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   Seunghyun Lee
   Defense Mechanism

Definition :    

Defense Mechanism: When we engage in some type of activity we find wrong or troubling, we need to protect ourselves in some way. According to Psychoanalytic theory, the ego has several different types of Defense mechanisms, or methods of reducing anxiety by unconsciously distorting reality. For example, Freud indicated that humans have many defense mechanisms, including, repression, regression, denial (my personal favorite), projection, compensation, sublimation, reaction formation, rationalization, and hallucination.

"Defenses operate to protect us from uncomfortable or unacceptable self-awareness."

                                                    - Richard O'Connor,  Psychologist -

Freud's personality theory :

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) developed his ideas about psychoanalytic theory from work with mental patients. He was a medical doctor who specialized in neurology.

How does the ego resolve the conflict among its demands for reality, the wishes of the id, and constraints of the superego? Through defense mechanisms, the psychoanalytic term for unconscious methods the ego uses to distort reality, thereby protecting it from anxiety. In Freud's view, the conflicting demands of the personality structures produce anxiety. For example, when the ego blocks the pleasurable pursuits of the id, inner anxiety is felt. This diffuse, distressed state develops when the ego senses that the id is going to cause harm to the individual. The anxiety alerts the ego to resolve the conflict by means of defense mechanisms.

Repression is the most powerful and pervasive defense mechanism, according to Freud; it works to push unacceptable id impulses out of awareness and back into the unconscious mind. Repression is the foundation from which all other defense mechanisms work; the goal of every defense mechanism is to repress, or push threatening impulses out of awareness. Freud said that our early childhood experiences, many of which he believed are sexually laden, are too threatening and stressful for us to deal with consciously. We reduce the anxiety of this conflict through the defense mechanism of repression.

Examples of defense mechanism and review of the Freudian theory :

I guess all of us know a rationalization when we see one, especially when the other guy does it. Intellectualization is denial that's been to college--"I understand why I drink but I choose to continue." Everyone who has ever kicked the dog or yelled at the kids when he's really angry at the boss is guilty of displacement. Introjection and incorporation are ways we have of minimizing the impact of death or separation, and most of us have had the experience of suddenly realizing we are acting "just like" the person we cared about who is gone. Reaction formation and undoing are ways of doing the opposite of the wished-for behavior, which sometimes appear superstitious. Most of us know someone who hates our guts, but always acts like our best friend. That is reaction formation. Projection is a powerful and often destructive tool whereby we take unacceptable parts of ourselves and attribute them to others. Projection is often the fuel for divorce: "It's not my fault, it's your fault, that I'm unhappy, unsuccessful..." Splitting is a complex defense mechanism in which others are seen as either all good (and thus caring, rescuing sources of strength) or all bad (and thus to blame for all one's own misery). To be in a close relationship with a splitter is extremely confusing (but rarely dull), because the roles frequently reverse, often several times a day, so one is never quite sure where one stands. Splitters can wreak havoc in groups because they tend to get others to play out their assigned roles; no one is permitted to be merely human, a combination of good and bad.

These defenses are all sensible observations of human behavior patterns; where Freudian theory gets in trouble nowadays, however, is when one asks what is being defended against. Freud developed a psychology based on instinctual drives as the foundation for all human behavior. This does not feel acceptable to current theorists; it leaves out too much of human behavior that seems motivated by desires for self-fulfillment, intimacy, or mastery over the environment. Because the defenses were explained in terms of drives, there is a temptation to minimize their importance or abandon the concepts altogether.

But this would clearly be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The concept of defense explains a great deal of what we see every day in character and personality, in interpersonal relations, in why people get into self-defeating behavior patterns that lead to the therapist's office. For instance, some people's whole lives seem determined by denial, others by projection, others by reaction formation. Let us say that the defenses operate to protect us from uncomfortable or unacceptable self-awareness, and leave it at that until a new comprehensive theory of human behavior is developed.

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