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Heath, A. (2015). Mind Your Mind, Episode 3: Road Rage (Defense Mechanisms). PEP Video Grants, 1(1):5.

(2015). PEP Video Grants, 1(1):5

Mind Your Mind, Episode 3: Road Rage (Defense Mechanisms)

Author and Director
A. Chris Heath, M.D.

Brad Trent and James Grant

The unconscious is a source of passion and depth. But it is silly and funny. And it gets us into all kinds of trouble. In Mind Your Mind episode 3, Road Rage, Dr Heath explores the everyday issues of empathy, hate, mature reactions, and “defensive driving”. The psychoanalytic concept of defence mechanism is explored, through the lens of an everyday experience in urban driving. Our unconscious comes out in the way we act; pay attention and be entertained!

DR. CHRIS HEATH: Hi I'm Dr. Heath. I'm a psychoanalyst. Today's session is about unconscious tactics that people use to deal with stress. We psychoanalysts call these defense mechanisms. And they're different than conscious coping mechanisms.

Coping mechanisms are things you do, like hobbies or exercise. People know they're doing those. What I'm talking about is unconscious, and it includes certain kinds of forgetting-- wait, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah-- and other kinds of internal distractions that help us deal with stressful stuff.

The best way to think about these defense mechanisms is by grouping them according to how adaptive they are. For instance, more healthy, less healthy, not so healthy. For instance, humor causes less trouble than denial. But you don't get a choice in the moment. You just do whatever you can. And that's got to be OK for now.

The easiest way to show these defense mechanisms is by acting them out. But I have to give a warning here. You may see yourself in some of these. It's OK. People's maturity level fluctuates depending on how stressed they are, whether they've been in therapy, and other stuff too.

Our first example is of a primitive defense mechanism called splitting. In splitting, a person sees other people as either all good or all bad. That's the split. And of course, other people aren't all good or all bad. But we forget that sometimes. Here, let's see the example.

Wow, he just cut you off.

SPEAKER 2: What? He can't do that. I'll show him. I rule in this game.

DR. CHRIS HEATH: Phew. We can see how that could turn out poorly, right? In our example, our driver doesn't even try to understand the other driver. He only feels insulted by being cut off. Heck, we don't even know what was on the other driver's mind. He may not have even seen us.

But people act this way every day, in those road rage incidents that we read about in the newspaper. While we're hating on the other person, we think we can make up our own rules of the road. OK, so let's see another example. This next example is a neurotic level defense mechanism. My personal favorite-- obsessive-compulsiveness.

Hey, he just cut you off.

SPEAKER 2: I am trying to follow the car in front of me two seconds behind. He cuts me off. Now I must drop back to make sure I'm not exceeding the speed limit.

DR. CHRIS HEATH: Aren't you mad?

SPEAKER 2: A little, but as long as I follow the rules, nothing bad's going to happen.

DR. CHRIS HEATH: So this time, our driver's tactics are much more helpful. He reacts to the careless driver by being over the top careful. By being careful, and by denying his anger, he is a safer driver. But check it out. He has a harder time interacting with his passenger.

And he's not very comfortable. White knuckles-- ahh. Besides, if he's driving the exact speed limit, that may not be the safest speed to drive. What if everybody else is going much slower than the speed limit, or much faster, for that matter?

So next, let's see some examples of mature defense mechanisms. Couple of examples-- humor and altruism, which is just being kind. Let's see.

He just cut you off.


DR. CHRIS HEATH: Wait, wait. Aren't you angry?

SPEAKER 2: Nah, too much effort to be angry. Besides, I kind of feel sorry for the poor guy since he's in such a hurry. He's probably late for his own funeral.


So what's the answer? Next time somebody cuts you off, be considerate. An empathic view of the other person is an important part of good mental health. But what if the other person seems to really enjoy cutting you off?

SPEAKER 3: Ha, eat my dust. Heh.

DR. CHRIS HEATH: Look, if he's that much of a jerk, getting to work 500 milliseconds earlier is the least of his troubles. Take care of yourself. Yeah, let's not actually go over 40. [LAUGHTER]

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Article Citation

Heath, A. (2015). Mind Your Mind, Episode 3: Road Rage (Defense Mechanisms). PEP Video Grants, 1(1):5

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