Why Your Defense Mechanisms Could Sabotage You

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Per Freud, these defence mechanisms are meant to avoid you from experiencing too much pain and they are applied unconsciously. Don’t worry, we will have a look at the most important ones in just a minute. For now, it is important to understand that while it makes sense and is perfectly normal for the “I” to use these defence mechanisms, they might hinder our success and provide us with easy excuses. 

Now, let’s be completely honest here, your goal of becoming rich, incredibly good looking, or extremely successful in any endeavour, is a desire. You don’t really need millions on your bank account to survive, you don’t need to look like a supermodel to survive, and you don’t need to accomplish any other big goal to survive. Survival is fairly easy in our society and, apart from reproduction, survival is the main goal of your body – whether you like it or not. So, in the view of your psyche, your desire to get what you want, is just a shout out of your “It”, requesting something. This means, that as long as there is a roof over your head and sufficient amounts to eat (or at least a way how you could secure those two things), your “I” will very likely try to moderate its way out of your desires by using some of the following defence mechanisms. 

For that reason, we need to be aware what they are and how our “I” will try to mislead us to make its own life as easy as possible. 



I happen to know a person who has constantly been struggling with being overweight. According to him, there is no reasonable explanation for this. He only looks at the food and gains weight. After then eating it, of course! Incidentally, you can see him often with two or three sausages on his plate. When there is a box of candy open on a table, one by one end up in his mouth when he passes the plate throughout the day. And there are witnesses who hear him getting up at night for a quick night time snack on a regular basis. Despite his big belly, he constantly claims he has actually lost weight, whenever the whole weight and health topic becomes part of a table discussion.

Funny, isn’t it? He lies to himself and others and probably believes his own lie. This behaviour is called denial. Sometimes our “I” just denies that something is true to protect us from the negative feelings that are attached to the truth. 

And the above is a good example on how our protection mechanisms can lead to great destruction in our lives. By continuing to live in denial, he won’t be able to change his behaviour. His overweight has already led to surgery. According to him this surgery had nothing to do with being overweight. Sigh!

Being in denial is often a behaviour that can be observed in addiction-related phenomena. The person who drinks daily but refuses to admit that there is a problem. Or the person who smokes regularly but claims she could quit at any time, if she wished to do so. But obviously, it could occur anywhere and in any situation. 

When someone has started numerous businesses that all failed one way or another, and starting another one while thinking that the outcome will be different this time, without actively reflecting and learning on what caused the other businesses to fail for example.

Or going on yet another crash-diet, although having felt victim for the yo-yo effect after the last dozen times, but thinking that this time “everything will be different”.

However, denial isn’t something that always happens unbeknownst from us. In fact, very often, we are aware about something, but consciously deny it. 

Those people who are in deep debt, but refuse to get their financial accounts in order or even open post, check their bank accounts, and so on. 

Another variation is admitting something to be true but denying that it has any effects on us. 

Someone who is obese, but states that she is healthy and deems herself to be sexy and satisfied with herself. Even though, she is sweating when walking the stairs, doesn’t go into public swimming pools out of shame, and is very likely to die early. 

Living in denial and minimising or neglecting its consequences is emotionally easier for her and also more comfortable than admitting to it in full responsibility and doing what needs to be done to change that status.

Or a young woman, who feels a lump in her breast, but doesn’t go to see a doctor, because just continuing her life, is much less emotionally challenging than getting a final diagnosis as to whether she is suffering from breast cancer or not. 

Living in denial has emotional advantages, that is undisputed. After all, we are all going to die one day, and we could all die today. But what would our lives look like if we would be worrying the whole day about what could happen to our family, friends, or pets when they leave the house? Or how much drive and motivation would we be able to come up with, if we’d constantly be reminded that we it will all vanish anyway, as we will have to leave this planet one day.

However, denial becomes problematic if it stands in the way of reaching our goals. If we just deny that something is true, we have an easy way out of any confrontation as to what we did wrong, or could have done better. And this won’t resolve any of our problems. It won’t help us to get better and achieve a different outcome on our next try. 

Facing the truth is hard. But it is the only way to change future outcomes resembling past outcomes.  


A close relative to denial is rationalization. This happens, when you hate your job for example, but refuse to look for something else for a variety of reasons, and then justify that your job is not that bad after all, and at least it provides you with a roof over your head. 

Or when you don’t talk to this gorgeous woman in the disco because you really lack self-esteem, but you justify it to yourself by saying that in reality you prefer being a single anyways. Or when you would like to learn a new skill, write a book or work on your business – but don’t do it, because you prefer to watch that documentation about who Jack the Ripper really was, and justifying your lack of action by the good old: “I don’t have enough time for a new skill, book or work on my business”.

With rationalization, we explain our “bad” behaviour in a rational way that justifies it in front of ourselves. Like this, we reduce our inner conflict. And sabotage ourselves. 

