This post was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.
In psychology, defense mechanisms are strategies that people use to avoid or manage distressing situations, thoughts, or emotions. Though some strategies are helpful and healthy, most cause more harm than good.
Many people are quite familiar with some common defense mechanisms and how they manifest in real life. But these days, most distressing situations unfold through social media and other forms of online communication. Therefore, it is important to understand how these defense mechanisms are used online so that you can heal your unhealthy defense mechanisms and recognize them in people who are harmful or just struggle to acknowledge their emotions. Below are a few common defense mechanisms to know about and how they manifest online.
Denial is probably the most common defense mechanism, especially on the internet. It is the refusal of reality or facts because they are distressing or don’t fit with the narrative that someone has already made up in their mind. A person who is in denial will block certain information or events to avoid distress or make up other information that better supports their internal reality.
For example, denial most commonly appears in comments responding to facts and data. People in denial about specific topics may claim that the facts or data are made up or rigged. They may come up with “alternative facts” that support their reality rather than what is actually happening in real life. Furthermore, they also are more likely to come up with conspiracy theories to fit their narrative instead of admitting that the data and facts are accurate.
With the ever-increasing ire that is found throughout social media, it’s nearly impossible not to find some users who act out from a social media post. As you may have guessed, acting out is the act of exhibiting an extreme emotion in reaction to an uncomfortable or stressful situation. The emotions felt are usually highly disproportionate to the actual situation.
People who act out on the internet will go into a total rage after coming across an opinion or piece of information that disagrees with their worldview. Instead of making a civil statement of disagreement or just ignoring the comment or post, they feel the need to express their rage through their comments or harass the person who posted the information. This may provide some temporary relief from their uncomfortable feelings, but it causes excellent mental harm and doesn’t provide a permanent solution to healing their emotions.
We’ve all seen screencaps and posts that show someone projecting their insecurities or flaws onto other people. People who project place their thoughts and emotions onto others because admitting that they have these thoughts and feelings is too distressing. By projecting, they express and release the pain they feel without acknowledging that they had those emotions in the first place. As you can imagine, people who project rarely have self-awareness, so they struggle to find healthier ways to handle their distress.
People who use reaction formation act in a way that is the exact opposite of how they think or feel. This happens on social media much more than you believe simply because this defense mechanism is difficult to identify.
For example, a girl who sees a peer post an attractive picture of herself on Instagram may be incredibly angry or jealous because she doesn’t feel nearly as beautiful as this woman. However, instead of using hate, she leaves a nice comment on the picture.
Though this can be a nice way to handle jealously rather than harassing the person, the jealous feelings still need to be dealt with. People who use reaction formation sometimes hide their true feelings from themselves, so their acts don’t fix the problem.
When people use intellectualization, they focus on the logic and facts of a situation in order to avoid their emotions. It is a way of protecting oneself from feelings of distress or anxiety as it is believed that focusing on logic will prevent emotions from bubbling up. However, this commonly causes the person to neglect their feelings, which can have consequences for their mental health.
You will see this on posts that are about distressing current events or sad news. They may try to intellectualize the situation and provide other followers with facts and logic as a way to take emotion away from the story. Though this may help some people make more sense of a tragedy, it, unfortunately, can lead to pushed-down feelings and numbness to the situation.
Final Thoughts On Defense Mechanisms
When reality becomes uncomfortable, we all resort to defense mechanisms to process the situation. This is becoming increasingly evident on social media, as this is the primary means that people encounter sad or distressing news. However, we tend to put more weight and trust in people’s reactions and opinions on social media rather than the news itself. Therefore, it is important to understand the common defense mechanisms that people use in these situations so that we can learn to process uncomfortable news in a healthier way. If you are interested in learning more about defense mechanisms, you can find more resources and information here.