Defense Mechanism – How Sigmund Freud saw it ?

Sigmund Freud defense mechanisms Psychoanalysis describes the basic psychodynamic alarm function – to help people avoid the conscious identification in their unacceptable instinctual impulses and encourage appreciation of these pulses appropriate means at the appropriate time, avoiding psychological stress.

So what are Freud’s thoughts about defense mechanism?

The defense mechanisms of “Id” according to the analyst, help implement these functions, as well as protect the rights of sweeping the anxiety of man. Sigmund Freud defined the protective mechanisms of “Id” as a conscious strategy employed by the individual for the protection of open expression and pulses It oncoming pressure from the Superego.

Freud believed that “Id” respond to the threat of break pulses It is in 2 ways:

  1. by blocking the expression of impulses in the conscious behavior;
  2. by the distortion of them to such an extent that their original intensity decreased or deviated to one side;

Psychologists confirm that all protective mechanisms have 2 common characteristics:

  1. they operate on an unconscious level and are therefore means of self-deception;
  2. they distort, deny and falsify the perception of reality, to make the alarm less threatening for the man.

The therapists also noticed that people rarely use a single security mechanism – usually they use a variety of defense mechanisms to resolve conflicts or reduce anxiety. Some of the main defensive strategies will be discussed below.


Sigmund Freud saw repression as the primary defense of “Id” because it provides the most direct way of avoiding anxiety (in situations of stress or outside it). Described as “motivated forgetting”, repression is the process of removing from the mind of thoughts and feelings that cause suffering in the unconscious. As a result of displacement, people are not aware of their disturbing conflicts and do not remember the traumatic past events. For example, a person suffering from a terrible personal failure may be unable to tell about her difficult experience.

The relief from anxiety by repression does not pass unnoticed. Freud believed that repressed thoughts and impulses do not lose their activity in the unconscious and to prevent a breakthrough in consciousness is necessary a constant expenditure of psychic energy. This incessant waste of resources can seriously restrict the use of energy for a more adaptive, creative behavior. However, the constant desire of the repressed material to the open expression may obtain short-term satisfaction in dreams, jokes, reservations and other manifestations of what Sigmund Freud called “psychopathology of everyday life”.

Moreover, according to his theory, repression plays a role in all forms of neurotic behavior (in neurosis and not only) in psychosomatic illness (such as peptic ulcer disease), psychosexual disorders (such as compulsive masturbation, impotence and frigidity) – in case where it becomes necessary professional psychological counseling – therapist assistance. This is the basic and most common defense mechanism.

The projection

As a defense mechanism in psychology, the projection follows the repression. It is a process by which an individual describes to his own unacceptable thoughts, feelings and behavior of other people or environment. Thus, the projection allows a person to put the blame on someone or something for their shortcomings or failures. Golf player shows a primitive projection when he blames his club after an unsuccessful strike.

On another level, a psychologist or therapist can observe the projection of a young woman who is not aware that struggles with a strong sex drive, but “Id” suspects everyone who met it in its intention to seduce. Finally, a classic example of projection – a student who did not get ready properly for exam, attributes his low grade to unfair test or fraud of other students or blames the professor for that he did not explain this subject. Also due to the projection there are explained social prejudices and the phenomenon of “scapegoat”.

The discussion of manifestations of projection is a common theme in the office of psychologist and in the practical area of psychotherapy.


As a protective mechanism, called substitution, the manifestation of instinctual impulse is redirected from a more menacing to a less threatening. A common example is known not only by psychoanalysts – a child who pushes his younger sister, kicks her dog or breaks her toys, after being punished by his parents.

Substitution is also seen in sensitivity of adults during irritating moments. For example, a high demanding employer criticizes the employee and she reacts with rage to minor provocation by her husband and children. She was not aware that, once they are objects of irritation, they just replace her boss. In each of these examples, the true object of hostility is replaced by a much less threatening to the subject.

A less common form of substitution is directed against itself: hostile impulses addressed to others, forwarded to yourself that evokes a feeling of depression or condemnation itself (up to depression) which may require advice and assistance of a psychologist.