Rationalization happens all the time and I am pretty sure that you have been fallen for its deceptive calls just as much as I have. 

Usually this rationalization happens after we have done something that we know we shouldn’t have done. By doing it, however, we have created a problem in our mind. Because we know that there is an honest reason why we didn’t do it. Fear. Laziness. Hedonistic aspirations. Lack of self-esteem. Or whatever else you can think of. But to protect us from the harsh truth, we decide to lie to ourselves – or to put it differently: come up with a creative reason why it wasn’t our original goal in the first place. So, all of a sudden, it wasn’t that important, right, or desired after all.

An ideal way of action would be to rationally analyse a situation, then set a goal, and then follow through with that goal. 

When we rationalize, however, we usually postpone the analysis of the situation. Instead we knowingly make the wrong decision, and then find an excuse afterwards to ensure ourselves that it actually was the right decision. Problem solved!

It is the voice in your head that says: “Well, I didn’t want to be slim so much anyhow. A real man has curves and a belly is so much better for cuddling”, “I said I am going to write one blog post each day, but two per week should be okay as well. Google will like that probably much more”, “I didn’t want that job I applied to anyways, so I am happy. In this new role the responsibilities would have been too stressful. Phew, how lucky I am that I didn’t get that job”, “Quitting on drinking wasn’t such a good idea – one glass of wine is actually healthy”. 

These rationalizations – or: excuses- are your biggest enemy. Because they provide you with a justification for mediocrity. They are the best friend of the status quo and the advocate of laziness and procrastination. Constantly lying to yourself is a sure way to a frustrating and boring live, disillusion, a loss of connection with reality, constant disappointment and a loss of opportunities for growth and success.

HIER WEITER And when we consider rationalization against the backdrop of the phenomenon of small steps, the reason why we eat the pizza, smoke the cigarette, or fail at working on our goals, is that the results are not immediately visible. If smoking one cigarette would give you cancer, you’d sure as hell, did not smoke it. But it is the slow process, which we can use an excuse. We know that one pizza won’t make us fat, so we can give ourselves the excuse that we will only eat one pizza, which won’t have an effect, and make it up to our bodies by *enter excuse here*. 

The problem is that part of us is still smart, despite our best attempts to rationalize our bad behavior. It’s the part in us that loses its faith in us over time. Just think about those people who always tell you they will do this or that … the people who tell you they will meet you the following weekend, invite you for dinner, but never do what they say. 

Do you like them? 

If you are like me, then you probably avoid dealing with these people at all costs, because they are just terrible time-wasters and energy-drainers. They come and tell you their next story about whatever it is they want to do, and you say to yourself while they are talking: “Shut up, you won’t be doing it anyways, so please don’t go into too much detail”. And probably you will start to avoid them altogether. 

So how can we change this behavior? Well the first step is to realise that we lie to ourselves. This step is a bit harder for some. But fortunately, you have already done what is required to tackle it. As the best way to realise that you rationalise is to know about rationalization in the first place. I am sure that if you take five minutes to reflect, you can well come up with quite a few situations in which you didn’t do what you wanted to do or did something that you didn’t want to do. And in which you came up with an excuse to justify your behaviour.

As a second step, we need to be honest to ourselves. We don’t like people who lie straight in our face. So it would be a good first step to stop being like that to ourselves. It might hurt a bit, if we admit to ourselves that we are far from perfect. But this is what we need to do to be able to work on it.

So if you find yourself saying: “Well, I don’t have time for that anyway”, stop for a second and realize that you are just rationalizing and be a bit more inquisitive as to what the real reason is. You could always get more time by getting up earlier or staying up longer or by cutting a bit on all the time you waste each day, such as watching Netflix, surfing on the internet, being in touch with your friends on Facebook and Twitter, or reading the news.

The real reason why you are not doing what you originally wanted, before the rationalization set in, might be that you are scared, don’t know how to do it, are too lazy to do it or don’t believe that you could make it. Whatever it is, with the real reason now uncovered, you can work on it.

Drawing conclusions

We have learned that our psyche has a wide variety of defence mechanisms at its disposal to make us feel good about ourselves, when in fact, we shouldn’t – provided that we really want to reach our goals. And we also know that these behavioural patterns are rooted did within ourselves. Our subconscious. So what can we take from this?

            Well first of all, it would be worth to reflect on our lives for a minute. If you want, you can make a list of incidents where you failed, and then try to remember what let to the specific failing. Based on this, it is usually easy to spot a pattern. 

            If you are having problems remembering what exactly it was that caused you to fail, you can at least start to keep a diary of your daily actions. Make sure you note the feelings you have and what you say to yourself – especially against the backdrop of the defence mechanisms, we discussed above.

            This will help you to identify when the defence mechanisms take over and to react on that. Once defence mechanisms have been uncovered, it is no problem beating them, by steering your Ego towards your desire.

            So your defence mechanism might be: “I am quitting my studies, after all, I am happy in my job as a waitress”, rationalization.