7 Common Defense Mechanisms People Use for Self Protection


Human nature exists to protect the self above others. Often, defenses are put up in order to shield the self from painful realities, particularly during active addiction. In recovery, defenses are used to hide the true self or prevent others from getting too close. Defenses are used to shield individuals from facing important and often difficult feelings which are the real motivations behind behavior. Learn what some of the common defense mechanisms and how they can harm a person’s chances at recovery.

Self Defense

When defenses help people avoid pain, it is usually done so in an unhealthy way. When relying on defenses too often, reality becomes disconnected and distorted which can be dangerous. It is easier to relapse when self defenses go down. Learning how to identify defenses can force people to confront feelings head-on which helps maintain sobriety needed to stay clean and sober. Learn some common defense mechanisms people use:

Helplessness: pretending to be helpless or dumb is an act of self defense to combat against people asking questions. The appearance of innocence is done to avoid taking responsibility for one’s actions.

Withdrawal: avoiding confrontation by pulling away from other people is a defense mechanism. Remaining quiet and avoiding others is a way of avoiding doing anything to bring about confrontation on important issues.

Manipulation: using others for one’s own advantage is a self defense mechanism. Manipulating others to try and get people to do what is desired for personal gain usually backfires eventually.

Projecting: accusing someone else of thoughts and behaviors that are desired to be hidden can be a defense mechanism. Projecting onto others is a way of deflecting the truth of one’s own reality.

Minimizing: glossing over a problem and acting as if it is not significant enough to worry about is a way of making things seem less than they are. Issues which need confrontation must be brought to the surface and acknowledged before the issues can be fixed.

Denial: denial is the most common defense mechanism which focuses on refusal to acknowledge or believe an obvious truth about a person’s situation.

Rationalizing: explaining feelings or behaviors in a way that makes the issues seem reasonable is one way of rationalizing behavior. The defense mechanism will keep a person from seeing the true reality of a situation,

Defense mechanisms need a quick reality check. It helps to do a personal inventory of why an individual is using defense mechanisms and keeping others at arm’s length. The feelings that are trying to be avoided are going to surface eventually. Putting down defenses requires taking full responsibility for behavior and thoughts. An individual must be willing to make oneself vulnerable short-term to stay healthy long-term in recovery.


Sustain Recovery supports individuals who need help recovering from addiction. Contact us to find out how we can support your journey back to healing.