Human instinct suggests people have self-protective mechanisms. Some call it survival of the fittest and some regard it as an evolutionary principle designed as a coping mechanism predicated on basic human needs of survival and safety. Individuals in recovery have defense mechanisms to hide or prevent others from getting too close for fear of showing others their true selves.

Healthy patterns of coping with difficult situations do not distort reality, make an individual hide or run away or fear a facade being discovered. While it is not easy to be one’s true self, it is much more worthwhile to allow people to understand what is real versus what is perceived to be real but is just a cover. Letting go and opening oneself to others is a crucial part of recovery which requires trust. Some defense mechanisms are more common than others but they all promote the same unhealthy habit of holding people back from the truth.

Innocencebehaving in a way that is naive, sweet, or overly innocent to avoid confrontation

Helplessnessacting innocently or asking basic questions to avoid responsibility

Withdrawingavoiding confrontation through silence or avoidance of others

Manipulationusing others to own advantage or to get one’s own way

Sarcasmmaking bitter or biting remarks in response to people in conversation to hide true feelings

Intimidationthreatening, screaming, or scaring others away to keep at a distance

Jokingmaking jokes or laughing (sometimes at inappropriate times) to hide true feelings

Minimizingacting as though a problem is not significant or is not a concern (learned helplessness)

Denialinability to acknowledge or believe what is true

Agreeing easilysaying ‘yes’ when really wanting to say ‘no’ or complying without objection



Defense mechanisms develop as a pattern of behavior stemming from a dysfunctional family or an inability to communicate effectively. Consider why these defenses are being used and why people are kept at a distance. Defense mechanisms are generally a way to avoid difficult emotions or feelings. Letting them go brings people closer and allows for more freedom and openness to be direct about thoughts and feelings. Emotional sobriety is about finding negative patterns and transforming them into more positive ones, changed for one’s own good as well as others. A healthy recovery is all about building a strong foundation for a long-lasting and healthy recovery. When it becomes difficult on one’s own, seek help from outside sources such as therapists, counselors, or recovery specialists. The work of healing in recovery is done not alone but with the support and help of others.