Understanding When You Get Defensive: Insights for Moms: Summer Playback Series – 307

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Have you ever had one of those days where you find yourself making excuses or snapping at your kids for no real reason? It might be your defense mechanisms at play, protecting you from uncomfortable truths and emotions.

In this episode, we'll take a look at some of these hidden forces and how they show up in our everyday lives, especially as moms.

I share personal stories and practical tips on how to catch yourself using these defenses, what to do about them, and why opening up to discomfort can be a game-changer for your personal growth.


  • What defense mechanisms are and why you have them.
  • Four of the defenses I see most often in my clients and examples of each.
  • What to do the next time you find yourself feeling defensive to ‘disarm' your defenses.
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You are listening to the Less Drama More Mama podcast, episode 307: Understanding When You Get Defensive: Insights for Moms, week 7 of the Summer Playback Series

This is Less Drama More Mama, the podcast for moms who want to feel calm, in control, and confident about how to handle anything life throws their way. If you’re ready to go from feeling frazzled and disrespected to feeling calm and connected, this is the podcast for you. I’m your host, Pam Howard.

Hi Mama. Welcome to another edition of the Summer Playback Series. I hope your summer is off to a great start. Today we’re revisiting episode 79 that’s all about defensiveness. If you’ve ever snapped at your kids for spilling their milk, when really, you were frustrated from a tough conversation you had at work, or you told yourself you were too exhausted to work out, even though you knew it was just an excuse to stay in bed longer, you already know how sneaky defense mechanisms can be. They’re like little traps we set for ourselves, convincing us that avoiding discomfort is better than facing it head-on. But when we recognize these patterns and learn to disarm them, we open ourselves up to growth, deeper connections, and a more fulfilling life.

In this episode, I cover four of the most common defense mechanisms. I share personal stories and practical tips on how to catch yourself using them, and what to do about them.



As humans, we all have defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms are mental processes that are initiated, usually unconsciously, to avoid conflict or anxiety. They protect us by keeping painful emotions and thoughts outside of our conscious awareness. Sigmund Freud first identified nine psychological defense mechanisms, also called ego defenses, and then his daughter Anna elaborated on them, adding ten more, and many psychoanalysts have added even more of them over time.

The late psychoanalyst, Donald Meltzer, described defense mechanisms as lies we tell ourselves to evade pain. I love that definition. Let me read it again. Lies we tell ourselves to evade pain. That’s what coaching helps uncover – those lies we tell ourselves. And then coaching also helps you learn how to process the pain you’re trying to avoid. When you’re afraid of certain emotions, you stay in your comfort zone and that prevents you from growing and evolving.

One of my favorite quotes from Brooke Castillo is, “Discomfort is the currency to your dreams.” When you can open up to discomfort, and be willing to feel any emotion, that’s when your life really opens up. Because when you’re not afraid to feel any emotion, there’s no reason to hide or put up defenses. See, you’re wired for connection, but you’re also wired for self-protection. When you experience your child or your partner as a threat, you withdraw to protect yourself from further injury and then you create disconnection and damage your relationships. Byron Katie says that, “Defense is the first act of war.” Without defensiveness, there is no war. So, I’m going to talk about four of the defenses I see most often in my clients and then we’ll talk about how to disarm your defenses.

The first is pretty widely known. It’s Denial. Denial is when you refuse to believe what you actually know on some level to be true. I was in major denial about issues in my marriage. I was unwilling to accept certain things because it went against what I wanted, and it didn’t match my perception of myself. I saw myself as someone who was able to work things out no matter how bad they got. And eventually I had to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t work things out with someone who wasn’t also willing. I had to come to terms with the fact that, like me, my kids would have divorced parents. That was so hard. Even after my ex-husband left, I was still in denial. It was such a strong force.

I see parents at the school where I work in denial about their kids having symptoms of depression or being on the Autism spectrum or lying, having an addiction, engaging in inappropriate behavior. They just can’t wrap their minds around the idea that their child is dealing with something like that.

So, the question I want you to ask yourself is: What are the subtle ways you’re lying to yourself in order to hide feelings you don’t want to accept consciously? What important feelings are you not allowing into your awareness? And where in your life are you not telling yourself the full truth? You know the saying, “The truth will set you free.” Once you tell yourself the truth and get honest with yourself, that is when you will be free. And I’m continuing to learn that for myself every day.

