Defense mechanisms according to Freud with examples. Psychology books worth reading

Substitution in psychology is a mechanism of psychological defense from an undesirable context, the basis of which is the replacement of an unacceptable action with an acceptable one or the transfer of a desired reaction from an unattainable objective or subjective object to a possible one for release. Replacement refers to secondary, higher-level defense mechanisms.

The process of substitution (displacement, displacement) has been the subject of reflection and research by various philosophers, psychologists, writers, and thinkers throughout the entire period of studying human behavioral patterns. Nowadays, the psychoanalytic concept that most accurately explains the operation of the mechanism is predominant. A person with this mechanism expressed is characterized by practicality in solving problems, achieving effectiveness in the profession, personal relationships, and having high adaptability. They qualitatively plan the solution to the required problem. They strive to transform abstract problems into a concrete sequence of steps. It is believed that outstanding individuals, successful in various directions, have developed this mechanism in a constructive form.

Substitution is a defense mechanism that is characterized by distortion (displacement) of reality and unconsciousness of the process. It can have constructive and destructive implementation. Usually the psyche uses defense mechanisms in combination, and the personality often uses a combination, with possible predominance, accentuation, of one of them. In the case of accentuation of the replacement mechanism, the personality is characterized by activity (constructive form), excitability, irritability (destructive form).

What is substitution

Substitution in psychology, as stated above, is one of the types of psychological defense. It represents the transfer of a personal reaction to what is happening to a more accessible object or the replacement of an inappropriate action with a suitable one. Otherwise called displacement or displacement.

This method of defense has been studied by dozens of psychologists and even philosophers for many years. This is why the term “substitution” has so many explanations.

Freud spoke most about substitution in psychology. In his opinion, this is a psychological process that involves replacing actions with words, replacing an inaccessible object with a more accessible one, etc. Moreover, what a person receives in return often causes him misunderstanding and bewilderment. Freud applied the concept of substitution to different areas of life. One example is dreams. The scientist believed that they are a substitute for what is hidden deep in the human subconscious.

Interestingly, Freud used substitution to explain a number of phenomena that would seem to have nothing to do with psychology. So, with the help of this concept he tried to explain exhibitionism.

Types and mechanisms of defenses according to Freud, description and characteristics

Mechanisms of psychological defense of the individual offer a unique solution to a person’s interpsychic conflict. The conflict is masked and repressed; Freud believed that the main task of the psychoanalyst in this case is to identify the patient’s psychological defenses from the patient’s symptoms.

In the future, by analyzing them, it will be possible to say what desires and norms of the Superego lie at the heart of the human psyche, which do not allow these desires to be realized. The last stage of working with psychological defenses is to convey to the person’s consciousness the rules and norms dictated by the Superego, not by suggestion, but by communication and understanding.

Mechanisms of psychological defense of the individual - a diagram of what it looks like according to Freud.

In order to independently determine your psychological defenses, it is necessary to study the basic mechanisms of the psyche that allow you to alleviate anxiety and get rid of negative awareness of internal contradictions.

crowding out

Repression is the unconscious “forgetting” of unpleasant facts and unfulfilled needs, replacing them with completely achievable goals. This defense is the most universal way to get rid of internal conflict and consists of actively excluding feelings, desires and impulses from the sphere of consciousness that cause pain, shame or guilt.

The action of this mechanism can explain many cases when a person forgets to perform certain tasks that he absolutely does not want to do or displaces from memory information about any significant dates that remind him of something unpleasant or imply the performance of undesirable actions.

Repression of true but unacceptable experiences can be expressed in an attempt to justify one’s situation by external circumstances. For example, a person may explain his reluctance to engage in work by unfavorable conditions: “I don’t go to work not because I like to idle, but because the political situation interferes with normal professional development.”


Rationalization is a pseudo-reasonable explanation. This defense is an attempt to control negative or unacceptable information for a person through distortion of a fact or the behavior of others (or oneself).

When a person rationalizes, he uses the plasticity of logic and adjusts an event or human behavior to his model of the world (in his direction), while distorting the rational facts of this event.


Regression is a return to earlier types of behavior (most often associated with childhood), which show early psychological development, infantilization. For example, during a feeling of envy in case of frustration (impossibility of satisfying) a need, intensified by the unpleasant awareness that someone else is satisfying it without hindrance.

A person exhibits a tendency to short-term return to earlier patterns of behavior (lack of control over emotions, categorical demands “I want!”), which in the past ensured the satisfaction of needs.

Some researchers believe that regression is usually perceived as a last line of defense, resorted to when more “adult” defense mechanisms are ineffective.


Defense consists of attributing one’s own negative experiences and thoughts to another person (other people or even events) in order to justify oneself and protect one’s behavior. Projection often manifests itself in a love relationship with a partner and touches on the topic of jealousy.

For example, a girl may constantly suspect her loved one of cheating, but at the same time admit the idea of ​​flirting or having a relationship with another man. Thus, what a person sees and judges in others may be present in him in the form of aspirations, obsessions or thoughts.


Denial is a mechanism in which information that worries a person or can lead to internal conflicts ceases to be perceived by him.

An example of denial is an experiment with the opposite effect, when 2 groups of subjects with different views on the same issue were given “refuting” scientific articles that prove the falsity of the views held by the participants in the experiment.

Despite the presence of factual material, the subjects began to deny the scientific nature of what they saw, arguing that they better know the validity of their point of view. The experiment confirmed that the reluctance to admit oneself is wrong and accept information that is unpleasant for oneself often leads to the emergence of a denial mechanism.

Isolation, alienation

The defense mechanism consists in isolating traumatic factors within a person’s consciousness. Due to the suppression of some stress factors or as a result of a traumatic event, a person “disconnects” from his feelings and experiences.

Because of this, he experiences such deviations as:

  • derealization (problems with perception, when the patient perceives the world as unreal or distant);
  • depersonalization (loss of one’s own “I”, loss of the sense of oneself as a person with mental properties);
  • emotional burnout (a condition in which a person constantly feels tired, depressed, physical, moral, mental exhaustion, lack of joy, lack of desire to do anything);
  • psychosomatics (the impact of psychological factors (emotions, experiences, feelings) on the appearance of various somatic ailments).


The defense mechanism is to reduce feelings of anxiety and dissatisfaction and the appearance of a false feeling that by avoiding unpleasant situations, you can prevent the occurrence of anxiety. Compensation often manifests itself in cases of envy.

The defense mechanism helps to restrain the negative emotions of the subject of envy that arise as a result of an unfavorable outcome for him in social comparison. Compensation is one of the forms of protection against an inferiority complex and is manifested in the varied attempts of the subject of envy to objectively or subjectively improve his situation or find a suitable replacement for the object of his envy.

The compensation mechanism can manifest itself quite differently, for example, in active methods (due to achieving superiority in another area), passive methods (using the speech structure “but I have...”, fantasizing). In any of these cases, only the subjective assessment of the situation changes and thereby some imaginary equality is achieved and anxiety is eliminated.


Psychological protection allows a person to feel better than others in the presence of any shortcomings.

In this case, attention is focused precisely on the inferior qualities that a person tries to develop in himself enough to prove his worth.

Reactive education

Reaction formation is a defense against forbidden impulses by expressing opposing impulses. Behavior manifests itself in the absence of acceptance of any qualities and motives, which leads to the demonstration in society of behavior completely opposite to these motives.


Splitting, from the point of view of psychoanalysts, is a mechanism of psychological defense that allows the subject to take a non-ambivalent (dual) position in relation to any phenomenon of the external world. The mechanism manifests itself in the inability to combine the conventional “bad” and “good” - some opposite qualities - into a single whole.


Identification is the modeling of one’s own behavior after the model of another, authoritative person (especially pronounced in demonstrative individuals).

The process of identification is the unconscious association of oneself with:

  • another subject;
  • group;
  • model;
  • ideal.

In the process of identification, a person is unconsciously compared with another (the object of identification). Both individuals and groups can act as objects of identification.

The unconscious transference of feelings and qualities inherent in another person (patterns, views on them) is often observed in children, but also manifests itself in people who cannot find any support in their lives other than authority.


Inclusion is a reduction in the significance of a psychotraumatic factor due to a change in the value system into which this factor fits as part of a broader system. In part, inclusion can be called a form of rationalization; it consists of explaining to oneself that some event is not critical in relation to larger-scale problems.

