Are classic “bad” personality traits actually bad, or are they learned defence mechanisms?
Have you ever noticed that some people are calm and good at resolving conflicts, while others seem to pick fights for no reason? Or that your friends find it easy to motivate themselves while you waste a lot of time convincing yourself to start? We all have flaws. Sometimes, we must accept that we aren’t perfect and might never be as good at something as we would like. But you might not necessarily have lazy or difficult personality traits. Instead, you might have learned to rely on harmful coping mechanisms to the point they almost become a part of your identity.
What is a Defence Mechanism?
A defence mechanism is an unconscious strategy meant to protect you from distress. While it sounds good in theory because it serves as an immediate escape from an unpleasant situation, it ultimately prevents you from processing negative emotions that can make your life difficult in the long run. For example, if you avoid meeting people after a breakup, you ensure you won’t get hurt again. Still, you’re simultaneously robbing yourself of an opportunity to form new relationships.
There are a few defence mechanisms that can be confused with lazy personality traits:
Do you often procrastinate completing work even though it’s important? You know that the longer you wait, the more likely you’ll miss the deadline. Avoidance is one of the most common defence mechanisms involving managing discomfort associated with specific tasks by not doing them at all. This avoidance might result in immediate relief, but the discomfort only grows. In tandem, so will the feeling of guilt. While procrastination is often associated with laziness, many people procrastinate by doing other productive tasks that don’t generate as much anxiety.
Dissociation refers to being detached from the environment or your body. For example, under extreme stress, you might feel like you’re watching yourself from above and your surroundings aren’t real. While it’s a defence mechanism that protects you when you experience trauma, relying on it over time will make your mind retreat to it whenever you experience minor stressors. As a result, you might struggle to get anything done.
Many falsely perceived personality traits might also hurt your relationships with others which includes:
Displacement involves shifting your focus from a source of distress to a less threatening situation. For example, people who take out their frustration on others often experience stress from other aspects of their lives. If you lose your job, you might pick up fights with your partner to cope with negative feelings. If you struggle with parenting, you might snap at your co-workers.
Owing up to your mistakes is a skill, and should not be associated with personality traits, but it doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person if you haven’t learned it yet. Rationalization happens when you excuse your behaviour to avoid feeling guilty. For example, you might tell yourself it was okay to give the silent treatment to your partner because you felt like they weren’t giving you enough attention.
Age regression is a defence mechanism typically seen in people who experienced early trauma. If you struggle with age regression, you might deal with stress and approach conflict the way you would if you were a child, for example, by throwing a tantrum. These reactions can make your relationships more challenging.
Projection defines assigning your unwanted thoughts or feelings to another person. For example, suppose you feel insecure in social situations. In that case, you might tell yourself that others are acting judgemental towards you, or if you’re attracted to someone other than your partner, you might accuse them of cheating. Unfortunately, this defence mechanism decreases your self-awareness and might create unnecessary conflicts.