Top 13 Defense Mechanisms According to Psycho-Analysis

The thirteen defense mechanisms according to psycho-analysis are as follows: 1. Repression 2. Denial 3. Reaction Formation 4. Isolation 5. Projection 6. Regression 7. Introjections 8. Displacement 9. Sublimation 10. Suppression 11. Rationalisation 12. Intellectualisation 13. Compensation.

A person, according to psycho-analysis, is normal when he (ego) is able to handle the demands of id, superego and reality effectively and without conflict. Demands of reality or of id (instinctual drives) pose threat to ego.  External threats (real ones) are easily handled by ego, but the danger (threat) from within is difficult to handle. Whenever ego senses that acting on an impulse or even just experiencing it will create danger or perceives or interprets a situation or stimuli as dangerous, it creates anxiety. Anxiety is a signal of impending danger (external or internal). If a person interprets a situation as threatening and is able to cope with stressor, i.e., situation or stimuli, he may resort to intrapsychic manoeuvres (defense mechanisms) to eliminate anxiety state.

When any sexual wish or aggressive desire (i.e., instinctual drive) gets activated and when these are against the superego (ethical norms) or reality of the situation, defenses prohibit experiencing these impulses and ward off the anxiety.  Ego defends itself from the anxiety resulting from the threat of the impulse seeking immediate gratification. Anxiety is always associated with the threats to ego either from instinctual drives or outside force and defense mechanism modifies, distorts or renders unconscious the feelings, thoughts, memories that would otherwise provoke anxiety.

Freud and his daughter, Anna Freud has enumerated various defense mechanisms. These can be observed in the behaviour of an individual and are not restricted to any part of life. These are operative at unconscious level only.

In brief, defense mechanisms are regarded as innate coping styles which allow individuals to minimise sudden, often unexpected, changes in internal and external environment and to resolve cognitive dissonance (psychological conflicts). They are unconscious coping styles. They help in managing instincts and affects, are unconscious, dynamic and reversible and are usually adaptive, not pathological, in process.

These defense mechanisms are described as under:

1. Repression:

The sexual and aggressive desires and other related materials not acceptable to ego at conscious level are pushed into unconscious where these desires remain active and try to intrude into the awareness of ego. Ego represses these because it does not want to be aware of the actual situation (desires, ideas and impulses).

Ego has to spend a lot of psychic energy in prohibiting the repressed material (idea or feeling) from coming into consciousness. These ideas or feelings are forgotten only to the extent that the ego has expelled it or withheld from consciousness. These ideas, feelings and desires may get expressed in dreams.

2. Denial:

Seeing (perceiving) but refusing to accept what one sees, is denial. Often students poor at study, think of getting 1st division, explains denial of what one knows. The unpleasant reality is not accepted by the person as it poses a threat to him; therefore, he denies it, and thus wards off the anxiety created by this threat.

3. Reaction Formation:

This mechanism helps the patient/client to develop feelings/ attitudes opposite to the anxiety provoking attitudes/feelings. Unacceptable impulses are expressed in antithetical form. A mother who hates to have a child starts loving the child too much if she happens to have one. Similarly, adolescents who experience anxiety because they are criticised for being afraid, dependent and cooperative, turn out to be independent, self-confident and defiant.

4. Isolation:

This occurs when ego, to avoid anxiety, isolates feelings from thoughts or vice versa. This is seen when one describes full details of the accidental death of his friend without feeling the sad feelings associated with the narration of the incident. It involves separation of affect from the content (thoughts) through repression of either affect or idea.

5. Projection:

Desires, impulses and feelings unacceptable to the individual are attributed to someone in his milieu. He is afraid of accepting these impulses etc. as they create anxiety in him; consequently he ascribes these to others and accuses them of having these impulses and desires.

For example, when he feels hostility towards some, he may repress it and tell that some people are hostile to him. The individual says, in effect, that “it is not I who have thought or wished. It is other who does”. In simple words, it is accusing others of having the impulses and desires that the client himself possesses. This is usually seen in the patients of Paranoid State.

