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Anger and Defense Mechanisms

Our emotions are essential to our daily functioning. Our emotions bind us together, especially when there are similarities in what we care about and value. However, there is still one emotion that remains a puzzle to be solved. This emotion is anger. Sometimes when we are angry, we use defense mechanisms to cope.

Why is anger such a puzzle?

It is not like anger sneaks up on us or hides in dark places waiting to ambush us. The situations that frustrate us are often obvious. For example, a snide remark from another person, being interrupted midsentence while speaking, or realizing you are being taken for granted. All the examples above are worthy of our attention, mainly when they are ongoing.

As a reminder, anger is a normal healthy human emotion. We all experience anger or sometimes rage, depending on our situation. Some of us struggle with this powerful emotion. The people around us can sometimes see anger building within us. Still, we are left oblivious to our anger warning signs contributing to an episode of anger. It is an episode of anger because we are not always angry. The anger is situational.

The fact that anger is situational makes it manageable primarily when we become aware of our triggers and warning signs and practice responding appropriately. We deal with anger in mature and immature ways.

Mature and Immature Defense Mechanisms

A defense mechanism is a way of dealing with unpleasant experiences. These experiences include anger-provoking situations. When we use defense mechanisms sparingly, they can serve an adaptive purpose. Still, when they are overused, they contribute to maladaptive behaviors.

An excellent starting point, explore whether you are using mature or immature defense mechanisms to deal appropriately with anger-provoking situations. Sublimation is an example of a mature defense mechanism. Sublimation applies to anger management in this way; you are angry instead of punching the wall or a person, you find a solution. The decision to redirect your behaviors supports the potential for a reasonable and appropriate outcome. This means that the anger and the reason for the outburst are acknowledged. The reason for the angry outburst is subjective but not irrelevant to finding a solution.

Examples of Immature defense mechanisms are projection, denial, and displacement:

Projection is used to make someone else responsible for your angry outburst instead of taking responsibility for your actions. For instance, blaming the other person for your anger; if you did not behave as you did, I would not have to respond this way.

Denial is considered immature because the angry person refuses to accept; they are mad and pretend to be ok. This works in the short term but has no long-term utility.

Displacement applies when the angry person directs their anger to another person or thing instead of the person they are mad at. In other words, they choose a softer target. For example, you are angry at your boss but lash out at a coworker inquiring if you are ok.

Anger is not a dwelling place. Therefore, do not dwell on the anger-provoking situation by rehearsing or revisiting the problem multiple times. Once there is a reasonable solution, you should stick to the agreement. It is unhelpful to rehash the circumstance that led to the anger; otherwise, it takes longer to move on.

Anger does not have to get the better of you. Anger management takes practice. So, I'd like for you to continue to practice appropriate anger management skills.

Stay Naturally Curious


Sharf, S. R. (2004). Theories of psychotherapy and Counseling: Concept and cases (3rd ed.).Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

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