For example, a person has lost his job and initially considers this event tantamount to a severe life blow. However, in the future, a switching mechanism can be triggered in a person’s psyche, which forms the thought “someone is now even worse off than me,” which allows you to look at your problems differently and find the strength to look for a way out of a difficult situation.


Substitution is the transfer of an action directed at an inaccessible object to another accessible object. An example of substitution is breaking dishes, taking out anger on other objects. Psychological defense also often manifests itself in family relationships.

For example, a mother hates some character traits in her husband, but takes out her aggression on a child who may in some situation resemble his behavior.

Also, the effect of the psychological mechanism of substitution is manifested in the suppression of anger, irritation, hostility directed at the object of envy, and the choice of another person to take out aggression. When the success (achievement, acquisition) of others causes an envious attitude, the subject, afraid of being caught in this feeling, masks it and shows the opposite emotions (joy, admiration).

However, the entire complex of negative emotions and feelings generated by envy (resentment, irritation or anger) finds an outlet on a “harmless” object (for example, a child and spouse). Aggression and bitterness can also be directed at oneself, expressed in self-flagellation and self-blame, which further wounds an already wounded sense of self-esteem.


The mechanisms of psychological defense of the individual manifest themselves in different ways, depending on the person’s individual internal conflicts. Freud believed that the most effective defense mechanism is sublimation. It is distinguished by the redirection of the energy of drives into socially oriented activities.

From the point of view of psychoanalysis, sublimation is a defense that a person needs to achieve. Thanks to sublimation, a person realizes that he cannot get what he wants, and instead of retreating into other psychological defenses, he tries to direct energy into social and scientific activities.

It is possible to understand sublimation by highlighting the types and aspects of its defense mechanism:

Horizontal sublimationThe horizontal type of sublimation means the usual replacement of a person’s egoistic sexual needs with other desires, often also egoistic. An example of horizontal sublimation is communication, delicious food, contemplation of art and nature, and more.
Vertical sublimationSublimation in the vertical direction is called emotional or internal sublimation. The vertical level involves the literal transfer of love to an abstract wide circle of people, which can be expressed in religious actions, charity, participation in creative processes and constructive activities.

It is also necessary to understand that the mechanism of sublimation does not occur by repressing negation and displacement; the phenomenon is a method of protection without loss of psychic energy, because during the process of sublimation, internal impulses transform into another form of their implementation, that is, nothing is suppressed or blocked.

Types of substitution

There are 2 main types of substitution:

  • replacing an object with a more accessible one;
  • replacement needs.

In the first case, a person takes out his feelings on objects that are of no value to him. It turns out that an outburst of emotions does not harm anyone. Let's give examples from life. Imagine a student who tore his notebook out of anger at the teacher. Or a woman who broke a couple of plates in the midst of an argument. This is how they take out aggression on insignificant objects.

Substitution in psychology: examples from life

We face replacement every day. Most often, this defense concerns unwanted feelings that society does not approve of.

Example No. 1

Petya got a bad grade at school. Mom yelled at him. He didn’t answer her and silently went to his room. When his beloved cat Vaska sat on his lap, Petya abruptly threw him off and even kicked him lightly. This is substitution. Petya could not answer his mother’s complaints; he had accumulated tension, which he “splashed out” on the pet. By the way, mom had no intention of yelling at Petya because of his grade. It’s just that today at work, the boss spoke to her disrespectfully in front of everyone, and she couldn’t answer him. She also had accumulated tension, which is why she lashed out at her son.

Example No. 2

Lena really wanted to buy expensive cookies at the pastry shop, but she couldn’t afford it. As a result, she found a similar recipe on the Internet, bought the necessary ingredients and baked it herself. It turned out no worse than in a candy store! This is a successful example of substitution, when a girl could not get what she wanted, but figured out how to create an analogue.

Example No. 3

Masha saw her boyfriend Seryozha holding hands with another girl. Masha came home and tore up the photograph she shared with Seryozha, and also broke the cup that he gave her. She transferred her resentment and anger towards Seryozha to other objects.

Substitution mechanism

The principle of substitution in psychology is associated with activity and the ability to move. The type of temperament plays a role here. A person with highly developed substitution comes to his senses, expresses feelings and negative emotions through some actions. Some people play sports for this purpose. This is a good opportunity to calm down, achieve spiritual harmony and, of course, increase physical activity.

