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Psychiatric Nursing: DEFENSE MECHANISM

Coping Mechanism
• Coping mechanisms involve efforts to decrease the stress response
• Theses are task –oriented reactions, which are classified because of conscious
efforts utilized by the concerned individual to allay his anxiety
• Done consciously
• Example are as follows:
T – Turning to a comforting person (significant others)
R – Relying on self-disciple (self-control)
I – Intense expression of feelings (crying to release tension)
U – Using symbolic substitutes
M – Making use of friends to talk it out
P – Privately thinking it through

Defense Mechanism
• Protective coping mechanism of the ego, largely unconscious
• Attempts to protect the individual from feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness and
to prevent awareness of anxiety
• Protect against anxiety caused by undesirable, unacceptable and usually
unconscious feelings
• Similar to coping mechanisms but they are traditionally defined as being
unconscious, intrapsychic processes
• Both defense mechanisms and coping mechanisms serve the same protective
purpose for clients.
• Defense mechanism will provide the nurse with clues about a client’s feelings,
motives and behaviors

When any of the defenses are used exclusively or

excessively by a client, this coping behavior becomes
maladaptive and pathological

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Psychiatric Nursing: DEFENSE MECHANISM

1. To decrease anxiety
2. To protect ego
3. to increase self-esteem

Types of Defense Mechanisms

Mechanism Definition Example
• Process by which a person • A business man perceived his
makes up for a perceived small physical stature negatively.
weakness by strongly He tries to overcome this buy
emphasizing a feature that he being aggressive, forceful and
or she considers more controlling in business dealings
• Unconscious expression of • Woman experiencing blindness
mental conflict as a physical after witnessing a murder
symptoms to relieve tension or
• Avoidance of disagreeable • Ms. Halili has just been told that
realities by ignoring or refusing her breast biopsy indicates a
to recognize them, the simplest malignancy. When her husband
Denial and most primitive of all ask her about the laboratory
defense mechanism result, she told him that she
• Commonly used by client who haven’t received or seen the
are substance abuse result
Displacement • Shift of emotions from a person • A boy is angry because he has
or object to another, usually just been punished by his mother
neutral or less dangerous, for drawing on their wall. He
person or object begins to play war with his

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Psychiatric Nursing: DEFENSE MECHANISM

• Commonly used by with Phobic soldier toys and has them fight
disorder with each other
• The separation of a group of • A man is brought to the
mental or behavioral processes emergency room by the police
from the rest of the person’s and is unable to explain who he
consciousness or identity is and where he lives or work
• Commonly used by client with
• A conscious creation of • A nursing student dreams that
distortion of unacceptable she has identified the cause of
Fantasy fears, wishes and behaviors mental illness and that all the
• Use imagination or clients will be cured
• Process by which a person • Lolit, 15 years old, has her hair
tries to become like someone styled like that of her young
Identification he or she admires by taking on English teacher, whom she
thoughts, mannerisms or tastes admires
of that person
• Excessive reasoning or logic is • A woman avoids dealing with her
used to avoid experiencing anxiety in shopping malls by
Intellectualization disturbing feeling explaining that shopping is a
frivolous waste of time and
Introjection • Intense identification in which • Eight-year-old Hayden tells his
person incorporates qualities or sister Vicky, “Don’t scribble in
values of another person or your nursery rhyme books, just
group into his or her own ego look at the pretty pictures”, thus
structure. It is one of the expressing his parents’ values.
earliest mechanisms of the

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Psychiatric Nursing: DEFENSE MECHANISM

child, important in formation of

• Commonly used by client with
• Splitting off of emotional • A medical student dissects a
components of a thought, cadaver for her anatomy course
which may be temporary or without being disturbed by
long term thoughts of death
• Attributing one’s thoughts or • A young woman who denies she
impulses to another person. has sexual feelings about a co-
Through this process one can worker accuses him without
attribute intolerable wishes, basis of trying to seduce her
emotional feelings, or
motivation to another person
• Commonly used by client with
• Offering asocial acceptable or • Bistek fails an examination and
apparently logical explanation complains that the lectures were
to justify or make acceptable not well organized or clearly
otherwise unacceptable presented
impulses, feelings, behaviors
and motive
• Development of conscious • A married woman who feels
attitudes and behavior patterns attracted to one of her husband’s
Reaction that are opposite to what one friends treats him rudely
Formation really feels or would like to do
• Commonly used by client with
Bipolar disorder
Regression • Retreat to behavior • Four-year-old Nicole, who has

