Defense Mechanisms


The function of defence is to protect the Ego, and defence may be instigated by Anxiety due to increase in instinctual tension, Super-Ego threats or realistic dangers. Anna Freud lists nine defence : REGRESSION, repression, REACTION FORMATION, ISOLATION, UNDOING, PROJECTION, INTROJECTION, TURNING AGAINST THE SELF, and REVERSAL – plus tenth SUBLIMATION. SPLITTING and DENIAL are also usually listed as defence.

It is usually assumed that defence belong to specific stages of development, e.g. INTROJECTION , projection, denial , splitting to the ORAL phase; reaction-formation , isolation and undoing to the ANAL phase.

Defence Mechanisms are unconscious mental processes which are employed to resolve conflict between instinctive needs ( The Id ), internalized prohibitions (The Super-Ego) and external reality. They Are directed against painful experiences. They are descriptive concepts only.
Repression:-

It is the basic defence mechanism. There is refusal to recognize external reality and pushing into unconscious of the unacceptable instincts and feelings or conflicting impulses. Thus their perception is inhibited and prevented from reaching consciousness. Denial is a CONSCIOUS refusal of recognition of external reality.

Regression:-
Return to an earlier state or mode of functioning. It is a defensive process by which the subject avoids anxiety by return an earlier stage of psychosexual development . The stage to which the regression occurs being determined by the existence of FIXATION POINTS.

Displacement:-
The process by which energ (CATHEXIS) is transferred from one mental image to another. Displacement is one of the primary processes and in dreams one image can symbolize another. Symbolization and SUBLIMATION depend on serial displacements.

Avoidance:
This can occur in situations which arouse unpleasant feelings, memories or repressed conflicting impulses. It is more common in phobias.

Reversal:-
Instincts are capable of undergoing reversal so that Sadism can change to Masochism , Voyeurism into Exhibitionism, etc. Reversal being usually , though not always from Active to Passive.

OBSESSIONAL DEFENSES:-

RATIONALIZATION:
Rational statement is given to avoid an inner unconscious aspect of an impulse or feeling. The classic example of the ” Sour Grapes” in Aesop’s fable. We all give justifications which may be reasonable for our decisions, acts , feelings and whims.

INTELLECTUALIZATION:
Here a rationalized explanation is given , but in a rather theorizing and argumentative manner. For example a debate and discussion about value of psychoanalysis by patient may be a resistance against involvement in therapeutic relationship .

REACTION FORMATION:-
This is feeling or a behavior which the opposite of the unacceptable instinctual impulses. It is doing the opposite where the quality of the impulse is changed in its antithesis. For example kindness may be the declared behavior when the impulse is to be cruelty . Obsessive cleanliness and washing may conceal an impulse to indulge in dirty, forbidden or obscene act or phantasy.

WITHDRAWAL / ISOLATION OF AFFECT:-
An unconscious idea allowed into consciousness but all affect is withdrawn from it , i.e. the idea is separated from its associated affect. This is very frequent in obsessional (Often of aggressive nature and accompanied by anxiety)

UNDOING:-
A magical attempt to reverse the action of an impulse . Closing the gas tap may be a reversal of the wish to open it.
OTHER DEFENSE MECHANISMS:-
DENIAL
PROJECTION:
Attribution of one’s own unacknowledged feelings to others. A feeling of anger may be transformed into a fear of people attacking the person .A denial and projection of dependency needs may be displayed as a complaint of who other people are weak and demanding.
INTROJECTION
INTERNALIZATION
EXTERNALIZATION
IDENTIFICATION
DISTORTION:
Grossly reshaping external reality to suit inner needs.

TURNING AGAINST THE SELF:-
Unacceptable aggression towards others is expressed indirectly towards the self. In passive aggressive , hypochondriacal and depressive patients the aggression is turned inward and may terminate in suicide.

ACTING OUT:
Direct expression of an unconscious impulse in order to avoid awareness of the accompanying affect. SUBLIMATION :
A healthy coping mechanism. The indirect expression of the instinct in a social acceptable manner without adverse consequences.
COMMON DEFENSE STRUCTURES

  • · HYSTERIA: Denial ,Projection and Identification · PARANOIA: Splitting and Projection · DEPRESSION: Turning onto the self · PHOBIA: Avoidance ,and Displacement of the affect · REGRESSION is used in Conversion Hysteria and Eating Disorders.
  • REVERSAL is manifested in Passive Aggressive and Dependant Personality Disorders.

KLEINIAN DEFENSE MECHANISMS:-

SPLITTING:
Freud talked about splitting of the ego, but Melanie Klein considered Splitting as a defense mechanism. The positive and the negative fantasized relationships remain separate in consciousness with one alternative dissociated from the other. The child sees the Good Mother as Separate from the Bad Mother , the patient may see the Madonna as totally different and has nothing to do with the Prostitute.

PROJECTIVE IDENTIFICATION:
Part of self is projected into another to harm , control or possess him or her. The dissociated unacceptable parts of the self are projected onto the other then the person identifies with the other.