An alternative to physical activity is an active lifestyle. Most often, a person with developed substitution is a leader, holds a leadership position, is respected by colleagues, and has some weight in society. However, there are also a number of negative aspects. The behavior of such people from time to time shows harshness and aggression. This happens if they fail to complete the planned tasks. Their behavior in this case should not be considered a desire to harm someone. This is just mental stress caused by unforeseen difficulties and interference.


One of the most interesting properties of the living world is its ability to adapt: ​​organisms flexibly adapt to the external and internal environment in which they exist. This innate ability of every healthy individual of the living world determines the preservation of a given biological species and the survival of its specific representative.

In modern psychology, there are theories suggesting that many properties of the human psyche were formed on the basis of the biological properties of the body. Thus, instincts in the process of socialization of the individual turn into human feelings. For example, anger is a manifestation of aggression, which is based on the instinct of self-preservation; fear is another form of the instinct of self-preservation, originating in the desire to escape from a stronger enemy. The reproductive instinct is transformed into a feeling of love for a person of the opposite sex or a child (parental instinct).

Such a transformation of the biological into the psychological can occur not only in the sphere of instincts. Perhaps the ability to adapt to the physical environment is transformed into the ability to adapt to the psychological one. Then the methods of adaptation become the mechanisms of psychological defense, which will be discussed in this work.


Explain your irrational behavior with reasonable reasons. Rationalization helps justify your mistakes and misdeeds in the eyes of others. This mechanism serves, first of all, to preserve and protect self-esteem. Let's say a student who fails a session explains this by saying that he doesn't really want to study in his specialty.

Rationalization also helps to cope with frustration by providing explanations for those actions of people that can cause pain and suffering if understood correctly. For example, a rejected man explains his failure by saying that the woman is stupid and ugly.

This mechanism extinguishes anxiety and helps to find arguments and logic in one’s own unacceptable behavior or desires.


In stressful situations, defense mechanisms almost always come into play. According to Freud, projection comes in second place. Its meaning is that the individual tries to transfer his thoughts, feelings and life circumstances to other people. Thus, he relieves himself of all blame and responsibility for his own failures and troubles. An example would be a student or student who has not prepared for an exam. He tries to justify his bad grade by a biased attitude on the part of the teacher. If we talk about athletes, they often blame the poor quality of sports equipment, the playing field or dishonest refereeing for their defeat.

crowding out

Considering Freud's defense mechanisms, first of all it is worth noting repression. This is a kind of basis with the help of which more complex mechanisms can subsequently be formed. Repression is the “forgetting” or “removing” from consciousness of those feelings and thoughts that cause psychological discomfort. At the same time, events that preceded the injury may disappear from memory.

It is worth noting that repression is not absolute. There is always a risk that memories of unpleasant events will burst out, and therefore you have to spend a huge amount of energy to suppress them. This can negatively affect a person's personal development. Moreover, even if the repression mechanism has worked, the stimulus may appear again in a dream or slip through in slips of the tongue.

Defense mechanisms according to Freud are reflected in real life. So, for example, a decent husband, due to his moral principles, does not allow the possibility of cheating on his wife. He does his best to repress such thoughts and fantasies. Nevertheless, it is possible that in a dream he takes part in pleasures with a stranger.

Psychology books worth reading

Sooner or later, any person begins to be interested in certain mechanisms of the work of the conscious and subconscious. The best way to get acquainted with the work of a psychologist such as Sigmund Freud. Books in which human psychology is best presented are:

