Our lives can be all over the place. Every day we face a whole new slew of people and situations that have the potential to stress us out. Since we're all unique individuals, we each have our own ways of dealing with these stressful people and times. Some of the tools that we employ are helpful...while others are not so helpful. Since we're all different from one another, the things that stress one person may not have the same effect on the person sitting right next to them. Stress is super complicated and highly personal to the individual who experiences it. Think about what makes you feel stressed out. I'm sure that you have known other people who aren’t bothered by your stressors and seem to deal with them without so much as a bat of an eye. Do you know people who stress out about things that would never occur to you be a problem? The reason people react differently to the same stressor has to do with their experiences. Stress is brought on by "triggers" or situations/people/emotions that you are particularly sensitive to because of things that have happened in your life.
Take anger, for example: A person who was raised in an unpredictable environment where anger caused yelling, intimidation, or physical violence will likely react differently to anger than someone who was taught to express anger in a healthy way. Both people may experience a partner being angry with them, but only one of them is likely to be triggered.
There is no limit to the ways individuals are triggered because there is an unlimited number of circumstances that affect human beings. In addition to the diversity of triggers that exist, there is a broad spectrum of ways people react to their triggers. People tend to develop defense mechanisms, or unconscious reactions that protect them from the pain of their triggers. It is common to be unaware of the presence of these defense mechanisms as well as when they are in use. I bet that almost all of us have heard or used the term “become defensive” when we feel that someone is trying to protect or defend themselves in an argument instead of listening to the opposing point of view. This often happens when a person is triggered by the subject matter. Even after the trigger has passed, the defense mechanism remains and may impact relationships and work.
As a therapist who works with young people and LGBTQ+ individuals and couples with a variety of anxiety, depression and personal image issues, I see my share of defense mechanisms that come out during the course of a therapy session. As a therapist, I am trained to identify and help people work through these defenses, which is critical in making progress on whatever issue brings them to counseling.
There are many different types of defense mechanisms, but the following are five common ones. Regardless of how emotionally healthy we are, we all have defense mechanisms at play every day.
A qualified therapist can help you build your self-awareness, heal past pain and/or trauma, and get you coping in a healthy way with any triggers that come your way.