- Phebe CramerPhebe CramerWilliams College, Emerita
Defense mechanisms are mental operations that function outside of awareness. In this sense, they operate in the unconscious mind. Such mechanisms were first identified by Sigmund Freud in connection with psychopathology but later were understood to be part of normal everyday functioning. Defenses serve the purpose of protecting the individual from excessive anxiety and loss of self-esteem.
Defense mechanisms have been found to change with age, based on the complexity of the mental operations involved. Once a child understands how a defense mechanism functions, the mechanism tends to be used less frequently and a cognitively more complex mechanism is adopted.