Psychological Defense Mechanisms, Ego

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) saw the interaction of The Id, The Ego and The Superego as a delicate balance of power within a constantly conflicting mental process. You feel anxiety when the Ego is threatened or overwhelmed. Each personality develops ways of calming these anxieties, and many resort to using Ego-defense mechanisms to lessen the internal conflicts. These are mental processes that deny, distort or otherwise block out sources of threat and anxiety. Here are a few examples:

Compensation – Counteracting a real or imagined weakness by emphasizing desirable traits or finding ways to excel in that area or others. A childhood stutter who becomes a winning debater in college, famous blind people who become famous entertainers despite their handicap.

Denial – Protecting oneself from an unpleasant reality by refusing to perceive it. We are prone to deny death, serious illness or similarly painful or threatening events. Denial is one of the most basic Ego defenses.

Displacement – Diverts aggressive or sexual impulses toward a more acceptable or less threatening object or person than the one that aroused the feelings. An example would be , instead of expressing our anger in ways that could lead to negative consequences, like arguing with our boss, we instead express our anger towards a person or object that poses no threat, such as our spouse, children, or pets (Corey, 2009).

Fantasy – Imagining activities and accomplishments that fill the void of unmet desires. Avoiding reality by retreating to a secure place within one’s mind.

Identification – Assuming some of the traits of a person you admire as a way of making up for your faults or weaknesses.

Isolation – Separating contradictory thoughts or feelings into “logic-tight” mental compartments so they don’t come into conflict.

Projection – The unconscious process that protects us from the anxiety we would feel if we were to view our own faults. So we see our shortcomings in others instead of ourselves. Projection lowers anxiety by exaggerating similar negative traits or behaviors in others. Attributing one’s own feelings, shortcomings or unacceptable impulses to others. This directs attention away from personal feelings.

Rationalization – Justifying your behavior by giving a reasonable and rational but false explanation for it – even convincing – but not the real reason. When we consciously generate self-justifying explanations to hide the real reason for our actions.

Reaction Formation – Substituting behavior that is opposite to an impulse you feel might be too dangerous to express. During a Reaction Formation, thoughts and impulses are not only repressed, they are also kept from being threatening by exaggerating opposite behavior. Examples might be “I hate him” becomes “I love him.” Timidity becomes daring. Feelings of inadequacy become bravado. The basic premise in a Reaction Formation is acting out in an opposite behavior to block dangerous or threatening impulses or feelings.

Regression – Retreating to an earlier, less demanding level of development, habit or situation or to a more infantile stage. A child threatened by the arrival of a new sibling may regress to childish speech, bed-wetting or infant-like actions to gain the attention of the mother is a typical example of Regression. A wife who throws a temper tantrum and goes home to mother, or a college student who is homesick for the warmth and security of his own home are also forms or Regression.

Repression – Unconsciously preventing painful or dangerous thoughts from entering our awareness. Freud noticed his parents had great difficulty recalling shocking or traumatic events from their childhood and that powerful forces must be at work keeping these memories from awareness. Perhaps we all have a natural tendency to protect ourselves from our own threatening thoughts and impulses by repressing them. Research suggests that you are most likely to repress information that threatens your self-image (Mendolia, 2002).

Sublimation – Working off unmet desires, or unacceptable impulses in activities that are constructive. Re-channelling a sexual desire into another socially acceptable activity. An example would be, an aggressive person may find social acceptance as a football player or professional soldier, a liar may be sublimated into creative writing, storytelling or politics. Sexual motives appear to be the most easily and widely sublimated (Jacobs, 2003).

This report is not a diagnosis. We hope this information can guide you toward improving your life.

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