Teachers, Counselors, Social Workers – and the Defense Mechanisms We Use


Working with youth isn’t always easy. As children begin to test their boundaries, challenging our authority and expanding their understanding of themselves, they can absolutely push us to our limits. This can lead to stress, anger, depression, and disengagement in educators. By letting our emotions get to us and reacting negatively in pressure situations, we aren’t helping ourselves or our students. 

Have you ever yelled in the classroom, or lost your cool and got into an argument in front of the class? If you have, you’re not alone. The first step in combating these problems is to identify the defense mechanisms we use in our daily interactions with students. Sometimes we want to yell, scream, pull our hair out. Other times we want to cry, run away, or give up. By learning about the natural Defense Mechanisms we have when we face negative interactions with students, we can begin to overcome them. 

Steps to Learn About Your Natural Defense Mechanisms

  1. Identify your natural reaction. In a power struggle situation, how do you want to react? If a student insults you, do you lash out or even insult them back? When they close up in a counseling session, do you get frustrated at them? 
  2. Evaluate your feelings after you reacted in a pressure situation. Did you feel like a failure after you yelled back at a student? Did you feel happy after you spoke softly to the student who was crying over his/her failing grade? 
  3. Notice that these are your reactions and not controlled by circumstances. You can’t control the problems your children face. You can’t MAKE them do anything, but you can control how you respond. 
  4. Understand that you have a choice. It may take some practice to choose a positive response over a negative one, but practice makes perfect. This is also part of Christian Moore’s “Flip the Switch” tool.  
  5. Knowing whether you chose the right Defense Mechanism. Now that you know you can make a choice apart from your natural reaction, you must evaluate the right choice. In WhyTry, we identify a positive Defense Mechanisms as a choice that did not hurt yourself or another – such as your student. If you are both happier with better mutual respect, you have chosen the right Defense Mechanism. 

What are some strategies you use in the classroom to “keep your cool” and control your Defense Mechanisms?

Scroll to Top