  • "Introduction to Psychoanalysis" is one of the most famous books, moreover, this work is considered the most significant in all of Freud's activities. Here are the main provisions that had a decisive influence on the further development of not only psychology and medicine, but also fiction.
  • “The Interpretation of Dreams” is a monumental work that has become one of the most striking in the twentieth century. Here is the result of Freud's study of the unconscious part of consciousness, which controls human instincts, but is difficult to study. The symbolism of dreams is discussed here, which helps to understand the problems, desires and fears of the individual.
  • The Psychopathology of Everyday Life is Freud's second monumental study. The book is relevant to this day, and therefore is key in the study of psychology. The main attention is paid to unconscious motives, which not only can act as incentives, but also often become the cause of psychological disorders.
  • “I and It” is a kind of collection of the psychologist’s works, which can be considered the culmination of his work. It not only describes the basic principles of psychoanalysis, but also presents their sources and justifications.
  • "Totem and Taboo" is a work in which Freud, drawing on his own research and theories, tries to uncover the problems of genesis. Thus, the author addresses the problem of culture, religion, morality, law and other aspects of social life.
  • “Mass Psychology and Analysis of the Human Self” is a work in which Freud carried out fundamental work on the study of crowd behavior. The need of the masses for a leader is also explained.
  • “Essays on the Psychology of Sexuality” is a collection in which the psychologist raises the most sensitive topics. From here you can learn about the nature and causes of intimate deviations, a tendency towards perversion, as well as sadism, homosexuality, etc.

It is worth noting that these are not all books on psychology that are worth reading. It is also important to study the work of other specialists who had a slightly different view of things than Freud.

general information

Psychoanalysis is one of the directions in psychology, founded by Sigmund Freud; it was he who introduced the concept of defense mechanisms into use, believing that this is a way for the psyche to protect itself from stress.

If we didn’t have this kind of self-defense, we would all suffer from neuroses. They are acquired, usually in childhood; the child, observing the type of reaction of adults to various stimuli, adopts them, because he believes that this is how to behave correctly and necessary. In this way he socializes, even without being able to speak. He will “absorb everything like a sponge” and, of course, repeat it in the future.

Children are not as stupid as they seem at first glance; they are able to “read” information, even if it is carefully guarded. They know how to feel, they cannot and do not know only how to deal with it later. And if parents were “stuck” on one mechanism, or used them too often, then you shouldn’t be surprised that their child, already an adult, will have similar behavior and problems.

Definition of the concept

Defense mechanisms are one of the most important concepts of psychoanalysis, which are ways of self-defense (namely, protecting one’s “I”), regulating negative impulses that emanate from a person’s consciousness. This happens under the influence of social rules and norms, which, one way or another, put pressure on the individual. The defense mechanism is designed to protect a person from possible experiences and anxieties that are caused by the discrepancy between social views and a person’s personal views. This term was first coined in 1894 by the famous psychologist Sigmund Freud.

Reactive education

Freud's depth psychology also highlights such a mechanism as reactive formation. It is implemented at two levels:

  • a negative or unacceptable impulse is suppressed;
  • At the subconscious level, impulses of opposite content are formed.

Most often, such mechanisms take place in public life. Thus, pronounced sexual desire is considered extremely indecent in society. Thus, a woman who has a similar feature tries in every possible way to suppress it in herself. To earn a positive image in society, she can even act as an ardent fighter for morality and ethics. The same applies to men who strongly oppose homosexual relationships, but themselves secretly have similar inclinations.


Defense mechanisms according to Freud are a kind of unconscious reaction that is triggered in a stressful situation or in the face of a threat. Regardless of what type of barrier is triggered, in any case, we are talking about a significant expenditure of energy, which has an overwhelming effect on the ego. In addition, the more effective a particular mechanism turns out to be, the more energy it requires, and the more it distorts objective reality.

Given the unconscious nature of defensive reactions, not every person can control them. However, having noticed the effectiveness of a particular barrier, an individual can consciously resort to it in a stressful situation. You should not rely excessively on such a technique, because it can become a very fertile ground for the emergence of psychological problems.


Personal defense mechanisms according to Freud include such an element as denial. It consists in the fact that a person categorically refuses to acknowledge that a negative event has occurred. The most striking example is the reaction of a child to the death of a beloved pet. He refuses to acknowledge this loss, believing that the animal is still somewhere nearby. A similar example can be given in connection with the loss of a loved one. Refusal to accept the obvious can develop into a religious belief that the relative now lives in heaven or that his spirit is still present in the house.

Often the denial mechanism is triggered when it comes to health. Thus, feeling the symptoms of a particular disease, a person can simply ignore them, telling himself that this cannot happen to him. A similar reaction can be observed to an already confirmed diagnosis.

( 2 ratings, average 4.5 out of 5 )
Did you like the article? Share with friends:
For any suggestions regarding the site: [email protected]
Для любых предложений по сайту: [email protected]