Last time we talked about the ego defenses people use to mitigate the anxiety we have when we are not behaving as we think we ought to. We repress things, which is an active but unconscious act of forgetting things we find less than stellar about ourselves. We employ reaction formation when we espouse ideas and exhibit emotions that are really totally opposite of how we feel. We project our own unacceptable thoughts onto others. These are just a few of the classic ego defenses we use to remain sane from day to day.


But often these ego defenses are self-deception. And while they are commonly used, it’s seldom a good idea to go too far defending one’s ego outside the realm of reality. Some defenses are more positive than others. For example, if you could have a bad day at work and come home and yell at your spouse, or you could bake some bread and really knead that dough. Yelling at your spouse is an example of displacement, redirecting your negative feelings onto someone else. Kneading the dough is sublimation, which is redirecting your negative feelings into a productive activity. The latter, of course, is a better, more mature, way to go.

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Other, more mature ways to defend your ego include altruism. You cope with your own anxiety and fear by channeling your feelings into empathy for others. When you focus on other people’s needs, your own needs are sublimated. And you feel better for doing good for someone else.


Another good ego defense is humor. It’s possible to jolly yourself out of feeling anxious by acknowledging the absurdity of your situation. Humor helps you put things into a less threatening context and therefore you can begin to relax, and your anxiety dissipates. If you can laugh about your own inadequacies and shortcomings, you can gain real insight into yourself and your feelings.


Finally, if you are really on a path to enlightenment about your own insecurities, fears, and anxieties, you can practice asceticism. That is, you shed all manner of self-importance and worldly ambition. This, of course, if easier to talk about than to actually do. Buddhist monks spend lifetimes getting rid of worldly pleasures, focusing on meditating, and becoming a purely spiritual being.


You may not want to go as far as a Buddhist monk, but a little dose of humility can help you mitigate self-importance, which, in turn, will help ease your anxiety and fears. You can see yourself as less of an independent, autonomous being, and more of a person whose well-being is dependent on many aspects of society. In doing so, you remove the pressure on yourself and become less anxious. When that happens, you require fewer ego defenses.


People will always employ ego defenses, but you can be thoughtful about them, and learn from how you use them. This self-knowledge will help you fulfill your potential as a human being.


Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: