Defense Mechanisms. Psychological Defenses.

defense mechanismsKnowing the concept of psychological defenses and a variety of defense mechanisms used in human existence, is crucial for understanding the psychoanalytic view of psychology and psychotherapy.

The main diagnostic categories used by psychotherapists and psychoanalysts to describe the types of personality are related to stable processes of individual-specific protection or advocacy groups, determining their significance in the practice of psychological assistance.

The term “protection” is used in psychology and psychotherapy in a wrong way. What adults use to call protection is nothing more than the global, natural, healthy, adaptive ways of experiencing the world. The first who noticed some of these processes and gave them names was Freud.

The term of “protection” reflects 2 aspects of its meaning: First, Freud admired military metaphors. He often used analogy for educational purposes, comparing the psychological action with military tactical maneuvers with compromises in solving various problems related to war. Second, when Freud first encountered the most dramatic and memorable examples of what we now call the defenses (especially with the displacement and conversion of neurosis), he saw these processes acting in their protective function.

Initially, he was attracted by people with emotional disorders, with a predominance of hysterical traits, people who have tried to avoid a repetition of previous experiences which they are afraid. They achieve this by extensive damage to the overall functioning. Eventually, it would be better for them to experience their overwhelming emotions which they avoid, thus to release their energy (according to the theory of drives) for improving your own life.

In this context, the therapeutic value of the weak and broken protection is self-evident. Unfortunately, the idea that the non-adaptive protection has spread among people caused a negative influence on them. To name someone defending meant to blame. Psychoanalysts use this word everyday, but when they discuss about defense mechanisms in a scientific way they do not believe that the action of protection is something pathological.

In fact, analytically oriented psychotherapists sometimes treat certain issues – first of all the psychotic “decompensation” as evidence of lack of protection.
The phenomenon that we call protection has a lot of useful features. They appear as a healthy, creative adaptation and continue to operate during lifetime. In those cases where their action is aimed to protect their own “self” from any threat, they can be regarded as “protection” and this name is justified. The personality, whose behavior has a defensive feature, seeks to fulfill the following tasks:

1. to avoid or gain a powerful feeling – anxiety, grief, depression or other disruptive emotional experiences;

    2. to maintain self-esteem.

Psychologists distinguished the function of protection as a mean of overcoming anxiety. Its other function is to neutralize the grief and depression. Therapists noticed the role of protection in mental effort that maintains a strong, consistent, positive sense of their own “I”.

Psychoanalysts believe that each person prefers a certain protection, which become an integral part of her individual style of coping. This method of protection is the results of a complex interaction of at least 4 factors:

- innate temperament;
- the nature of stress experienced during early childhood;
- protection, a model for them (and sometimes conscious teachers) were parents or other significant figures;
- learned by experience the consequences of the use of individual protection (in the language of psychodynamic unconscious choice of an individual’s favorite ways to overcome difficulties, reflecting the crucial analytical principle of “multiple function”.

While there is no evidence that the defense appear one after another in a certain strict sequence with development of the child, among the majority of psychologists, psychiatrists agreed that some defense mechanisms are more “primitive” than others. As a rule, defenses, considered as the primary, immature, primitive or the protection of “lower level” are those that deal with the bond between “I” and the outside world. Protection is listed as a secondary, more mature, more developed or as defenses of “higher level” that “work” with inner limits – between Ego and Superego and ID or between the observing and experiencing parts of Ego.

The primitive defense mechanisms are common for the individual, fusing together the cognitive, affective and behavioral parameters, while the more advanced security exercise certain transformations of something like – thoughts, feelings, sensations, behaviors or some combinations. The conceptual separation of more archaic and more highly protective is somehow arbitrary, because some theoretically more mature defense like – acting out, eroticization – can operate and can not be modified by secondary thought processes.

In psychoanalytic descriptions has become customary to define the following defense as “primitive”: isolation, denial, primitive idealization and devaluation, projective identification, the splitting of the ego. We can also add dissociation near primitive processes. For classification as a primitive, protection should detect the presence of a 2 qualities associated with the pre-speech stage of development. It should have a lack of communication with the reality principle and the lack of accounting separation and the constancy of objects outside their own “I”. For example, denial is considered a manifestation of a more primitive process than repression. It must be known in any way and then translated into the unconscious. Denial – is an instant, non-rational process. “It did not happen” – is a more magical way to deal with something unpleasant than “it happened, but I will forget because it is too painful”.

In a same way, the protective mechanism is known as “splitting”, whereby a person shares her experience on the category of “all good” or “all bad” where is no place for ambiguity and ambivalence, it is considered primitive. It is assumed that it derives from the time preceding the period when the child discovers the constancy of objects. When the baby is satisfied by the presence of the mother due to a global sense of “good mother” and when he is frustrated – the same mother is seen as a ‘bad mother”. We believe that until the baby has not reached the stage of development, each of his experiences is total discrete. On the contrary, such protection as rationalization is mature, as a justification for a sense of a relatively complex verbal and thinking skills and greater inclusion in reality.

Adding another layer of complexity to this growing, controversial and colorful set of observations, constituent of modern psychoanalytic theory, it should be noted that this theoretical approach it is assumed to some protective processes that are both primitive and mature forms. For example, the “idealization” may mean a soft “tiny” sense of superiority. “Isolation” is called also as a rejection of reality in favor of a psychotic state and the tendency to react to stress in dreams and neurosis. In those cases where analysts tend to consider specific protection as a continuum, encompassing development from earlier and the later archaic and different forms, we follow the conventional style and add to the name of protecting the word “primitive”.

The so-called primitive defense – are just means which child use to perceive the world. The psychoanalytic view suggests that these methods of gaining experience are present in each of us, regardless of whether or not we have any significant pathology. Verbal processes as well as the processes leading up to the principle of reality and performance of objects are the foundation of psyche.

Problems arise only in cases where there is a lack of mature psychological skills or the data protection persistently used to exclude other possible protection. All we deny everything and have the desire to gain power. But most of us supply these reactions with more sophisticated ways of processing anxiety and assimilation of complex reality. The psychotic personality structure is made up of lack of mature defenses and not of primitive ones.

Primitive defense mechanisms are much harder to describe than the more mature. Their preverbal, comprehensiveness, imagery and magical nature make them extremely uncomfortable for the submission of written language.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Psychological Science
Subscribe to Our
Free Psychology Newsletter!

Enter your email address: