What do you do when something goes wrong or makes you upset?
Maybe you act out and take it out on things around you.
Maybe you tell yourself it was the fault of others, not yours.
How do you react when someone treats you badly or makes you feel uncomfortable?
Maybe you think to yourself “who cares, I never really liked them anyway.”
Maybe you treat them badly and make them feel uncomfortable in return.
These are examples of “defense mechanisms,” identified by the late 19th-century to early 20th-century Austrian neurologist S.F. and subsequent psychoanalysis and psychodynamics researchers. They are ways in which we deal with stress and anxiety, and I am certain we have all acted in one or more of the above ways. And I think it is very much universal – people of all age, race, socioeconomic class, and religion use the same set of defense mechanisms.
So when you find someone acting in one or more of these ways, you know they are feeling stressed and anxious, the same way you do when you have acted in these ways. Then, even if you do not know the reasons for their stress or anxiety (because this part, I think, is much more dependent on the person’s age, race, socioeconomic class, and religion), you also know how you would want to be treated if you were them.
Maybe they are confused as to why they are acting the way they are.
Maybe they are scared people will turn their backs and leave them helpless.
They need to be told there are better ways to act and support is available if they can come to terms with the underlying stress or anxiety. But if they feel overpowered to act differently without resolving the root cause, they will escalate their aggressive and retaliatory actions… then they will become our stress and anxiety, and more mechanisms of defense will be required. So counterintuitive!