Defense mechanisms: what they are and their 10 most important types

Defense mechanisms are among the most important concepts in the theory of psychoanalysis from the work of Sigmund Freud.

It is a series of psychological processes which, hypothetically, would regulate the way in which the content of the unconscious is manifested in our consciousness and in our behaviors.

In this article, we will see what exactly the defense mechanisms are, with several examples and a classification of their main types.

    Defense mechanisms in psychoanalysis

    In the article “Sigmund Freud: Life and Work of the Famous Psychoanalyst” we commented that the function of the ego is to satisfy the impulses of this and not to offend the moral character of the superego, while valuing reality. It is not an easy task, and Freud describes that the self uses mechanisms to manage the conflicts between these psychic instances.

    Defense mechanisms are therefore procedures that subconsciously maintain psychological balance to cope with anxiety or distress associated with the conscious expression of an instinctive representation (sexual or aggressive), with the transgression of the moral code, or with a real external danger.

    In other words, on the basis of the idea that there are contents that belong to the domain of the unconscious that cannot pass to consciousness simply because they would disturb us too much, the defense mechanisms would allow certain d ‘between them to pass a kind of filter. being expressed and a way in which they are denied or too distorted to affect us too much.

    Defense mechanisms are incorrect means of resolving psychological conflict and can lead to disturbances in mind, behavior and, in the most extreme cases, somatization of the psychological conflict that causes it.

    here are the ten main defense mechanisms described in the theories of psychoanalysis.

    1. Displacement

    It refers to the redirecting of an impulse (usually aggression) to a person or object. For example, someone who gets frustrated with their head and kicks their dog or a piece of furniture. In this case, we are faced with a defense mechanism: since it is not possible for us to bang our heads as it would take us away from work, we shift the object of our anger to any other being or object.

    2. Sublimation

    It is similar to displacement, but the momentum is channeled into a more acceptable form. A sexual drive is sublimated towards a non-sexual goal, Target objects that are positively valued by society, such as artistic activity, physical activity or intellectual research.

    3. Repression

    This is the mechanism that Sigmund Freud first discovered. Refers to ‘ process by which the ego erases events and thoughts that would be painful if kept at the conscious levelSince the satisfaction of the repressed drive is irreconcilable with other demands of the superego or of reality.

    4. Projection

    Refers to the tendency of individuals to attribute (project) their own thoughts, motivations or feelings to another person. The most common projections can be aggressive behaviors that cause feelings of guilt and socially unacceptable sexual fantasies or thoughts. For example, a girl hates her roommate, but the superhero tells her it’s unacceptable. You can solve the problem by thinking that it is the other person who hates them.

    5. Denial

    It is the mechanism by which the subject blocks external events so that they are not part of consciousness and therefore treats the obvious aspects of reality as if they did not exist. For example, a smoker who denies that smoking can cause serious health problems. By denying these harmful effects of tobacco, you can better tolerate your habit, naturalize it.

    6. Regression

    Refers to any retreat from previous situations or habits, a return to immature behavior patterns. For example, a teenager who is not allowed to go to a friend’s house on a weekend and reacts with anger and screams in front of his parents, as if he is a younger child.

    7. Responsive training

    Impulses are not only repressed but also they are controlled by exaggerating the opposite behavior. In other words, it stops the appearance of a painful thought by replacing it with a more pleasant thought. For example, a person who is very angry with a friend but tells them it is okay to avoid discussion.

    8. Isolation

    It is a mechanism by which memories of feelings are divorced, in order to better endure and tolerate the facts and reality. It separates an idea that is intolerable for the ego from the emotions it produces, so that it remains in the consciousness weakened. For example, recounting a traumatic episode with complete normality, as if talking about the weather or some other trivial matter.

    9. Condensation

    It is a mechanism by which certain elements of the unconscious (latent content) come together into a single image or object during sleep. It consists of the concentration of several meanings in a single symbol. The process of condensation makes the narrative of the manifest content much shorter than the description of the latent content. It is a term that derives from psychoanalytic explanations that account for the creation of dreams.

    10. Rationalization

    To rationalization a real reason which is not acceptable is replaced by another which is acceptable. In other words, the perspective of reality is changed by offering a different explanation. For example, a woman falls madly in love with a man and they start a relationship. A month after the start of dating, the man breaks the relationship because he considers that the woman has very low self-confidence and does not let him breathe. Although the woman suffers three consecutive romantic failures for the same reason, she concludes, “I already knew this man was a loser” or “from the first moment I knew this man was not for me”.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Ametller, MT (2012). Psychotherapies. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 06. CEDE: Madrid.
    • Arlow, B. (1964), Psychoanalytic Concepts and Structural Theory. New York: International University Press.
    • Cramer, P. (1991). The development of defense mechanisms: theory, research and evaluation. New York, Springer-Verlag.
    • Grünbaum, A. (1984). The foundations of psychoanalysis: a philosophical critique. University of California Press.

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