6. Regression:

When one fails to adopt to reality, he may return to an earlier stage of functioning, i.e., he will regress (as opposed to progression) from his present stage of social functioning. An adolescent unable to cope up with college life may regress to pre-school age in his behaviour.

Similarly, a child in genital stage may regress to anal period and start wetting the bed when confronted with hard reality. It is a return to a previous stage of development, re-enacting behaviour that was given up, to avoid anxieties involved in the current stage of development or later (one to follow the current) stage of development.

7. Introjections:

Identification and introjection are virtually same in nature. Introjection is seen when we internalise (as opposed to projection) the characteristics of the object with the aim of establishing closeness to the object. Superego is built by introjection, i.e., taking in or introjecting moral and ethical standards (values, norms etc.) of the parents.

Identification is also defined in the same way, i.e., as a process of associating and affiliating with someone, that is, his values, standards and behaviour patterns are incorporated into self. Freud illustrates identification by the example that a child, who feels small and inadequate, reduces the consequent anxiety by identifying with the parent of the opposite sex, who is seen by the child as strong and competent in the world.

A child deprived of satisfactory adult model to introject or identify with (e.g., father, uncle, elder brother, etc., in home) is likely to be more frustrated in his growing up because he will always realise his failures and will not be able to repress/rationalise his failures.

8. Displacement:

It occurs when a person expresses his feelings or impulses on a person or object other than the object/person who stimulates the feelings. An officer angry with his boss may bang his peon; or a washer-man when angry with his customer starts hitting his animal, thus, displacing his anger from customer to the animal (see transference also).

9. Sublimation:

Socially and personally unacceptable impulses (aggressive or sexual) seek expression at conscious level. Since these are denied expression because of social implications, psychic energy associated with these impulses may produce tension and anxiety. A mature way, then, is to channel these instinctual drives. Detouring of this energy is sublimation in which the aim or object is changed from a socially objectionable one to a socially acceptable one.

Aggressive impulses get sublimated in pleasurable games and sports, hunting etc., and the sexual impulses get expression into artistic, literary or scientific activities. Saint Tulsidas is a classical example of sublimation of sexual instincts. His (sexual) impulses got sublimated into socially valued activity (study of Vedic literature and writing books etc.). Sublimation along with repression, reaction formation plays a very important role in formation of character.

10. Suppression:

It is similar to repression except in one aspect, i.e., the conscious impulse or conflict is deliberately and knowingly pushed aside. This is a mature defense as it involves proper perception and realistic decision. It is a semi-conscious effort to control and inhibit an unacceptable impulse, idea or emotion. Repression is an unconscious process.

11. Rationalisation:

Whenever we are questioned to explain our attitudes, beliefs or behaviour unacceptable to others, anxiety over-helms us. In such situations we rationalise the attitudes etc., or, in other words, give rational arguments to justify it. Reasons given are plausible-sounding though the real reasons remain repressed. This is done at unconscious level. Any argument given knowingly and consciously to justify one’s action is not rationalisation but an excuse. Rationalisation is very commonly used.

12. Intellectualisation:

Herein logic or reasoning (much more systematic than in rationalisation) is used to avoid confrontation with an objectionable impulse or affect. Impulses or affects are controlled by thinking (intellectual efforts) about them, whereas in rationalisation, one gives convincing arguments for his failure like a student who explains reasons for his failure in examination.

13. Compensation:

We, many times, accept a substitute goal or activity that gives partial satisfaction when we fail to satisfy our motives directly.

Example can be quoted of a student poor at studies trying to earn medals in sports or cultural or political activities or in other aspects of social life. He, thus, compensates for his deficiencies in studies.

To support ego, defense mechanisms like suppression, sublimation, reaction formation, etc., are strengthened and supported in social casework situations.

Submitted by : Professor Alexis, Category : Sociology, Tag : Sociology