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Rationalization – Psychological Defense Mechanism – Complete Guide

Rationalization: I failed because my teacher hates me!!!
Table of Contents


At times people will go to great lengths to attempt to “justify” a behavior that they know is wrong or that they know others regard as wrong. This attempt to justify is what we call as rationalization. We have all done this at some point of time in our lives and some of us may even be rationalizing on a daily basis!

What is Rationalization?

Rationalization is a defense mechanism identified by Freud.

According to Freud

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Reasons for Rationalization?

  • It could be something that we have done, or at times something, that someone else has done, which causes discomfort
  • We not only rationalize actions and the things we have done, we also find reason for our beliefs, models, values and other inner structures and thoughts.

How Rationalization helps?

Let us take an example, a person applies for a job and gets rejected.

He may rationalize and say ‘I did not want this job anyway’.

Temporarily this rationalization is helpful because it is helping him overcome disappointment of being rejected. Once he gets over this disappointment, he will go ahead and work towards developing his skills.

So whats wrong with Rationalization?

There is a possibility that the man is not getting the job because he lacks certain skills. Now if this man continues rationalizing even after multiple rejections, he may not even work on developing his skills and hence the same rationalization that was earlier useful for him now becomes a clutch for him. A clutch that stops him from improving himself.

Rationalization Process

The rationalization process can range from fully conscious (e.g. to present an external defense against ridicule from others) to mostly subconscious (e.g. to create a block against internal feelings of guilt). Simply put, rationalization is making excuses for one’s mistakes, and by doing so avoiding self-condemnation or condemnation by others.

Rationalization and Self-Serving Bias:

Since Rationalization happens after the event takes place; it is connected to the self-serving bias.

When confronted by success or failure, people tend to attribute achievement to their own qualities and skills while failures are blamed on other people or outside forces. For example: A student may blame the examiner for being stringent in grading her rather than lack of efforts on her side or say a teacher may take credit for his students getting good results solely because of his effective teaching, nullifying the student’s efforts

We rationalize to ourselves and even others, at times to even people who are unknown to us. Let us say a woman trips and falls over in the street and tells a passer-by that ‘I have recently been ill’, here it is helping her save herself from feeling embarrassment or maybe from being ridiculed by others for not being careful.

Types of Rationalizations

Generally Rationalizations can be divided in two types:

  1. One is the “silver lining,” an assumption that everything happens for the best, so one should try to find the blessing in disguise. Considering the above example of the person being rejected for a job, the person may say “I din’t get the job because something better awaits me.”
  2. The second type of the rationalization is the “sour grapes phenomenon,” a term that comes from Aesop’s fable about the fox who said that the grapes too high to reach were sour anyway. Taking the above example again, the person may say “I wasn’t interested in this job anyway.”

Now what?

Watch out for your own rationalizations. It is important to check reality and be true to self. If you or someone you know has been using rationalization in a manner that it is beginning to create a problem,  do feel free to call us on +91-808020-8473 or use the contact us form.

Therapists Niche:

Various techniques from Hypnosis and NLP can be used to help the client understand their behaviour from a third persons point of view. This provides them with an opportunity to realize the situations where rationalization may not be working for them.

Hypnosis, NLP and CBT related processes can also help the client develop skills to be more mindful about their thoughts, emotions, behaviours and situations where they are (mis)using rationalization.

If you are a psychologist who would like to learn to effectively work with clients who have been using different defense mechanisms like rationalization in ways that sustain the problem instead of resolving it, you must search for the Cognitive Hypnotic Psychotherapy™ Program. It is the only program that seamlessly integrates different approaches to psychotherapy (cognitive, behavioural, psycho-dynamics and humanistic) with powerful techniques from Clinical Hypnosis, NLP, Metaphors and Mindfulness.

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