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Психология DEFENCE MECHANISMS
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Text 9

When inner conflict is acute and anxiety threatens, the ego often tries to reduce the anxiety by means of irrational techniques known as defense mechanisms. The ego tries to exclude the source of anxiety from consciousness (which requires vast quantities of emotional energy) or distort it, reducing the threat (which requires less energy). Although we may at times notice our use of defense mechanisms, they operate most powerfully when they are unconscious.

The fundamental defense mechanism, one that keeps threatening thoughts and memories from penetrating consciousness and pushes them back into the unconscious, is called repression. As we have seen, one of Freud’s earliest hypotheses concerned repression. He observed that his patients were unable to recall traumatic, or psychologically damaging, childhood events without considerable probing. These traumatic memories, he said, are concealed from conscious awareness and kept in the unconscious by strong forces. According to Freud, the threats from these unpleasant memories, the expenditures of energy needed to conceal them and the anxiety generated in the process are responsible for many emotional disorders. Freud also believed that repression is a part of all other defense mechanisms; before these defensive strategies can be used, the anxiety-producing impulse must be repressed.

A familiar, extremely common defense mechanism is rationalization, in which we give ourselves a plausible explanation for doing (or not doing) something that we are in fact doing (or not doing) for quite different reasons. We may not be conscious of the real reason for our behavior, or the real reason may be unacceptable to us. For example, we may justify ignoring the homeless man on the street who asks us for money by telling ourselves that he would only spend it on liquor. This allows us to avoid the guilt we might experience if we thought we had refused to help a deserving person.

Regression is a return to an earlier, less threatening stage of development in response to some perceived threat. People often distract themselves from their anxieties by eating too much – a return of comforting behavior that gave them pleasure in childhood. A frightened child on the first day of school may begin sucking his or her thumb, a habit given up years before.

Projection is turning an inward threat into a threat from the external world. A woman who feels an impulse to shoplift may begin to fear that her purse will be stolen or that salesclerks will shortchange her. A man who frets about the sexual promiscuity of the younger generation may be projecting onto young people his fear about his own sexual impulses.

Displacement is transferring emotions that a person is afraid to feel or express to a nonthreatening situation. A woman who has been angry at her boss may come home and yell at the babysitter.

Denial is a refusal to recognize a threatening source of anxiety. A high school boy with a failing academic record wants to become a doctor, denying the importance of good grades and asserting that “somehow” it will all work out.

Defense mechanisms at times may serve a useful purpose, because they relieve minor anxieties and allow us to meet the demands of daily life. Yet they all distort reality and so may impair our ability to cope with things as they are in the world. For example, parents of a retarded child who persuade themselves that the youngster’s failure to talk is due to shyness may deprive their child of months or even years of programs that might have increased the child’s ability to function.

Not all defense mechanisms have negative effects. Freud identified on “positive” defense mechanism, which he called sublimation. Sublimation is the diversion of erotic energy away from its original source and toward a socially constructive activity. Many of the achievements of civilization, said Freud, were fueled by sublimation.


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  • - DEFENCE MECHANISMS

    Text 9 When inner conflict is acute and anxiety threatens, the ego often tries to reduce the anxiety by means of irrational techniques known as defense mechanisms. The ego tries to exclude the source of anxiety from consciousness (which requires vast quantities of emotional energy) or distort it, reducing the threat (which requires less energy). Although we may at times notice our use of defense mechanisms, they operate most powerfully when they are unconscious. The fundamental defense... [читать подробенее]