Sublimation: How It Works & What It Can Do For Your Relationship

Sublimation is one of the several defense mechanisms that people use to distance themselves from unpleasant emotions. While it is only human to resort to these strategies when we experience unwanted feelings, the truth is that most involve harmful and unhealthy behaviors. However, sublimation is a rare example of a coping mechanism that can be thought of as positive and beneficial. 

If you learn how to recognize these subconscious techniques we use to overcome harmful thoughts and feelings, you’ll gain a deeper awareness of your and others’ behavior. This may facilitate your personal growth and make you aware of what you wish to work on either in in-person workshops or with a relationship coach online. 

Read on to get a more in-depth understanding of the concept of sublimation and discover its most common examples. Also, learn how it can be a healthy strategy for overcoming difficulties in your relationship. 

What Is Sublimation According To Psychology?

When people experience unacceptable and painful emotions and thoughts, they have the urge to separate themselves from them. This urge can be manifested in different ways, called defense mechanisms. Sublimation is arguably the most mature and helpful of these. It involves the channeling of intensely destructive desires into something that’s socially acceptable, positive, and advantageous.

What Happens During Sublimation?

During sublimation, a person directs harmful desires and unpleasant emotions into something more beneficial and productive. This happens on a subconscious level and the person may not be aware of it. 

Is Sublimation A Healthy Coping Mechanism?

Sublimation generally promotes well-being, so it’s considered a healthy way to deal with stress, anxiety, and other undesirable emotions. This also differentiates it from the majority of other defense mechanisms. 

Unlike rationalization, where people try to justify their inappropriate behavior or repression, which involves burying unpleasant feelings, sublimation is all about transforming an unhelpful impulse into rewarding actions.

What Is A Real Life Example Of Sublimation?

Some of the common socially impermissible drives are associated with heightened aggression, unacceptable sexual feelings, as well as other distressing experiences. This defense mechanism is used to transform these detrimental urges into harmless, creative, and otherwise practical behaviors.

Sublimating aggressive urges

What is sublimation

Anger and violence are notoriously difficult to manage. People sometimes reach for sublimation to find an outlet for these tendencies. This substitution of an inappropriate aggressive urge with a useful and healthy behavior can be a one-time occurence, like when someone goes for a long jog or vigorously cleans the house instead of succumbing to acute rage. 

On the other hand, the sublimation of strong violent tendencies can also have an overarching impact on a person’s life. For example, someone may choose a career in the police force or military, which can set a course for the rest of their life. Other long-term ways to sublimate aggression would be taking part in professional sports or another highly competitive field, like business and finance.

Sublimating inappropriate sexual impulses

If a person feels that their sexual urges are not acceptable, they may redirect them into creating original works of art or into achieving success in their careers. This may send them onto a path of lifelong success and even fame. 

Someone may curb the need to pursue multiple partners, for example, by choosing to take up a hobby, like playing an instrument or doing sports. This can have far-reaching effects on their marriage and family, as it may help them defeat the urge to cheat on and be dishonest to their partner.

Sublimating other painful emotions

Whenever a person is suffering emotionally, they can find a creative outlet to channel their feelings of hurt instead of sinking deeper into despair. Depending on their interests, some people may choose a pastime such as sewing clothes, redesigning their house, tending to a garden, and similar pursuits. 

If a person is grieving over the loss of a loved one to cancer, for example, it’s not uncommon for them to join a campaign for cancer awareness and focus their energy into advancing this cause.

How Can Sublimation Help My Relationship? 

What Is A Real Life Example Of Sublimation

Sublimation can be one of the strategies people unknowingly use to preserve and advance their romantic relationships. Here are several situations where sublimation may be helpful:

  • If someone feels the need to be unfaithful in a relationship, they will sometimes cope with it by channeling their libido into something more constructive, like trying harder at work or concentrating on a hobby. Another possibility is to expend this sexual energy with their partner.
  • If a person has had a streak of failed relationships, they could be disappointed in all women or men. Instead of blaming their exes and projecting this onto all potential partners, others will redirect their suffering into creative outlets.
  • In case your partner has said something hurtful to you, you may want to act out on your rage on the spur of the moment, which could irreparably damage your relationship. Instead of venting through physical aggression, some people will do a gym session or go for a run and then come back to the situation level-headed.

Explore The Power Of Sublimation With An Understanding Relationship Coach Online

Getting to understand yourself and others equips you with important life skills that can help you cope with distressing feelings and maintain your well-being. Thanks to PIVOT, you can get to know your inner self better, learn how to use healthy coping skills, and apply this knowledge to everyday situations.

If you’d like to talk to our approachable relationship coaches, feel free to take part in one of our healing coaching sessions. Since it is our mission to assist your personal growth and development, we accept and welcome every person with open arms. We’d be happy to help you explore mature coping strategies in the safe and accepting setting of our retreat and show you a way out of the vicious cycle of toxic patterns. Let’s discover what you can do to mend your relationships, break away from unhealthy loops, and lead a happier, more fulfilling life.

Repression: What It Is & How To Cope With Repressed Emotions

Defense mechanisms are unconscious tools that people use to escape intensely unpleasant emotions, like anger, jealousy, guilt, and grief. Repression is one of these strategies. Although it is a normal part of human functioning and can produce desirable effects in the short term, repression typically isn’t beneficial in the long run. It can actually lead to an increase in discomfort and anxiety over a longer period of time.

Getting to know more about these unhealthy coping mechanisms is the best way to overcome them and turn to more positive strategies for overcoming psychological distress. Then you’ll also be able to spot these detrimental behaviors in other people. For example, you’ll know how to recognize repressed emotions and love avoidant signs in your romantic partner, and take steps to mend your relationship.

Keep reading to gain a deeper understanding of repressed memories and emotions and how they can affect a relationship. Find out the ways to overcome these difficulties or support your partner as they’re working through them.

What Does Repression Mean In Psychology?

What's The Difference Between Repression And Suppression

Repression is a defense mechanism in which a person distances themselves from negative thoughts and feelings by barring them from their consciousness. Essentially, it’s a psychological term for “sweeping things under the rug”. It happens without trying or realizing. 

A person may repress the memories of certain traumatic events or some upsetting feelings, so that they’re completely unaware of their existence. Unlike with sublimation, where negative and inappropriate thoughts are channeled into a positive, productive behavior, repressed thoughts and emotions stay hidden under the surface. However, although they remain concealed from the person, they can still have a powerful damaging impact on all aspects of their life, including relationships. 

What’s The Difference Between Repression And Suppression?

Repression is often mistaken for suppression and they’re sometimes used interchangeably in everyday speech. However, in psychology, these two concepts differ. Both are considered defense mechanisms, yet they work differently. While they both involve separating oneself from inappropriate and unacceptable impulses, repression works without a conscious effort while suppression is voluntary. 

Both mechanisms can be set off as a result of a traumatic event. With repression, a person who was abused as a child or had a serious car accident may have no actual recollection of these events or their memories may be blurred and altered. However, they can still have a detrimental influence on their well-being, which may manifest itself as insomnia, mood swings, depression, and other physical and psychological disturbances. If a child is bitten by a dog at an early age, for example, they could repress this situation altogether and may project these feelings of intense fear onto all dogs and other animals.

During suppression, a person tries to distance themselves from a hurtful emotion or disturbing thoughts on purpose. For example, people who experience obsessive thoughts may try to suppress these impulses deliberately to keep themselves from engaging in obsessive behaviors. Or, a person who’s ashamed of something they’ve said or done may purposely avoid thinking about it.

What Can Trigger Repressed Memories?

What Can Trigger Repressed Memories

A repressed memory may sometimes be triggered by a stimulus and cause the person to experience a range of physical and psychological difficulties. Triggers can widely vary. They can be anything that the person associated with the traumatic event from their past, including various sensations, like smells, sounds, or sights. 

The reaction to the trigger is also individual. For example, it can set off a panic attack, a violent outburst, or severe generalized anxiety. It is helpful for people to recognize their triggers and learn how to retrain themselves to gain control over them, which they can do with adequate psychological support.

How Do I Deal With an Emotionally Repressed Partner?

Emotional repression can take a toll on your romantic relationships. It can result in relationship avoidance, where you are afraid to open up and commit to your partner. If your significant other has repressed feelings, they may have trouble talking about their emotions or realizing what emotion governs their behavior at a given time. It’s hard seeing a partner suffering without being able to help them. 

Here are a few things that can be helpful:

  • Show your appreciation. People who are emotionally repressed have sometimes experienced a lack of validation from loved ones.
  • Let them know that you’re there for them. Take steps to help them feel comfortable talking to you about their traumatic experiences. The first step to encouraging them to work on healing their childhood wounds is to talk about them.
  • Assure them they’re safe. They will begin to share more once they are absolutely certain that they can trust you not to hurt them.
  • Help them seek professional support. A therapist or a relationship coach can assist them in overcoming their love avoidant behavior. 
  • Be upfront about your needs. If you need more openness and affection in your relationship, work out a way to bridge these differences so you’re both taken care of.
  • Know that their reactions are sometimes a reflection of their repression. Learn to differentiate between the results of emotional trauma and the true expressions of their personality and feelings.
  • Keep in mind that change takes time. The path toward personal growth is steep and winding, so be prepared for a bumpy ride and potential setbacks along the way.

