Those who are taking psychology may have noticed that Helga is a prime example of a person who uses defence mechanisms (techniques used to help you reduce anxiety).  Sure, she may be mature for her age, but she still has a lot to learn when it comes to coping with situations that don’t go your way.  The following is a list of some common defence mechanisms that Helga uses.  (You didn’t think “Hey Arnold!” wasn’t applicable to the real world, did you?)


Let’s start off easy, shall we?  Denial is the simple refusal to acknowledge an event as stressful.  For example, a smoker who refuses to believe that smoking is harmful to their lungs is undergoing denial.  Now, because there are many ways to refute an unfriendly fact, the word “denial” is a relatively broad term, which makes it so easy to relate to.  And to only skim the surface, some methods of avoiding a fact can include:

  • Lying (e.g. saying that you’re fine when in fact you are not)
  • Blaming others to avoid responsibility (e.g. a student with poor study habits blaming his/her teacher for making tests that are too hard)
  • Understating a fact (e.g. a person with a large gash across their body calling their injury only a small scratch)
  • Outright refusal to believe a fact (e.g. refusing to believe your doctor when he says you have a cold)

Some examples of Helga demonstrating denial:

  • Helga refusing to believe that she is jealous of Olga and Lila’s relationship in “Big sis”.
  • In “Phoebe takes the fall”, Arnold compliments Helga that she did the right thing in letting Phoebe compete in an all-city tournament.  Helga replies, “I don’t know what you’re talking about”.


Similar to denial, rationalization occurs when you distort reality to justify an unpleasant emotion or behaviour.  In this case, reasoning, or logic, becomes your best friend.  For example, a high school student that doesn’t get accepted into the university that he applied to reasons to himself that “he didn’t want to go into that university anyways, since it’s in a bad city”. 

A good example of Helga using rationalization was in “Helga and the nanny”, where she attempts to justify framing her nanny, Inga, for stealing since she was “ruining her life”.  In addition to that, she also uses arguments such as “I got away with framing Inga” and “Inga probably has a new job by now”.


When you watch situations from an emotionally detached point of view, you are exhibiting intellectualization.  For example, a person who is concentrating on the details of a background in a sad scene of a movie as opposed to the emotions of the characters would be demonstrating intellectualization.

The best example of Helga watching the world from an emotionally detached point of view was in the episode “Helga’s love potion”, where she decides to not love Arnold (or care about anything else for that matter) after drinking an “out-of-love potion”.


Have you ever faced a problem that you couldn’t deal with maturely?  Instead of dealing with it in a professional manner, you did something relatively immature, like crying, throwing a tantrum, or calling names?  If you have, then you have demonstrated something known as regression.  Regression is when you resort to a less mature method of coping when under severe pressure, where your commonly used (and more mature) methods do not work.

If you remember any scenes where Helga has had a sudden burst of emotion (like screaming, “We’re all gonna die!” in episodes such as “Haunted train”) or violently crying (such as in the episode “Ms. Perfect”), then you have seen her demonstrate regression.  And, of course, there’s Helga’s everyday name-calling and bullying.


This defence mechanism might be a little harder to understand, depending on how you define it.  One of the common definitions of projection is that it occurs when “unacceptable feelings are believed to be coming from the environment, and not yourself”.  In other words, it’s simply the blame-game: unpleasant feelings/events are not because of you, but because of someone else.  Losing an argument?  Don’t worry, you’re not stupid, the other side is.

The most prominent example of Helga demonstrating projection is when it comes to her family.  As you already know, Helga has many family problems.  However, she tends to blame her parents and sister for her family problems (such as them not paying enough attention to her), and by doing so, avoids responsibility to her family.  Helga’s actions do in fact have an impact on her family relationships, and when she is uncooperative (e.g. refusing to give thanks during Thanksgiving), she can damage those bonds.  But in some cases as far as Helga is concerned, her relationship with her parents and sister are poor because of them, not her.


I’m sure many of you have heard of the psychological reason why Helga puts so much emotional energy into Arnold.  It’s even posted in Wikipedia!  Perhaps I’ll reiterate it.  Displacement (also called transference) occurs when you transfer an unacceptable desire/feelings to another, less threatening object.  So, in Helga’s case, her unacceptable feelings are those of love towards her family.  These feelings are seen as unacceptable as they are often unrequited and therefore painful.  As a result, she transfers these feelings of affection towards something less threatening: Arnold. 

Reaction Formation

Reaction formation is the replacing of unacceptable feelings/urges with its opposite, which is mainly used to cover up one’s true feelings.  Sound familiar and very applicable to Helga?  It should be.  That’s what we call Helga’s love-hate feelings towards Arnold.  She loves him dearly, but when the matter is brought up face-to-face, she’d rather stick feathers to his butt than to give him a subtle and nice compliment.