Updated: Jan 8

Nobody likes being told they are wrong, especially pilots. There are 8 different Defense Mechanisms that pilots and people use to consciously or subconsciously defend their actions.

Here's what you need to know.


This is the Defense Mechanism whereby a person places uncomfortable thoughts into inaccessible areas of the unconscious mind. Things a person is not able to cope with are pushed away to be dealt with at a later time.

Example: A child witnesses a horrific accident and completely forgets about the accident because they have pushed the events into their subconscious mind.


This is a refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening. Denial can also take the form of minimization.

Example: A student lands long when performing a short field landing and refuses to accept the fact that they landed long.


The process of psychologically counterbalancing perceived weakness by emphasizing strength in other areas.

Example: A student poorly executes the steep turns maneuver. Instead of focusing on what they did incorrectly, they emphasize the fact that their slow flight maneuver was done exceptionally.


When an individual places his or her own unacceptable impulses onto someone else. Placing the blame for their failures on someone besides themselves.

Example: A student fails a checkride exam or written test. The student than blames their instructor for not teaching them properly.


A subconscious technique for justifying actions that otherwise would be unacceptable.

Example: A student improperly recovers from a power on stall. The student then begins to explain that it is too hot in the cockpit and they can't think properly.

REACTION FORMATION When a person fakes a belief opposite to their true belief because the true belief causes anxiety.

Example: A person believes in hell. However, they pretend not to believe in hell because that belief causes them anxiety.


Occurs when a person daydreams about how things should be rather than dealing with how things are.

Example: A student improperly performs a soft field takeoff. Instead of dealing with reality, they daydream about how good they are at soft field takeoffs.


An unconscious shift of emotion, affect, or desire from the original object to a more acceptable, less threatening substitute.

Example: A student performs poorly on a flight lesson. The student then takes their emotions home and gets mad at their children for not cleaning their room.

These are all natural human tendencies. It is important to understand them to know why a student is acting the way they are acting and to help correct the action for a desirable outcome.

Author - Nate Hodell

CFI/CFII/MEI/ATP - Creator of wifiCFI - Owner of Axiom Aviation Flight School.

This information is included in the Fundamentals of Instruction Lessons on wifiCFI. Sign up today to watch videos, listen to podcasts, take lesson quizzes, join live webinars, print lesson quicktakes, and more by clicking this link >

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