Ego-defense mechanisms are a way to protect oneself from disturbing thoughts and events. The concept was introduced by Sigmund Freud in his work on personality; namely, the ego, id and superego. The ego deals with reality, the Id seeks to fulfill all the wants, needs and impulses and the superego is the moral compass. This concept also explains anxiety, which will be addressed in later articles.
Most of us are unaware of the defenses we use at any given time. They are learned, usually during childhood. What is learned can be unlearned and replaced with more efficient ways of coping.
There are numerous defense mechanisms, some more sophisticated than others. Denial, Regression, Acting Out, Dissociation, Compartmentalization, Projection, Reaction Formation, Displacement, Intellectualization, Rationalization, Undoing, Sublimation, Compensation, and Assertiveness. So you can see we have a lot to choose from.
Denial is one of the most basic defenses developed in early childhood. According to Dr. John M. Grohol, “Denial is the refusal to accept reality or fact, acting as if a painful event, thought or feeling did not exist.” The alcoholic denies that they have a problem, young people taking part in risky behaviors deny that they can be hurt or killed, a person having unprotected sex denies that they can contract STD’s. The denial is not always verbal, but is evidenced through behavior.
Denial and repression are closely related in that repression is the banishing of the event from memory. While regression may protect us for a while, it begins to work against us as the psyche tires. It is like trying to keep several beach balls under the water at the same time. After a while, you tire and they start popping up. That is why many years after an event, memories start surfacing and triggers can send us into retreat. Many people seek counseling at this point, they express the feeling that their life is unraveling and need help to knit it back together.
Prime Behavioral Health provides counseling to learn new and healthier coping skills. Trauma therapists specializing in EMDR are also available to reprocess the traumatic events so that they no longer haunt you.
Stay tuned for future articles on more ego-defense mechanisms.