Freud: Defence mechanisms
This final blog on Freud looks at ways we try to protect ourselves from being hurt, often without even realising what we are doing. Freud noted several “defence mechanisms” (described below) that individuals commonly adopt in order to cope with life’s experiences. These are still important today and it is helpful to recognise when you, yourself, are adopting them.
Defence mechanisms (protecting the ‘ego’, i.e., “I”) are a key feature in psychoanalysis and individuals are often completely unaware of them. Defence mechanisms are unconsciously employed by the individual when they feel unable to cope, or feel that they are under attack. The most common ones are:
- denial – you refuse to acknowledge something
- repression – you unconsciously hide unpleasant feelings in the unconscious
- projection – placing YOUR feelings onto someone else, e.g., believing that Mr X does not like you when, actually, it is YOU who does not like Mr X
- displacement – your feelings are displaced onto someone/something else, e.g., after a disagreement with a work colleague, anger is then ‘offloaded’ onto someone else, often your partner at home!
- regression – you go back in time and return to feeling/acting like e.g., a child, when faced with an overwhelming unpleasant feeling
- sublimation – you take out your emotions/ impulses on a substitute, socially acceptable object, e.g., punching out your anger (towards the boss) on a punch bag at the gym
- rationalization – you distort the facts by cognitively inventing excuses/reasons/ justifications for your behaviour/motivation.
The first step is recognising them. Once these defence mechanisms have been explored, the individual is then able to realise, feel, and ‘own’ their true feelings and accept them without the need to hide them.
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Storr, A. (1989) Freud: A very short introduction, New York, Oxford University Press Inc.