Sigmund Freud: the father of psychology, the Id, Ego and Superego, the Oedipus Complex. Heck, he practically invented the unconscious! In the current psychology world, however, Freud just isn’t as popular as he used to be. Not all people think all their problems originated from an odd maternal relationship, and to some people an umbrella is, well, just an umbrella.
So ok, maybe Freud isn’t always applicable, but his influence permeates todays language, and helps us make sense of human behavior. One major way he affected our current speech was his theories about Defense Mechanisms, or as I like to call them: Emotional Disguises. These are ways in which we mask our unwanted or inappropriate feelings and emotions. Defense Mechanisms can actually be a very healthy way to cope with difficult emotions; however, if we aren’t aware of what we are doing, sometimes we can carry our defenses to an unhealthy level, becoming paranoid, obsessive or worse: a big fake.
I am very relieved, of course, that I am completely aware at all times of my feelings and emotions, and never act inappropriately to cover them up. But for those of you who might be interested, here are some of the most popular ones that
I use some people use. Definitely no repression here.
Acting Out: This is when an individual deals with emotional stress by using his or her behavior to “act out” the feelings instead of merely reflecting on them. But I don’t ever do this. That time when I threw an orange on the ground and stomped out of the room? I was just trying out a new vegan recipe for orange juice.
Aim Inhibition: This is when a person, upon realizing that his or her desires might not be fully realized, chooses to modify said desires to fit the limitations. Ok, this sounds healthy right? If your dreams are unrealistic, you should change them right? If your dream to travel the world as a world-renowned ultimate frisbee artist gourmet chef photographer seems a little out of reach, why NOT choose something a little different. I mean, Ultimate gets boring after a while, and photography is so cliché–I mean everyone is doing it. And have you ever had a close look at a chef’s hands? I’m pretty sure a requirement is to have at least one finger missing. Just sayin’.
Autistic Fantasy: This is when an individual deals with emotional conflict or stress by retreating into excessive daydreaming as a substitute for human relationships and actual problem solving. This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that when I am stressed, I download and read excessive amounts of young adult fantasy fiction. Nothing wrong with wanting to live in a dystopian post-apocalyptic fairy land…right??
Deflection: When someone directs attention on another person instead of facing his or her own problems. What? Me? Have problems? Hey, look at my cute toddler! Want to see some pictures of her smiling in 37 different ways?
Help-Rejecting Complaining: This is basically when someone deals with emotional stress by complaining and asking repeatedly for help, and then rejecting any help offered. I’ve never done this of course. If I want to feel ugly today, I have a right to do so without interference, while at the same time, make you miserable with my incessant whining!
Humor: Using irony, sarcasm or other amusing aspects to deal with or hide emotional conflict or stress. Me? Use humor or sarcam to mask my true emotions? Hahahahahaha! That’s real funny.
Omnipotence: An individual with emotional conflict or stress will act as if he or she has special powers, or is superior to others. Well, I certainly wouldn’t claim superiority over others if it wasn’t true. I’m only superior over those people I don’t like, or who have wronged me in some way. My special power is to intuitively understand how much more enlightened I am than those bullies from high school , that guy who just cut me off in traffic, or any other rude and obnoxious person.
Projection: Putting one’s thoughts or impulses onto another person. This is definitely not something that has ever occurred in our household:
- Me, to husband, 10:00 at night: “You know you really should go to bed soon, you don’t want to be grumpy because you didn’t get enough sleep.”
- Two hours later while scrolling through Facebook (spoken to husband): “I can’t believe you’re not going to sleep, at this hour, you probably aren’t absorbing anything useful!”
- Next morning, wake up grumpy with a headache. To husband: “Stop being so grumpy! You’re thinking I should have gone to bed earlier aren’t you??!”
Rationalization: Using socially acceptable and logical explanations for subconscious or hidden impulses. I am sure this has nothing to do with the fact that despite my disappearance from the gym for over 6 months, I still hold on to my membership. Either I am rationalizing my membership out of guilt that I need to get in shape, or I am just too lazy to get over there. I certainly wouldn’t want to rationalize my laziness. Nuh uh.
Sublimation: Disguising an impulse or emotion by using the energy in more constructive, socially acceptable ways. I really couldn’t begin to understand this one. I make art for simple joy and fun. No sublimation here.
So did you recognize any of these Defense Mechanisms? Ever used any of these words in your everyday speech? The list continues with other defenses like Resistance, Intellectualization, Identification, Displacement, Fixation, Avoidance, Suppression and Repression. I especially wouldn’t know anything about those last two.
Despite all the unhealthy ways these defenses can be used, most of them are actually pretty healthy tools, if used in moderation. For example, projection can help us feel empathy for others; humor can help to relieve tension, aim inhibition can prevent us from feeling disappointed and unhappy with our current lives, and sublimation can spur creativity and reduce aggression. Even some feelings of omnipotence can help increase self-confidence and help us overcome adversity.
So really, maybe it’s ok sometimes to disguise our true feelings, if it’s done in a socially appropriate way. Hey I’d rather make borscht than pick a fight, and I’d rather laugh over spilled milk than break the glass. That reminds me, all this talk about all the defenses I don’t have has made me want to go and draw a picture. Of my mother*.
* I love you Mom!