Another way for “Id” to cope with frustration and anxiety is to distort reality and thus to protect self-esteem. Rationalization refers to the false reasoning by which the irrational behavior is a way that is reasonable and therefore justified in the eyes of others. Stupid mistakes, bad judgment and mistakes can din a justification for using magic rationalization. One of the most common types of such protection is to rationalize the type of “sour grapes”. This name originates from Aesop’s fable about the fox that could not reach the grapes and therefore decided that the berries are not ripe. People rationalize in the same way. For example, a man who answered the woman when he invited her for a date, consoles himself with the fact that it is quite unattractive. Similarly, a student who failed to enroll in dental office medical school may convince themselves that he really does not want to be a dentist.

Reaction of education. Sometimes “Id” can defend against forbidden impulses, expressing thoughts and behavior in the opposite impulse. Here we are dealing with jet formation or the opposite effect. This protective process has 2 stages: first, unacceptable impulse is suppressed then at the level of consciousness manifests itself quite opposite. Opposition is particularly noticeable in socially approved behavior, which in this case is exaggerated in flexible. For example, a woman who experienced anxiety (and sometimes and panic) in connection with her own distinct sexual drive may be in a range of uncompromising fighter with pornographic films. She may even picket the studio or write letters of protest to the film company, expressing their strong concern in degradation of modern cinema. Freud wrote that many men who deride homosexuals, in fact, protect themselves of their own homosexual impulses.


Another well-known defense mechanism used to protect against anxiety and fear – it is regression. For the regression is characterized by a return to childish, childlike behaviors. It is a way to mitigate anxiety by returning to the early period of life, safer and more pleasant. Easily recognizable manifestations of regression in adults include incontinence, dissatisfaction, as well as features such as “pout and do not talk” with others, resistance to authority or riding a car at high speed – a display that indicates the feasibility of obtaining psychological counseling.


According to Sigmund Freud, sublimation is a defense mechanism that enabled man to adapt to change his impulses so that they can be expressed through socially acceptable thoughts or actions. Sublimation is regarded as the only healthy, constructive strategy to curb unwanted impulses, because it allows you to change the target or object of impulses without deterring their occurrence. Instinctual energy is given by other means of expression – so that society considers acceptable. For example, if over time the masturbation causes more and more alarm for the boy, than he can sublimate his impulses into socially approved activities – such as football, hockey or other sports. The same, a woman with strong sadistic tendencies can be a surgeon or a first-class novelist. In these activities she can demonstrates her superiority over others, but in a way that will give the public a useful result.

Freud argued that the sublimation of sexual instincts was the major impetus for the great achievements of Western science and culture. He said that the sublimation of sexual desire is a particularly noticeable feature of the evolution of culture – thanks to it there became possible a great rise in science, art and ideology, which plays an important role in our civilized life.


When a person refuses to acknowledge that happened an unpleasant event it means that it includes a protective mechanism, as a denial. Imagine a father who refuses to believe that his daughter was raped and brutally murdered and he behaves as if nothing like this has happened (to protect him from devastating grief and depression) or a wife who denies her husband’s betrayal.  Imagine a child who denies the death of his beloved cat and continues to believe that she is still alive. The denial of reality takes place and when people talk or argue, “That cannot happen to me”, despite the evidence of the contrary (as happens when a doctor tells a patient that he has a fatal disease). According to Sigmund Freud, denial is most typically for children and old people with low intelligence (although adult people and normal developed can sometimes use denial in traumatic situations).

Denial and other defense mechanism described are the ways used by the psyche in the face of internal and external threats. In each case of defense results a psychological energy that causes limitation in flexibility and strength of “Id”. Moreover the more effective protective mechanisms are, the more distorted picture of our need, fears and desires they create.

Freud said that we are all use defense mechanisms, and it is desirable only if we over-rely on them. Serious problem overwhelm us when our defense mechanisms, except sublimation, lead to the distortion of reality and subsequent psychological distress, when a person need psychological help and counseling therapist.

Further readings:

You should take a look to an article written by Allison Ford, who describes how we use these defense mechanisms in our daily life and how “people deliberately choose these methods of handling stress, rather than allowing their mind to react unconsciously.”

Posted in Freud Related Articles
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