How Do You Release Repressed Emotions?

If you believe that you have repressed emotions to work on and that they’re affecting your relationships, you can seek the help of an understanding relationship coach. During coaching sessions, you’ll acquire skills that will help you understand your feelings better, make you more comfortable expressing your feelings, and teach you how to regulate them more effectively.

Overcome Relationship Avoidance & Repressed Emotions With Reliable Coaching

Here at PIVOT, you can work through your repressed emotions, learn how to let go of them, and replace unhealthy defense strategies with more beneficial ones. We’ll help you delve deeper into how you’re used to coping with distressing thoughts and feelings and guide you toward positive change. If you’d like to learn how to actualize your potential and overcome the challenges in your relationships, you can do so under the wing of one of our pleasant and understanding coaches. Take one of our individual, couples, or family coaching opportunities or attend our useful relationship workshop to unlock your repressed emotions and lead a more rewarding and enjoyable life.

Reaction Formation: All You Need to Know

As one of the most common defense mechanisms, reaction formation helps us avoid anxiety-inducing, painful, or simply negative emotions and impulses. It involves replacing these negative or maladaptive impulses with other behaviors, which are often expressed in an exaggerated manner.

Why do we use reaction formation and similar defense mechanisms? How do we stop them from harming our romantic relationship, our mental health, and our overall well-being? There are numerous ways to go about this: one of the best ways to understand why you do what you do is to attend a specialized individual or couples workshop and learn as much as you can about this defense mechanism and other maladaptive mechanisms that cause anxiety and unhealthy relationships.

What Is Reaction Formation? 

What Are Some Examples Of Reaction Formation

Reaction formation is a common defense mechanism in which you may unconsciously attempt to master difficult or controversial impulses by exaggerating an opposing tendency. In other words, you may experience a thought or negative feelings that can be difficult to tolerate, threatening, or anxiety-provoking, and in response, you then unconsciously produce an opposite reaction to reduce the anxiety or discomfort associated with the original feeling or idea. Read that again!

In psychoanalytic theory, the reaction formation concept was introduced by Sigmund Freud in the late 19th century. The concept was further developed by Sigmund Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud, in the early 20th century.

Essentially, it involves trying to defend yourself against thoughts and feelings deemed unacceptable by your society, family, or your own sense of ethics. To do this, you may take the completely opposite route to the one you fear, consciously or unconsciously.

How Reaction Formation Differs From Other Defense Mechanisms

While reaction formation is a type of psychological defense mechanism, it differs from other defense mechanisms in several ways.

First, reaction formation involves expressing the opposite or contrasting feelings or behaviors to one’s actual impulses or desires, whereas other defense mechanisms involve more direct or indirect ways of avoiding or reducing anxiety or distress.

For example, repression involves pushing unwanted thoughts, ideas, or emotions into the unconscious mind, while denial involves refusing to acknowledge the existence of a particular belief, problem or reality. Projection involves attributing one’s own thoughts or feelings onto another person, while displacement involves redirecting one’s emotions from the original target to a less threatening one.

Another key difference is that reaction formation often involves behaviors that are more socially acceptable or desirable, whereas other defense mechanisms may involve behaviors that are maladaptive or harmful.

For example, a person using reaction formation may exhibit exaggerated kindness or friendliness toward others, while a person using aggression as a defense mechanism against stress may lash out or become violent toward others.

What Are Some Examples Of Reaction Formation?

You may use this defense mechanism in a variety of ways. Examples may include: 

  • Being overly friendly to someone you don’t like 
  • Preaching about abstinence while being an alcoholic 
  • Giving too many gifts and not feeling any affection for the person
  • Expressing contempt for someone to avoid acknowledging the feeling of affection or love
  • Acting in a calm and collected manner while not being able to accept your anger 
  • Being mean to someone because you are attracted to them

Consider a person who feels attracted to someone who is unavailable but also experiences guilt and anxiety about these feelings. Instead of acknowledging and confronting these feelings, the person may develop an opposite reaction and behave rudely or coldly toward the person they are attracted to. By expressing a negative attitude or behavior towards this person, the individual can create a sense of distance and avoid acting on their attraction.

Similarly, consider a person who has repressed feelings of anger or hostility. Instead of expressing these feelings directly, the person may behave in an exaggeratedly friendly or helpful way toward others. By expressing kindness and positivity, the individual can avoid dealing with their uncomfortable feelings of anger, fear, or hostility.

In both cases, the person’s behavior is not in line with their true feelings, desires, or emotions but rather serves to reduce anxiety or distress. However, the use of reaction formation can be maladaptive in some cases, as it can result in behaviors that are dishonest, inauthentic, or harmful to oneself or others.

As you can see, reaction formation psychology is somewhat similar to the process of projection. When using both of these psychological defense mechanisms, you are trying to avoid unwanted thoughts and feelings and compensate for them. You may do this by either displacing the thoughts and feelings of others or going in a completely opposite direction of what you actually think and feel.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Reaction Formation

Reaction formation, like other defense mechanisms, can have both benefits and drawbacks.

Here are some of the potential benefits and drawbacks of using reaction formation:

Perceived Benefits

  1. Reduction of anxiety: By producing behaviors or feelings that are opposite to their true desires or impulses, individuals can reduce the anxiety or discomfort associated with their thoughts or feelings.
  2. Social acceptance: In some cases, the behaviors produced by reaction formation may be more socially acceptable or desirable than the individual’s true desires or impulses. For example, an individual who represses feelings of anger or hostility may be more accepted by others if they express exaggerated kindness or friendliness.
  3. Avoidance of negative consequences: In some situations, the use of reaction formation may help individuals avoid greater negative consequences associated with their true desires or impulses. For example, an individual who is attracted to someone who is unavailable may avoid negative consequences, such as rejection or disapproval, by expressing a negative attitude towards the person they are attracted to.


  1. Dishonesty: The use of reaction formation typically results in behaviors that are dishonest or inauthentic, as they are not in line with the individual’s true desires or emotions.
  2. Ineffectiveness: While the use of reaction formation may reduce anxiety or distress in the short term, it may not address underlying issues or contribute to long-term mental health and well-being.
  3. Harmful behaviors: In some cases, the behaviors produced by reaction formation may be harmful to oneself or others. For example, an individual who expresses overtly homophobic views may harm members of the LGBTQ+ community and contribute to social stigma and discrimination. This leads to great harm.

As you can see, while the use of reaction formation may have some benefits in reducing anxiety or distress, it can also have drawbacks in terms of honesty, effectiveness, and potential for harm.

When Reaction Formation May Be Helpful

Reaction formation may be helpful in some situations where individuals experience thoughts or feelings that are deemed unacceptable, threatening, or anxiety-provoking.

Here are some examples of when this defense mechanism may be helpful:

  1. Coping with social anxiety: Individuals who experience social anxiety may use reaction formation to reduce their anxiety by behaving in an overly friendly or outgoing manner and practice showing up. By expressing exaggerated positivity and friendliness, the individual can create a sense of social ease and avoid confronting their underlying anxiety.
  2. Managing obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Individuals with OCD may use reaction formation to manage their compulsive behaviors. For example, an individual who experiences obsessive thoughts about cleanliness may use reaction formation to maintain a sense of control and order in their environment by becoming overly focused on cleanliness and organization.
  3. Avoiding harmful behavior: Reaction formation may be helpful in preventing individuals from acting on their harmful desires or impulses. For example, an individual who experiences violent urges may use reaction formation to express a strong aversion to violence and aggression, and may thereby avoid acting on their violent impulses.

While reaction formation may be helpful in these and other situations, it is important to recognize that it is a defense mechanism that does not address underlying issues or contribute to long-term mental health and well-being.

Why Does Reaction Formation Happen?

The feelings and thoughts that you or your environment deems unacceptable can be difficult to accept and deal with. To defend yourself and your self-esteem against them, you may resort to reaction formation. While it may help protect your self-esteem at a specific moment, it may become harmful and problematic over time. It can suppress your genuine self and affect your overall well-being.

When you rely on reaction formation, you may be extremely passionate about your outwardly expressed preferences and beliefs, while burying your true feelings and thoughts in your subconscious. This tendency is why it’s useful to learn more about reaction formation and other defense mechanisms such as sublimation or the process of rationalization. Examining your thoughts and behaviors can help you gain a more objective perspective on your actions and help you keep maladaptive behavior and defense mechanisms in check.

Defense mechanisms are often a reflection of your attachment style. More precisely, you may use reaction formation as a defense of projection or denial. It is a defensive structure that can be ingrained during childhood, when there is a lack of a stable attachment figure for protection and comfort. Our defense mechanisms work as our survival patterns, shielding us from pain, guilt, shame, and discomfort.

