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Defense Mechanisms, Freud

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Defense Mechanisms, Freud

Defense mechanisms, in psychoanalysis, are any of a variety of unconscious personality reactions which the ego uses to protect the conscious mind from threatening feelings and perceptions. Defense mechanisms can be psychologically healthy or maladaptive, but tension reduction is the overall goal in both cases(About). Primary defense mechanisms include repression and denial, which serve to prevent unacceptable ideas or impulses from entering the conscience. Secondary defense mechanisms-generally appearing as an outgrowth of the primary defense mechanisms-include projection, reaction formation, displacement, sublimation, and isolation(AllPsych).

Freud introduced the idea that the mind is divided into multiple parts, including the irrational and impulsive Id (a representation of primal animal desires), the judgmental super-ego (a representation of society inside the mind), and the rational ego which attempts to bridge the divide between the other two parts. He popularized the idea that the mind has conscious and unconscious parts which can conflict with one another, producing a phenomena called repression (a state where you are unaware of certain troubling motives or wishes or desires). His basic therapeutic idea was that mental illness was caused by mental tensions created by repression, and that mental health could be restored by making repressed knowledge conscious. As it turns out, reality is more complicated than this. Talking about your problems and coming to understand them doesn't necessarily make them go away, but it can be very helpful nevertheless. Many ideas from psychoanalysis turn out to be important, including the idea of repression (and the related idea of dissociation) which has developed into the study of coping strategies and defense mechanisms (ways that people attempt to manage or ward off knowing about stressful information). (AllPsych)

"The boundary lines between the ego and the external world become uncertain or in which they are actually drawn incorrectly . . . subject to disturbances[,] and the boundaries of the ego are not constant" (Freud)

Freud noted that a major drive for most people is the reduction in tension, and that a major cause of tension was anxiety. He identified three different types of anxiety. Reality Anxiety is the most basic form of anxiety and is typically based on fears of real and possible events, such as being bitten by a dog or falling from a ladder. The most common way of reducing tension from Reality Anxiety is taking ones self away from the situation, running away from the dog or simply refusing to go up the ladder. Neurotic Anxiety is a form of anxiety which comes from an unconscious fear that the basic impulses of the ID (the primitive part of our personality) will take control of the person, leading to eventual punishment (this is thus a form of Moral Anxiety). Moral Anxiety is a form of anxiety that comes from a fear of violating values and moral codes, and appears as feelings of guilt or shame.(AllPsych)

When anxiety occurs, the mind first responds by an increase in problem-solving thinking, seeking rational ways of escaping the situation. If this is not possible, a range of defense mechanisms may be triggered. In Freud's language, these are tactics which the Ego develops to help deal with the Id and the Super Ego. All Defense Mechanisms share two common properties: They often appear unconsciously and they tend to distort, transform or falsify reality. In distorting reality, there is a change in perception which allows for a lessening of anxiety, with a corresponding reduction in felt tension. Freud's Defense Mechanisms include: Denial, displacement, intellectualization, projection, rationalization, reaction formation, regression, repression, and sublimation. (Changingminds)

Denial is simply refusing to acknowledge that an event has occurred. The person affected simply acts as if nothing has happened, behaving in ways that others may see as bizarre. In its full form, it is totally subconscious, and sufferers may be as mystified by the behavior of people around them as those people are by the behavior of the sufferers. It may also have a significant conscious element, where the sufferer is simply 'turning a blind eye' to an uncomfortable situation. Displacement is the shifting of actions from a desired target to a substitute target when there is some reason why the first target is not permitted or not available. Displacement may involve retaining the action and simply shifting the target of that action. Where this is not feasible, the action itself may also change. Where possible the second target will resemble the original target in some way. Phobias may also use displacement as a mechanism for releasing energy that is caused in other ways (Changingminds).


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