4 Defense Mechanisms You Might Not Know About

4 Defense Mechanisms You Might Not Know About

Defense mechanisms are our body and mind’s way of defending us and allowing us to stay safe in scary and threatening situations. For people who have gone through trauma or have had to put up these defenses often, they can stay with a person into adulthood and even come out in non-threatening situations.

When your defense mechanisms light up in a non-threatening situation, you can put yourself and others at risk and lose relationships. You may feel anxious or feel that you’re out of control. That’s why it is essential to know what a defense mechanism is and how to remedy it.

Here are the top four defense mechanisms you may not know about and how to remedy them.

The Fight Defense

You may have heard of the “fight or flight” response. This response is something caused by our nervous system to keep us safe from harm. Fight or flight, however, is actually two different defense mechanisms. Some people learn to fight when they enter this state of fear and threat.

Often, a person’s response to a threat develops at a young age. If you experienced trauma or complex relationships as a child, you may have decided that instead of running from it, you would fight it. In an unsafe situation, this can be a valid response. However, if you continue to have this response in your day-to-day life, it can make things challenging for you.

If you have a fight defense mechanism, you may see it come out by:

  • Snapping at people when you feel hurt
  • Feeling the urge to punch walls or kick things
  • Yelling instead of leaving a conversation
  • Attacking yourself with your words
  • Self-harm
  • Confronting people who have hurt you instead of letting something go
  • Threatening others when you’re mad

Of course, it can come out in small ways as well, like refusing to leave a conversation or continuously trying to solve a conflict when someone has told you to leave them alone.

How to Get Help

When it comes to a fighting defense mechanism, you’ll want to turn your energy into a positive expression of fighting. This coping skill could be:

  • Boxing
  • Using a punching bag
  • Going for a run when you’re angry
  • Seeing an anger counselor
  • Using your energy to create something (art, building, food, etc.)
  • Competing in a sport

Your desire to fight doesn’t have to be bad if you turn it into healthy competitiveness or healthy physical activity.

The Flight Defense

On the other side of things, the flight defense is the opposite of the fighting defense. When you have the desire to flee, you will often partake in behaviors like:

  • Physically running away when you feel unsafe
  • Refusing to talk to someone
  • Ignoring calls and messages
  • Ignoring your feelings
  • Crying a lot
  • Pretending you don’t understand
  • Feeling the urge to disappear
  • Ending a relationship quickly

If you experience this response to fear, you may have the flight response. Remember, you only want to heal your response to fear if there is no actual threat. We develop the fight or flight response to protect us from harm. If you are experiencing actual harm, it is a good idea to stay far away and ignore the person who is going to harm you.

How to Get Help

For a flight response, if you want to be more present in a situation and try not to run all the time, here are some safe coping skills:

  • Ask for space when you need it
  • Write a list of your boundaries
  • Allow yourself to cry when you’re on your own
  • Try couple’s counseling
  • Allow your partner to express their needs to you (kindly)
  • Find a safe place you can go if you need to get away for a few hours

If you are in a domestic violence situation, find a secure and isolated area and call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). They can help you.


Splitting can be seen as switching between both fight and flight defense mechanisms. The person who splits will go from one extreme to another. One day they might feel loving and open. The next day, they are furious and want to fight. The next day they are afraid and want to run. It is a disorganized way of experiencing a defense mechanism.

The splitting response is typical in borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. It can often cause distress for the person experiencing it and anyone involved in the outcome. You may find yourself:

  • Yelling at your partner when afraid and running away when they react poorly
  • Feeling paranoid to the point that you avoid confrontation and then explode at the last minute
  • Letting feelings build up inside you and then picking fights when you cannot control them

How to Get Help

You can find relief for splitting behaviors by seeing a therapist, either online or in person. Therapy is highly beneficial in understanding your patterns and resolving them. A trained therapist will also have plenty of coping skills available that you can use when you’re feeling the urge to split.

You can also check out the advice section on defense mechanisms with BetterHelp: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/defense-mechanisms/.


The last defense mechanism we’re going to talk about is fawning. This defense is most commonly seen in survivors of extreme trauma and people with complex PTSD from lifelong trauma.

Fawning is a response where the person:

  • Agrees with everything someone says
  • Tries to avoid accountability
  • Ignores red flags in others
  • Only sees the positive in someone who is hurting them
  • People-pleases to the point of losing their sense of self
  • Turns their negative emotions into self-criticism and self-hate

If you relate to any of these responses, you may be fawning. If you are really in a dangerous or threatening situation, this defense mechanism can get you into danger. That’s why many people who partake in these behaviors see a trauma therapist or regular therapist who can help them determine when they’re in an unsafe situation or not.

How to Get Help

It is hard to help yourself with fawning, as you often feel that your feelings are not valid. In these cases, you’ll want to see a professional that can help you learn the coping skills to be able to validate yourself and open yourself up to understanding that sometimes people do have bad intentions, and you can protect yourself from it.