How Does Reaction Formation Affect Relationships?

Relying on any defense mechanism constantly can lead to an array of relationship difficulties. Reaction formation, in particular, often leads to suppression of genuine thoughts and feelings, and in turn damages your chances of nurturing healthy intimacy. Whether it’s you or your partner who relies on reaction formation, you may also experience trust issues, relationship anxiety, stress, and distancing. 

Overall, excessively relying on reaction formation can damage your relationship by hiding your authentic self from your partner. And if they are the ones doing it, you may find it hard to understand your partner’s true feelings and thoughts. You may feel like they’re not expressing their genuine self, putting up a front, or acting irrationally to protect their self-image from harm.

How Do You Fix A Reaction Formation?

Why Does Reaction Formation Happen

Working to identify your defense mechanisms, whether on your own or with a relationship coach, can help you overcome intimacy issues and stabilize your self-esteem. It’s not an easy process. You’ll most likely have to deal with feelings and thoughts that you find uncomfortable or painful. This may involve examining any underlying impulses that may have caused you to rely on reaction formation in the first place. 

In addition to speaking with a professional relationship coach, you can also try the following steps to detect and overcome reaction formation: 

  • Learn more about defense mechanisms and reaction formation and look for symptoms in your own behavior. 
  • Analyze when and why you use this mechanism. What activates it? Where does it take you emotionally? 
  • Set aside more time to spend on your own and reflect on your thoughts and actions. 
  • Speak with your partner openly and honestly about your feelings and allow yourself to be vulnerable. 
  • Work on setting healthy boundaries and give yourself time to overcome maladaptive tendencies. 
  • Try yoga and mindfulness to learn how to stay present in the moment and free yourself from your past. 

Visit a PIVOT Couple Workshop For Deepening Your Relationship

Are you worried that your survival patterns may be damaging your relationship? PIVOT is here to help you through compassion and insight. Over the years, we have worked with a great many clients like you to help them develop psychological strategies, identify and heal their childhood wounds, and create healthier boundaries. We offer you in-depth relationship coaching sessions for singles and couples, as well as a range of workshops tailored to your needs, all designed to help you build better relationships and encourage positive behavioral change.

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Ready to take the first step towards a happier and healthier you? Reach out and begin your journey with us today.

All About Projection & How It Affects Relationships

Projection is one of those psychology terms you may have come across in your daily life. Whether it’s in a heated discussion among your friends or on a TV show, it’s likely that you’ve heard the phrase “stop projecting!” at least once or twice. 

However, what is projection exactly? 

In psychology, projection is a common defense mechanism where people attribute their own negative traits or emotions to other people. Projection can be hard to detect at times, especially if you’re the one doing it. This is because the process is often unconscious, slipping under the radar of your conscious experience and self-image. 

Unfortunately, projection may damage intimate relationships, often requiring partners to visit private couple retreats for reconnection. 

In this article, you will learn what projection is, what causes it, how it affects your relationships, and what you can do to stop it. 

What Is The Process Of Projection?

Projection may work differently for each person. Nevertheless, there are some general examples you may have come across in your life: 

  • A cheating partner suspects that the other person in the relationship is being unfaithful. They project their own infidelity to their partner, transferring their own behaviors and shame.  
  • You interrupt a person who talks too much and they accuse you of being a poor listener or conversationalist. 
  • You strongly dislike someone and convince yourself that they are the one who doesn’t like you. 
  • You are able to complete a task successfully and believe that everyone else can do it, too. 

As you can probably tell, projection can manifest itself in an endless variety of ways. Essentially, it involves instances where people accuse others of their own, often maladaptive tendencies and behaviors. 

What Is Projection In A Relationship?

What Is Projection In A Relationship

Projection most commonly occurs in romantic relationships, where each partner may, in a way, borrow their partner’s identity or attribute their own traits to them. Unfortunately, it is quite common for people to project everything they don’t like about themselves onto their partner. This can prevent the relationship from progressing, as well as stump your own psychological growth. 

One unfortunate effect of projection is that it may make you feel like a victim of life. You may feel like everything bad that happens to you is your partner’s fault. Or your parents may be to blame. This can encourage you to repeat maladaptive behaviors and damage your relationship.

Furthermore, it may impede your self-development and your capability for building a genuine connection with your partner. Displacing your negative thoughts and emotions can sometimes do irreparable damage to your relationship, especially if you don’t make an effort to detect your own projections.  

What Causes Psychological Projection?

