Freud’s 7 Psychological Defense Psychological Mechanisms

Psychologist Freud proposed several important defense mechanisms. Keep in mind however that defense mechanisms are not used consciously. A person does not decide to engage in one; rather these happen on an unconscious level:

  • Repression: Keeping a thought, feeling, or memory of an experience out of consciousness. It’s the “forget about it!” approach. Many things may be the objects of repression, including forbidden desires or a painful, emotionally difficult situation.

  • Denial: Refusing to accept that something exists or happened. Denial can also involve altering the meaning of an event so that its impact is diverted. If something important to you goes wrong, you may just say to yourself, “That’s not so important after all.” This is the common “sour grapes” response.

  • Projection: Attributing a threatening urge, impulse, or aspect of oneself to someone else. If you think that the best offense is a good defense, you may use projection a lot. Instead of acknowledging that you’re mad at someone, you may accuse him or her of being mad at you.

  • Rationalization: Creating an acceptable but incorrect explanation of a situation. There once was a thief who only stole from big businesses. He would never think of robbing the Smiths, but super-megastores look out! He explained that big business makes money from “ripping people off,” so he’s just trying to even the score. Unfortunately for him, the judge he faced for his crimes was not a fan of fairy tales.

  • Intellectualization: Thinking about something logically or coldly and without emotion. For example:

    Therapist: “Mr. Jones, your wife has left you, and you’ve recently lost your job. How does that make you feel?”

    Patient: “I’ve found that the organization in my home has been much improved, less clutter now; her things took up so much room. As for the job, the economy had been slowing down for some time, I could sense that it was coming.”

  • Reaction formation: Doing the opposite of what you would really like to do. Ever gone out of your way to be nice to someone you really disliked? That’s an example of reaction formation.

  • Regression: Returning to an earlier or more childlike form of defense. Physical and psychological stress may sometimes lead people to abandon their more mature defense mechanisms. If you’ve resorted to whining when asking your boss for a raise, consider it a display of regression.

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