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Defence Mechanism

  Defence mechanism, in psychology, is another term for the process of repression by which an unacceptable idea is made unconscious. Defence is a psychoanalytical concept on which Freud and his daughter Anna spent much time. It is the mind\'s mechanism for dealing with unwanted sexual impulses or by which the ego is defended from engulfment by the id. In defence mechanism, the sexual drive is given symbolic expression. These defences deal with uncomfortable conflict between the sexual instinct and the ego (reality) instinct; in this sense they are also symbols of compromise.

Denial as a defence mechanism can simply mean the denial of obvious reality which is too painful. Denial of internal events is illustrated by the reaction of a person who has just lost a spouse and continues to act as if he or she is still living in the same house.

Another common defence mechanism is displacement, found in dreams and hysterical symptoms. It is the process where something which creates painful feelings is transferred onto another image or symptom away from the original anxiety. In dreams, one image can symbolize another and hysterical symptoms (such as paralysis) can be the result of repressed memories of a sexual nature. Displacement, for example, can be not hitting the boss who makes us angry but hitting the children when we get home. Another example is the displacement of Oedipal wishes towards the mother in choosing a partner who resembles her.

Other defence mechanisms are repression itself, and disassociation. The latter is also called splitting. In splitting, internal mental structures, under the pressure of trauma, split in two, one part being retained in consciousness and the other split off into unconsciousness. If the ego splits in this way, then the part which remains conscious is usually experienced as the self. Splitting usually also entails dividing the emotional aspects into good and bad, retaining one or the other for the self and relegating the other to a part of the unconscious, the Superego. This can result in dual or multiple personalities.

Rationalization is when a person creates a plausible but false rationale for something they wish to deny or avoid. A soldier, for example, may assist in war crimes and then say that he was only doing his duty.

Projection is also a defence mechanism. Here a person will attribute to somebody else impulses which they in fact hold. A wife, for example, may accuse her husband of rejecting her when in fact she is rejecting him.

The defence of introjection could also be called identification. Rather than feel hostile feelings towards a neglectful parent, the child (and then the child as an adult) takes on the mother\'s character as a way of protecting her- or himself against this distress.

Reversal is the taking of an attitude from a past relationship and using it in a present one, for example, taking the hatred of a parent and using it as an attitude against the self. Isolation is the detachment of emotional feeling from its source and directing it elsewhere, an example being the detached way people can talk about traumatic events which have happened to them. Reaction Formulation is turning a feeling into its opposite, for example hatred of the father into love for him.

Sublimation is also characterized as a defence mechanism, but is slightly different in that it is seen to be working for a good purpose. Sublimation (according to psychoanalytical theory), like other defence mechanisms uses the drive of instincts to create patterns of behaviour. In sublimation, productive work takes the place of repressed sexual feelings, therefore, this mechanism is seen as a useful adaption towards reality. For example, Freud considered Cézanne\'s achievement as a painter as the result of sublimation. MJ

Further reading Sigmund Freud, Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxieties in the Problem of Anxiety; , Anna Freud, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense.



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