Like many other defense mechanisms such as reaction formation and the repression of unwanted memories, projection boils down to self-defense. You may project because you are unable to acknowledge a negative quality or painful thoughts. It is often easier to displace difficult emotions to others, than it is to take responsibility for your actions and confront the aspects of your personality you don’t like. 

By projecting, you try to keep pain, shame, and guilt at bay. It is also more comfortable for people to see negative qualities in other people than in themselves. The people who are prone to projecting often don’t understand themselves very well, even if they believe that they do. Low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority may also cause you to project your negative thoughts and behaviors onto others.

How Do I Know If I Am Projecting?

Projection is often an unconscious process, which is why it can be particularly difficult to detect. Luckily, there are some steps you can take to explore any potential areas for projection. Look out for the following patterns and symptoms: 

  • Allowing others to hurt you and push your buttons repeatedly. 
  • Being quick to blame others and having intense reactions. 
  • Feeling too defensive, sensitive, or hurt about something another person has done or said. 
  • Experiencing difficulties understanding another person’s perspective and point of view.
  • Seeing that your reactivity and sensitivity happen repeatedly. 

If you are struggling to spot symptoms of projection in yourself and still feel as if your partner or a friend gets under your skin too much, you can try asking yourself the following questions: 

  • What experience from my past is triggered by this experience? 
  • What do I feel when speaking with or thinking about this person?
  • What am I saying and thinking about this person?  
  • Am I reactive in the situation and why? 
  • What does this remind me of? Is it another situation or a person? 
  • How am I like this person? In what ways am I different? 
  • Is it possible that other people see me this way, too? Why do I fear that? 
  • What can I do to feel better? 
  • Can I set healthy boundaries with this situation or person? 
  • How can I be more compassionate? 

How do I Stop Projecting?  

What Causes Psychological Projection

If you manage to rein in your projection tendencies, you will be able to better accept your weaknesses and failures. You’ll also be more likely to forgive your partner, criticize them less, and feel more comfortable in your relationship. Here are some concrete steps you can take:  

  • Try to detect instances of your own projection and analyze them. 
  • Try not to rationalize your behaviors and thoughts.  
  • Try mindfulness and meditation. 
  • Spend more quality time on your own. 
  • Work on your communication skills. 
  • Take a step back and question your own thoughts. 
  • Learn how to set healthy boundaries. 
  • Speak with a relationship coach. 

Visit An Insightful Relationship Coaching Retreat For Singles & Couples 

While some defense mechanisms can be adaptive and beneficial, such as the process of psychological sublimation, others can inflict irreparable damage to both your relationship and overall well-being. If you are looking for ways to change your maladaptive behaviors and take the first step towards becoming a healthy adult, reach out to PIVOT. 

We are here to provide you with deep relationship insights and useful resources via compassionate and informed relationship coaching. Contact us and let us help you on your journey to self-development and emotional balance. 

Rationalization As A Defense Mechanism

Have you ever been annoyed by another person’s attempt to justify their unacceptable behavior? That person may have been rationalizing, i.e. using logic as an unconscious attempt to avoid facing their negative or unwanted feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. 

We often rationalize due to being unable to address the underlying reasons for our unfavorable behavior. This helps us avoid guilt and hurt, as well as maintain a semblance of self-respect. 

If you notice yourself rationalizing, don’t fret – rationalization can be harmless, even necessary. However, if you keep deceiving yourself and making excuses, you may find yourself facing an array of issues, from accepting abusive behavior to intimacy avoidance in relationships. 

Keep on reading to find out why we rationalize and what steps you can take to prevent this defense mechanism from wreaking havoc on your personal life. 

What Does Rationalization Mean In Psychology?

Why Do Humans Rationalize

By definition, rationalization refers to a defense mechanism in which we give apparently logical reasons to justify or explain our controversial behaviors. This may mean using seemingly plausible means to make unacceptable behaviors tolerable or even admirable. 

You may rationalize in two steps: 

  1. You perform an action or make a decision for no apparent reason or for a given reason. 
  2. You then use rationalization to justify the action after the fact, trying to make it more tolerable. 

While most people rationalize on a somewhat regular basis, constant rationalization may lead to the encouragement of controversial or irrational behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. The process may be somewhat or fully conscious, where you try to protect yourself from ridicule, or unconscious, where you attempt to avoid unpleasant feelings such as guilt or shame.  

Why Do Humans Rationalize?

You’ve surely caught yourself trying to make yourself feel better after doing something you considered not in alignment with your core values. It’s human nature to attempt to avoid negative feelings and thoughts. This is the main reason why people rationalize – to defend themselves from bad or painful behavior and avoid addressing the underlying causes for it. 

