Defense Mechanism

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Examples of
There are a large number
of defense mechanisms;
the main ones are
summarized below.
* Identification
with the
A focus on negative or
feared traits. I.e. if you are
afraid of someone, you
can practically conquer
that fear by becoming
more like them.
An extreme example of
this is the Stockholm
Syndrome where
hostages identify with the
terrorists. E.g. Patty Hearst
and the Symbionese
Liberation Army. Patty
was abused and raped by
her captors, yet she
joined their movement
and even took part in one
of their bank robberies.
At her trial she was
acquitted because she
was a victim suffering
from Stockholm
* Repression
This was the first defense
mechanism that Freud
discovered, and arguably
the most important.
Repression is an
unconscious mechanism
employed by the ego to
keep disturbing or
threatening thoughts
from becoming
conscious. Thoughts that
are often repressed are
those that would result in
feeling of guilt from the
superego. For example,
in the Oedipus complex
aggressive thoughts
about the same sex
parents are repressed.
* Projection
This involves individuals
attributing their own
thoughts, feeling and
motives to another
person. Thoughts most
commonly projected onto
another are ones that
would cause guilt such as
aggressive and sexual
fantasies or thoughts.
For instance, you might
hate someone, but your
superego tells you that
such hatred is
unacceptable. You can
'solve' the problem by
believing that they hate
* Displacement
Displacement is the
redirection of an impulse
(usually aggression) onto
a substitute target. If the
impulse, the desire, is
okay with you, but the
person you direct that
desire towards is too
threatening, you can
displace to someone or
something that can serve
as a symbolic substitute.
Someone who feels
uncomfortable with their
sexual desire for a real
person may substitute a
fetish. Someone who is
frustrated by his or her
superiors may go home
and kick the dog, beat up
a family member, or
engage in cross-burnings.
* Sublimation
This is similar to
displacement, but takes
place when we manage
to displace our emotions
into a constructive rather
than destructive activity.
This might for example be
artistic – many great
artists and musicians
have had unhappy lives
and have used the
medium of art of music to
express themselves.
Sport is another example
of putting our emotions
(e.g. aggression) into
something constructive.
Sublimation for Freud
was the cornerstone of
civilized life, arts and
science are all sublimated
sexuality. (NB. this is a
value laden concept,
based on the aspirations
of a European society at
the end of the 1800
* Denial
Denial involves blocking
external events from
awareness. If some
situation is just too much
to handle, the person just
refuses to experience it.
As you might imagine,
this is a primitive and
dangerous defense - no
one disregards reality and
gets away with it for
long! It can operate by
itself or, more commonly,
in combination with
other, more subtle
mechanisms that support
it. For example, smokers
may refuse to admit to
themselves that smoking
is bad for their health.
* Regression
This is a movement back
in psychological time
when one is faced with
stress. When we are
troubled or frightened,
our behaviors often
become more childish or
primitive. A child may
begin to suck their thumb
again or wet the bed
when they need to spend
some time in the hospital.
Teenagers may giggle
uncontrollably when
introduced into a social
situation involving the
opposite sex.
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