Monday, February 17, 2014

Lexicon of Madness -- Defense Mechanisms

Defense Mechanisms: In Freudian psychology, unconscious processes that defend the ego from anxiety. Defense mechanisms are employed by both normal and pathological individuals, and can be ranked from "immature" to "mature." Denial is perhaps the most immature of ego defense mechanisms. In denial, painful aspects of reality are kept from conscious awareness. For example, a soldier under bombardment acts as if he is back in civilian life, selling shoes. In projection, undesirable impulses of the individual are projected outside the self. I unconsciously hate you but I believe instead that it is you who hates me. Displacement involves shifting a strong emotion from one object or person to one that is less threatening. I kick the cat, unaware that my true hostility is towards my boss. In reaction formation, a person transforms an unacceptable impulse into its opposite. A person with unconscious impulses to soil things or put them into disarray becomes a neat freak. A latent homosexual becomes a zealous "anti-gay" crusader. Rationalization enables people to justify instinctual, selfish, unacceptable motives. I refuse to give money to a beggar because "he'll just spend the money on drugs." Repression is the "queen of the defenses," according to Freud, for without repression there could be no civilization. Without unconscious repression of our instinctual urges, we would live in a state of nature, a war of all against all. In fact, civilization (with its courts and police) was invented by man so that we might more effectively repress ourselves. Many people mistakenly believe that Freud advocated against repression, but it is people whose defense mechanism of repression failed them who end up in prison ("There, but for my defense mechanisms, go I"). Mature defenses include altruism (serving others in a instinctually gratifying way that does not harm the self), humor (expressing unacceptable desires in a comedic manner that does not make others uncomfortable), and sublimation (channeling instinctual energies towards socially acceptable ends). Becoming a surgeon, rather than a serial killer, could allow one to sublimate a desire to cut into human flesh with sharp instruments. Becoming a teacher could allow one to sublimate an exhibitionistic desire.

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