Have you ever described someone as being "in denial" or "overcompensating?" These terms are commonly used in everyday language and they have their origins in the work of Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna. These defense mechanisms are strategies used by the ego to protect itself against anxiety.
For example, if you are dreading a particular final exam, you might find yourself avoiding anything that has to do with the test, including reviewing your textbooks or studying your class notes. This defense mechanism is known as avoidance and involves simply refusing to deal with unpleasant situations, people or objects.
While the behavior described in the example above is obviously not beneficial, not all defense mechanisms are unhealthy. At times, they can actually be adaptive and allow us to function normally in the face of stressful or overwhelming situations.
Learn more in this overview of defense mechanisms.
Image courtesy Piotr Bizior