What are defense mechanisms?
Defense mechanisms are used in psychology to describe our unconscious methods of dealing with anxiety, fear, and stress. Everyone uses them, not just addicts, and they can be healthy in some situations.
In active addiction and even in recovery, our thought processes are not like that of non-addicts and defense mechanisms are often used in unhealthy ways. A lot of times, we don’t even realize that we’re using them.
Defense mechanisms can be classified into two types: healthy and unhealthy. Healthy defense mechanisms help to protect our mental health by reducing stress or anxiety; whereas unhealthy defense mechanisms can cause serious problems in our personal lives and relationships.
Successful recovery is not just about detoxing, but also about getting rid of the negative thoughts that are associated with addiction. It’s important to acknowledge our unhealthy use of defense mechanisms and actively work to change the way we respond to stress and anxiety.
This post goes over the different defense mechanisms used in addiction and early recovery that we need to watch out for.
Displacement is when people take their negative emotions and project them onto someone or something else. For example, a child who feels unloved may lash out at a sibling or pet.
With an addict, displacement might show up as feeling lonely after cutting ties with friends in active addiction, then lashing out at a new friend made at a recovery meeting.
Justification is used to make our actions seem better than they actually are and can be seen in many different ways.
For example, an addict may justify their use of drugs by saying that it helps them cope with stress or it helps them get through tough times.
Denial is a defense mechanism that we use to shield ourselves from the negative consequences of our own actions. It is a psychological process that rationalizes, justifies and softens the impact of external events.
This is a defense mechanism that I think every addict can relate to, because at some point, we refused to admit we had a problem with drugs. I did anyway, even when I was arrested, lost my house to foreclosure and two cars had been repossessed. Where’s the problem, right?
Another addict might use denial when they won’t admit to having a problem, even when confronted with evidence such as DUI’s and deteriorating relationships.
One may rationalize their addiction by justifying the harm of the addiction to themselves or others. This is typically done in one of two ways: self-rationalization or other-rationalization.
Rationalizing can also be used as a defense mechanism when someone is being criticized, so they can deflect the criticism by blaming others.
Undoing is common in addicts, especially in early recovery. We try to make up for our behavior in active addiction by doing ultra-good deeds, which can lead to other problems.
For example, parents will buy lots of gifts for their children out of guilt. It’s great to do nice things for the people we love, but undoing is when you’re doing more than necessary. The guilt doesn’t go away, and some people can end up in debt or allowing themselves to be taken advantage of.
Many people who are addicted to substances or behaviors, such as gambling, overeating, sex addiction or internet addiction, experience feelings of shame and guilt.
These individuals may also use repression as a defense mechanism in order to alleviate these unpleasant emotions. It is not uncommon for people to use repression because they’re afraid to confront their situation head on.
Defense mechanisms are unconscious or conscious ways of protecting oneself from anxiety.
Repression is the most common defense mechanism in addiction recovery. It is a process where the addict tries to forget about their addiction and what they did while they were under its influence.
Projection is a defense mechanism in which a person attributes his or her own thoughts, desires, feelings, or actions to another person.
This is a very common defense mechanism because it is easy to do. The individual just needs to project their thoughts onto someone else and then they can feel better about themselves.
Projection can be seen as an addiction recovery tool because the individual is able to get rid of their pain by projecting it onto someone else.
Regression is a defense mechanism that people use to cope with difficult or stressful situations. It is the act of returning to a previous state, usually one that was more comfortable. The term regression can also be used to refer to addiction recovery when an individual returns to their drug of choice after abstaining from it for some period of time.
A person might regress in order to avoid feelings of shame, fear or guilt. For example, they may return to drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes in order to cope with their emotions rather than addressing them head-on.
Avoidance is one defense mechanism that people use when they feel like they’re in an uncomfortable situation. It is a coping mechanism that allows the person to avoid reality and the unpleasant emotions, thoughts, or memories associated with it.
Drug addicts often use avoidance as their defense mechanism because it helps them avoid the negative feelings associated with withdrawal and cravings. .Students avoid doing their work. The avoidance strategy doesn’t work because you experience more stress and anxiety when feelings of letting others down surface.
According to Elevate Addiction Services, disassociation is “a detachment from reality when faced with stressful situations or ideas.”
I can definitely relate to this defense mechanism, especially when it relates to my PTSD. If something triggers me, I seem to go into my own little world, ignoring what’s taking place all around me.
When an addict is faced with a conflict or confrontation about their drug use, they may use disassociation to deal with it.
Conclusion – Defense Mechanisms That Hinder Addiction Recovery
If you’re an addict, either active or recovering, I’m quite sure that you’ve used a few of these defense mechanisms. It’s understandable, since we go into self-preservation mode and these defense mechanisms help us cope with our trauma.
They become problematic when we use them as ways to stay in active addiction. If we can’t open our minds and accept accountability for our actions, we will never be mentally healthy and stay clean.
Be aware of your reactions and make sure you’re not using these defense mechanisms to hinder your addiction recovery.