The second defense mechanism I want to discuss is called Displacement. This is when you redirect your emotions, usually anger, toward someone who doesn’t deserve it. When Marissa was little, I unleashed a lot of my pent-up anger onto her. I felt inadequate as a mom and as a wife. So, it was much easier and safer to yell at her than it was to get angry with my ex or take control of my own happiness. And I felt a false sense of power because she was so defenseless. I knew in my heart that my anger was misdirected, but I didn’t know how to change at the time.

I had a child come to me the other day upset because his mom had yelled at him that morning on the way to school. I know that the mom is having a lot of health issues right now and that this was most likely displaced anger. It happens all the time when we’re stressed out about work or relationships or our health and we just let it out on our kids because they’re an easy target. So, catch yourself doing this and apologize. Let your kids know it’s not about them and then deal with the true source of your anger.

The third defense mechanism is Projection. This is when you attribute unwanted thoughts, feelings, and motives onto another person. The most common example is when a spouse is unfaithful and then accuses the spouse of having an affair. They try to get rid of their own pain, usually guilt or shame, by projecting it onto the other. Another common example is when you have a strong dislike for someone, you might instead believe that he or she doesn’t like you. I see this with students and teachers a lot. When a student says, “that teacher hates me,” it’s usually because they don’t like the teacher.

The fourth defense mechanism is Rationalization. You’re familiar with this one. These are all the excuses you make and the justifications you have to explain what happened or why you did or didn’t do something. You might rationalize eating the chocolate because you had a stressful day at work. You rationalize not going to the gym because you had to take the kids somewhere. You rationalize yelling because your child was so out of control. When you rationalize, you’re not taking responsibility. And when you’re not taking responsibility, you’re giving all of your power away. In order to get your power back, you need to take responsibility for all of your results.

So, what does that look like? How do you disarm your defenses and open yourself up to being vulnerable? I want to give you a couple of examples. I’ve talked before about how Marissa has a life-threatening allergy to dairy. One time when she was with her father and stepmother, she had a reaction and they didn’t give her the Epipen. They gave her Benadryl and took her to Urgent care, but they didn’t administer the Epipen, which is what we’re supposed to do. So, the day after this happened, I spoke with the stepmom on the phone and I said, “Why didn’t you give her the Epipen?” I was ready for a fight. I was on the offense. And she said, “I don’t know. You’re absolutely right, Pam. We should have.” And I was like, “Wait. She’s not even going to defend herself? She’s not going to try and justify this?” I have to say, I was not expecting that, and it just completely diffused the conflict. Defense is the first act of war. And there was no war.

What I’ve learned is that the reason we become defensive is that there’s a part of us, however small, that believes some of what the other person says is true. Otherwise, we wouldn’t get defensive. A client of mine might believe, “I’m not a good enough wife.” Then, when her husband complains about something, like maybe she forgot to pick up the dry cleaning, her own self-criticism and feelings of inadequacy cause her to get defensive. So, now, whenever I feel myself getting defensive and wanting to prove myself or justify something, I ask myself, “Where’s the truth in this?” And then I agree with whatever it is, even if it’s only a small percentage.

The other day at school, one of the teachers got an email from an angry mother about something and her first instinct was to defend herself. But I said, “Whoa. Wait a minute. Where’s the truth in this? What can you agree on?” And from there, I helped her respond to the mom in a non-defensive, collaborative way.

So, we’ve only covered four of the ego defenses and there are a ton more. And they’re not always negative. Some defenses can be more adaptive than others. For example, using humor to point out the funny aspects of a situation is a defense mechanism. And Sublimation is a defense mechanism where you act out unacceptable impulses in a more acceptable way. Like, instead of punching someone in the face when you’re angry, you take up boxing at your gym.

While you can’t eliminate your defense mechanisms, and you wouldn’t necessarily want to because they’re there to protect you, you can become more aware of them and their effects. And being more conscious allows you to think, feel, and behave in ways to ultimately bring about the results you want. So, that is my episode for today. I hope you enjoyed it. Talk to you again next week. Bye-bye.

If you enjoy listening to this podcast, and you’re ready to feel calmer, more confident and more at peace in your family and life, I invite you to sign up for a free consultation with me to learn about how my coaching can help you achieve the exact life you want. You’ll take the concepts and tools I share in the podcast and apply them to your own life, and as your coach I’ll be there to support you every step of the way. Go to lessdramamoremama.com/mini and sign up now.

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Hi, I’m Pam

As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Master Parenting Coach, and former K-8 School Counselor, I’m on a mission to empower moms to feel calmer and more connected to their kids.

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