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Psychiatric Nursing: DEFENSE MECHANISM

characteristic of an earlier level been toilet trained for over a

of development year, begins to wet her pants
• Involuntary exclusion of a • Mr. Kho does not recall hitting
painful or conflictual thought, his wife when she is pregnant
impulse, or memory from
awareness. It is the primary
Repression ego defense, and other
mechanisms tends to reinforce
• Commonly used by client
• Viewing people and situations • A friend tells you that you are the
as either all good or all bad. most wonderful person in the
Failure to integrate the positive world one day, and how much
Splitting and negative qualities of she hates you the next day
• Commonly used by client with
• Acceptance of a socially • Ed has an impulsive and
approved substitute goal for a physically aggressive nature. He
Sublimation drive whose normal channel of tries out for the football team and
expression is blocked becomes a star tackle

• Unconscious replacement of • A student nurse decides to be a

unacceptable impulses, teacher because she is unable to
Substitution attitudes, needs or emotions master clinical competencies
with those that are more

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Psychiatric Nursing: DEFENSE MECHANISM

• A process often listed as a • A young man at work finds he is

defense mechanism, but really thinking so much about his date
is a conscious counterpart of that is interfering with his work.
repression. It is intentional He decides to put it out of his
Suppression exclusion of material from mind until he leaves the office for
consciousness. At times, it may the day
to repression
• Commonly used by client with
Anorexia nervosa
• Use of external objects to • An engagement ring symbolizes
become an outward love and a commitment to
representation of an internal another person
idea, attitude or feeling
• Act or communication that • Eric makes a passionate
partially negates a previous declaration of love to Patricia on
Undoing / one; a primitive defense a date. At their next meeting he
Restitution mechanism treats her formally and distantly
• Commonly used by client with
Obsessive compulsive disorder

Levels/Classification of Defense Mechanism

1. Psychotic Mechanism
i. Delusional projection
ii. Denial
iii. Distortion – grossly reshaping external reality to suit inner impulses; use to
sustained feelings of delusional superiority or entitlement
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Psychiatric Nursing: DEFENSE MECHANISM
Ex. An ugly person believes he is Mr. Suave
iv. Splitting
2. Narcissistic Defenses
i. Denial
ii. Distortion
iii. Projection
3. Immature Mechanism
i. Acting-out – expressing an unconscious wi8sh or impulse through action
ii. Dependency – constantly seeking approval
iii. Hypochondriasis – exaggerating or overemphasizing an illness for the purpose
of evasion or regression
iv. Identification
v. Passive-aggressive behavior – expressing aggression towards other behavior
indirectly through passivity, masochism and turning against self
vi. Projection
vii. Rationalization
viii. Regression
ix. Schizoid fantasy – autistic retreat
4. Neurotic Defenses
i. Displacement
ii. Dissociation
iii. Emotional Isolation – protective withdrawal
iv. Intellectualization
v. Reaction Formation
vi. Repression
5. Mature Mechanism
i. Altruism - others first before self; using constructive and instinctually gratifying

service to others
ii. Anticipation – realistically anticipating or planning for future inner discomfort
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Psychiatric Nursing: DEFENSE MECHANISM
iii. Asceticism – eliminating the pleasurable effects of experience
iv. Humor – to make light of the situation; using comedy to overtly express
feelings and thoughts without personal discomfort
v. Sublimation
vi. Suppression
vii. Undoing
6. Others
i. Introjections
ii. Compensation
iii. Conversion

8 Gerald T Evangelista, RN, MAN