When rationalizing, you may try to distort the facts or find seemingly logical reasons to make things look more acceptable. You may strive to convince both yourself and others that your actions are not that bad, that you deserve understanding. Essentially, rationalization often means making excuses and lying to yourself. 

However, you do deserve understanding. Just because you rationalize, just like most people, doesn’t mean that everything you tell yourself is a lie. In fact, rationalization is often adaptive, as it protects people from unsafe motivations and thoughts. 

Still, it is important to keep an eye out for rationalizing attempts, as they may contribute to a variety of maladaptive behaviors. For instance, they may interfere with your romantic relationships and encourage self-destructive or destructive behaviors. 

How Does Rationalization Work As A Defense Mechanism? 

Rationalization was described by Sigmund Freud as a defense mechanism that comes from the attempts of your ego to make a behavior more acceptable to your superego. Superego, as the part of you that demands moral behavior from you, may protest when you perform an action it deems unacceptable. For this reason, you may consciously or unconsciously try to paint the action in a more positive light, using seemingly sound logic. 

On the other hand, some motivations for your behaviors may just be too painful or uncomfortable for you to face. Your rationalization may be motivated by a traumatic experience you just don’t want to think about. Nevertheless, understanding these motivations is an important step in the healing process. 

While contemporary psychology has abandoned a large majority of Freud’s ideas, some of the defense mechanisms he explained, such as rationalization and repressing unwanted or painful emotions are still widely accepted. 

What’s An Example Of Rationalization?

You can rationalize in an endless variety of ways. Some common examples may include the following statements: 

  • “I’m not upset that I wasn’t promoted. I never wanted the responsibility anyway.” 
  • “I worked out this morning… I deserve this slice of pizza.” 
  • “So what if I fear the dark. Most crimes happen when it’s dark, that’s a fact.” 
  • “I must have done something wrong, they wouldn’t treat me like this if I didn’t.” 
  • “Ok, I messed up on that exam, but at least I took it.” 
  • “He cheated… But at least he told me. I may give him another chance.” 

You’ve probably heard similar statements in your life at least a couple of times. This is because rationalization is quite common, thanks to its ability to disguise itself as an apparently rational way of thinking. 

How Can I Stop Rationalizing And Save My Relationship?

How Does Rationalization Work As A Defense Mechanism

How you prevent rationalization from damaging your relationship often depends on who the person rationalizing is. If your partner is the one doing it, you may try speaking with them or attending a couples’ workshop to help them address their problematic behaviors. However, there may be little you can do to actually change their behavior unless they are willing to work on themselves.

The process would be quite different if you’re the one rationalizing. Naturally, becoming more aware of your rationalization attempts would be the logical first step. Furthermore, you may want to try and explore any underlying reasons for your behavior. 

By understanding why you rationalize and when you make excuses, you may be able to gain deeper insight into your personality and the areas you may want to work on. 

Increase Self-Awareness Through Love Avoidance Coaching At PIVOT 

People use all kinds of defense mechanisms to maintain self-respect, present themselves in a more positive light, and avoid dealing with painful emotions. You might be prone to projecting your negative thoughts on others, run in the opposite direction of your impulses, or even rely on positive mechanisms such as sublimation. No matter which behavior you want to address, you can find support at PIVOT. 

We are a team of dedicated and knowledgeable relationship coaches who can help you and your partner overcome intimacy and trust issues. We’ll help you uncover and understand your childhood wounds and attachment style, as well as provide resources and tools to help you transform into a healthy, balanced adult. Get in touch now. 

Defense Mechanisms: How They Work & How to Break Them

We use an array of defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from pain, guilt, and anxiety. You may already know some of your own ways of dealing with intense negative emotions: You might suppress your emotions and hide them from your partner or excessively rationalize your behaviors and attitudes and even sometimes project and blame others for your mistakes

All of these behaviors are part of human nature. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t rely on them so much throughout our lives. However, giving your defense mechanisms free rein can be harmful to your wellbeing, as it may lead to an array of intimacy problems in your relationship and damage your social life. 

Awareness is the first step toward overcoming unhealthy defense mechanisms. By understanding why and how you react to certain triggers in your life, you’ll be able to break away from behaviors that no longer serve you. 

What Are The Functions Of Defense Mechanisms?

You rely on defense mechanisms to separate yourself from unpleasant or hurtful thoughts, actions, and events. They are psychological strategies or as we call them at PIVOT – survival patterns, that help you put some distance between yourself and unwanted emotions. Defense mechanisms are often unconscious, hiding just below the surface of your awareness. Although they can be incredibly useful, when defense mechanisms get out of proportion, they can wreak havoc on your emotional life, resulting in obsessions, anxiety, and phobias. 

