shifting blame to external actions and behaviors that you can influence, you deny there are any problems at all, and by doing this, you prevent yourself from getting help, making changes, and ultimately you block yourself from finding success in school.

In the avoidance (regression) scenario, you might drop out of classes completely; you take your first semester’s poor results as a sign that you just aren’t cut out for school, and you drop out, avoid your friends and family, and isolate yourself. The more your friends and family try to reach out to you to figure out what is going on, the more you begin to isolate yourself from the outside world. Rather than facing the truth and admitting that you need help with school, you avoid the people that can help you, and you isolate yourself in your feelings of inadequacy.


Denial and avoidance are just two examples of self preservation mechanisms in action…

There are many ways that the ego seeks to protect itself… just a few of them are:

  • denial (pretending that a problem or emotion doesn’t exist or didn’t happen. Example: denying that you need help with your gambling addiction)
  • anger (diffusing the inadequacy you feel by attacking someone or something. Example: a student gets a bad grade and becomes enraged at the teacher claiming the teacher is an awful teacher!)
  • avoidance (regression or avoiding a situation that is challenging or uncomfortable, Example: instead of dealing with the pile of bills on the table you just turn off the lights and lay in bed alone all day)
  • compartmentalization (breaking up or keeping certain things about ourselves separate, Example: a person believes that they are “honest” even though they cheat on their spouse)
  • projection (accusing someone of a bad behavior that YOU are actually guilty of doing. Example: gossiping with a friend about how bad your other friend is for gossiping all the time)
  • displacement (taking out your anger or other emotions on things or people who didn’t cause the feeling in the first place. Example: a man who gets fired and goes home and screams at his wife)
  • intellectualization (dealing only in facts and details in order to avoid confronting the emotional aspect of something. Example: getting diagnosed with terminal cancer and only focusing on the details of treatment rather than the reality of the disease itself)
  • rationalization (reframing a situation to release oneself of emotions or blame. Example: a couple breaks up and each accuses the other of all sorts of bad acts and behaviors while claiming that they themselves are innocent “he was just a jerk anyway!”)
  • undoing (pretending something bad that you did is ok, because you immediately follow it with its opposite. Example: a man who cheats on his wife justifies it by buying her flowers and making efforts to be an excellent husband afterward.)
Its all her fault that we broke up! I never liked her anyway!

Its all her fault that we broke up! I never liked her anyway!


Confidence preservation is healthy and acceptable as long as it does not limit your ability to live happily, interact successfully with others, or prevent you from overcoming a problem or issue.

If you decide that it is better to ignore the fact that your boss is unkind and unfair to his staff because you realize that you really do need your job, then your denial of his bad character may help you learn new skills at your job that can make you successful.

If you you did something wrong and you want to attempt to make things better by “undoing” what you did wrong, this can be a great way to rebuild relationships with people who you have harmed.

Experiencing a terrible loss and intellectualizing it, but finding ways to make things better can be a great way to shift perspective from your problems onto ways to make things better instead.


Confidence preservation is unhealthy when it limits your abilities to live happily, interact well with others, or when it prevents you from growing or overcoming an issue.

If you can’t accept the idea that you aren’t good at something, and you aren’t willing to practice because it would show how inadequate you are, then that is a problem.

If you are so afraid to fail (because it would show how much of a failure you are), that you never try to do anything in life, then that’s a problem.

If you are unable to accept the fact that you are lazy, and spend all of your times picking on others or “hating” because deep down you aren’t happy with yourself, then that is a problem.


We all have these actions at work in our lives and minds, but the trick is learning to identify them and manage them in a healthy way that allows us to grow as people.

Ever been in a gym and saw someone who you thought was much more attractive than you, or dressed better, or had better teeth, and you just had to turn to your friend and point out some terrible trait that the other person had? That was your CONFIDENCE PRESERVATION MECHANISM.

Many of the things that we do that hurt others, cause us to limit ourselves, or accept realities that are not beneficial for us, are all because of our confidence preservation mechanism.

Poor people justify being poor by criticizing the rich and famous, lazy people justify their laziness by claiming to be victims to something outside of their control, and obese people justify being obese by claiming that their obesity comes from genetics or depression or bad luck.

It isn't my fault, now move along, nothing to see here...

It isn’t my fault, now move along, nothing to see here…


Your ego does not want to accept that sometimes you are the problem, and until you realize that your actions, behaviors, and choices ARE the problem, then you are helpless to change things.

The next time you start to feel too strongly about something, or the next time you find yourself feeling angry, defensive, or just denying something, take a few seconds to really examine yourself. Is what you are saying the result of who you really are and what you believe deep down, or is it a result of some belief that your ego created to protect yourself from guilt, blame, or other bad feelings?

A bit of healthy self examination and skepticism can do wonders for you; it helps you grow as a person, it helps you to learn new things, and it challenges you with new situations. So get your ego out of the way and get out from behind the lies that your mind is telling you.

Your ego is nothing but an idea. Who you are is nothing but an idea. You can be, do, and have anything that you want in life you just need the courage to follow your heart.

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