Skip to main content

Rationalization (Defense Mechanism)


Lying; Lying to oneself; Justifying; Making excuses; Bullshitting


Rationalization is a disavowal defense mechanism which permits an individual to deal with emotional conflicts, or internal or external stressors, by devising reassuring or self-serving but incorrect explanations for his or her own or others’ thoughts, actions, or feelings, which cover up other motives (Perry 1990).


Defense mechanisms are automatic psychological processes that protect an individual from emotional conflicts or awareness of internal or external stressors. They impact individuals’ reactions to conflicts and stressors (American Psychiatric Association 2013). Defenses can be arranged hierarchically based on their usual level of adaptiveness. Within the hierarchy, defenses are grouped into different levels based on common functions. These levels include the psychotic (0), action (1), major image-distorting (2), disavowal and autistic-fantasy (3), minor image-distorting (4),...

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington: American Psychiatric Association.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Bloch, A. L., Shear, M. K., Markowitz, J. C., Leon, A. C., & Perry, J. C. (1993). An empirical study of defense mechanisms in dysthymia. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 150(8), 1194–1198. doi:10.1176/ajp.150.8.1194.

    CrossRef  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Frankfurt, H. G. (2005). On bullshit. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Holmes, C. B. (1981). Rationalization as the major defense in hypochondriasis. Psychological Reports, 49(2), 676. doi:10.2466/pr0.1981.49.2.676.

    CrossRef  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Jones, E. (1908). Rationalization in everyday life. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 3, 161–169.

    CrossRef  Google Scholar 

  • Juni, S. (1997). Conceptualizing defense mechanisms from drive theory and object relations perspectives. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 57(2), 149–166.

    CrossRef  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Perry, J. C. (1990). Defense mechanism rating scales: Manual (5th ed.). Boston: Cambridge University.

    Google Scholar 

  • Perry, J. C. (2014). Anomalies and specific functions in the clinical identification of defense mechanisms. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 70(5), 406–418. doi:10.1002/jclp.22085.

    CrossRef  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Perry, J. C., & Bond, M. (2012). Change in defense mechanisms during long-term dynamic psychotherapy and five-year outcome. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 169(9), 916–925. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2012.11091403.

    CrossRef  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Perry, J. C., & Cooper, S. H. (1989). An empirical study of defense mechanisms. I. Clinical interview and life vignette ratings. Archives of General Psychiatry, 46(5), 444–452.

    CrossRef  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Perry, J. C., & Presniak, M. D. (2012). Conflicts and defenses in Narcissistic Personality Disorder. In J. S. Ogrodniczuk, Understanding and treating pathological Narcissism. Washington: American Psychological Association.

    Google Scholar 

  • Perry, J. C., Presniak, M. D., & Olson, T. R. (2013). Defense mechanisms in schizotypal, borderline, antisocial, and narcissistic personality disorders. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 76(1), 32–52. doi:10.1521/psyc.2013.76.1.32.

    Google Scholar 

  • Perry, J. C., Metzger, J., & Sigal, J. J. (2015). Defensive functioning among women with breast cancer and matched community controls. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 78(2), 156–169. doi:10.1080/00332747.2015.1051445.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Megan Knoll .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Section Editor information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Copyright information

© 2016 Springer International Publishing AG

About this entry

Cite this entry

Knoll, M., Starrs, C.J., Perry, J.C. (2016). Rationalization (Defense Mechanism). In: Zeigler-Hill, V., Shackelford, T. (eds) Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences. Springer, Cham.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-319-28099-8

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-319-28099-8

  • eBook Packages: Springer Reference Behavioral Science and PsychologyReference Module Humanities and Social Sciences