What Are The Five Common Defense Mechanisms?

There are dozens of defense mechanisms people use to distance themselves from unwanted feelings. Still, some of them are more common than others, such as the following 5 defense mechanisms: 


What Are The Five Common Defense Mechanisms

You’ve probably rationalized your way through a situation at least once or twice in your life. You may have convinced yourself and others that you’re happy with the choice you’ve made, although you knew that’s not really the case. Or you might have snapped at another person and immediately regretted it, yet still tried to explain and make excuses for your behavior. 

By definition, rationalization involves using seemingly logical and rational reasons to justify unacceptable or controversial behaviors and feelings. It is an incredibly common mechanism, and most people are unaware of how often they use it. 


It can be difficult to deal with seemingly unacceptable thoughts and feelings. For instance, you may experience unwanted emotions or have traits that you hate about yourself and not know what to do with them. As a defense mechanism, projection aims to displace these feelings and attribute them to other people. 

Reaction formation

When you experience anxiety-inducing impulses and emotions, you may subconsciously rely on reaction formation and exaggerate the unwanted feelings by going in an opposite direction. Imagine this: a teenage boy is attracted to a girl in his class and is unsure what to do with the intense emotions, so he embarasses her infront of other classmates. 


Sublimation is one of the rare defense mechanisms that are considered to be overwhelmingly positive. You may rely on sublimation to redirect intense emotions into an activity or object that is more appropriate and socially acceptable. For instance, instead of lashing out at your partner, you might take up a creative hobby or start working out. This can be problematic if the initial challenges that get pushed aside continue and go unresolved.  The anger underneath can pop over a period of time if the issues are not addressed. 


Seemingly irrational beliefs, painful memories, and unacceptable thoughts can be incredibly upsetting. Out of fear, you may choose not to face them, and instead unconsciously repress them and hide them from yourself and others. However, these thoughts and feelings don’t actually go away. They remain just under the surface, impacting your behaviors and relationships. 

How Can Defense Mechanisms Harm Your Relationship? 

When they go out of hand, defense mechanisms can keep you “safe” in your bubble, preventing you from facing emotional problems and advancing in your emotional life. Unfortunately, repressed emotions and feelings can show up and impact your wellbeing in all kinds of unpleasant ways. 

For example, you may find it difficult to open up to potential partners or withdraw from your existing partner. You may also idealize your partner and get sorely disappointed when they don’t turn out to match your fantasy. You can be in denial of negative occurrences and behaviors, letting them harm you indefinitely and making it harder to break away from unhealthy relationship dynamics. The list goes on. 

Your unconscious defense mechanisms can damage your romantic relationships in many ways, especially if you remain unaware of them. This is why it’s a good idea to learn about common survival strategies and see which ones may apply to you. 

How Do You Break Defense Mechanisms?

How Can Defense Mechanisms Harm Your Relationship

Although you may not be able to completely shut off your defense mechanisms, you can take more control over them. Here are some useful tips: 

  1. Keep an eye out for red flags in your behaviors and thoughts. 
  2. Explore your childhood and personal history to get an understanding of why you do what you do.. 
  3. Try not to blame others for your mistakes and circumstances.
  4. Take responsibility for your thoughts and actions. 
  5. Don’t run from negative emotions and let yourself cry. 
  6. Try consciously going in the opposite direction than what you seem to want. 
  7. Practice meditation and mindfulness. 
  8. Learn to embrace your emotions instead of pushing them away. 
  9. Speak with a relationship coach and learn healthier coping strategies. 

Uncover Your Defense Mechanisms Through Insightful Relationship Intimacy Coaching 

Knowing yourself is the first step towards positive behavioral change, and PIVOT is here to help you take it. We are a team of compassionate, knowledgeable relationship coaches dedicated to helping you heal and thrive. 

One of our clients, Mariah, was surprised with how much she actually learned about herself at PIVOT: “I knew a lot about myself already, but I didn’t know how to manage the knowledge or how to properly repair all these different parts of self. Now I do…I am not perfect at applying all I have learned but I get to be ok today with not being perfect.“ 

This is exactly what we try to do at PIVOT – to help you peel away layers of your personality and help you embrace your experiences and emotions without judgment. It is our goal to help you develop new, healthier strategies for dealing with pain, guilt, and anxiety in your relationships. Contact us now to explore our relationship workshops and retreats