Very early in psychology’s history, Sigmund Freud was working hard to understand the unconscious mind, something we’ve talked about before. Almost as a throwaway (in that he talked about these things but never really described them), he explained that sometimes when our brain wants to deal with conflict, it uses some defence mechanisms (we’ve talked before about how much our brain hates mental conflict). Some of them are pretty weird.
Denial:The classic. I’d be surprised if you hadn’t accused someone (or been accused by someone) of being in denial. Essentially, this is you just not accepting the reality of some kind of scary situation. It’s quite common during situations in which one’s life is under threat, like when one gets diagnosed with cancer or when one is in the throes of addiction. It can be good and bad. Obviously, if you’re in denial, you’re not going to effectively problem solve. But it has buffering effects; it can allow us to keep truckin’ along (for a while).
Repression:A similar concept to denial. One simply removes the thought from the conscious mind. It’s hard to know what’s repressed and what’s not though because we sometimes find when repressed memories return, we find out they’ve been wildly misremembered.
Projection:Sometimes, an impulse or desire goes so far against the grain that our minds might ‘project’ them onto someone else (or a group of others). The most popular example of this, to further stigmatise or stereotype a group, is that a paranoid person who believes others are out to get them, might simply be projecting their own malicious thoughts. However, it’s just a likely to happen to those without delusions (it’s certainly not a symptom of psychosis, and one would not assume a paranoid person is projecting). Sometimes and in some people, intrusive impulses can transform into OCD.
Sublimation:When our brain activates this mechanism, we transform our desire into something more socially acceptable, like aggression into sport.
Isolation:We can also intellectualise a feeling, and thus remove ourselves from the impact of it. The problem of course, is without feeling, we aren’t motivated to succeed.
Reaction-formation:We might transform our unacceptable drive into the antithesis of that drive. Freud would suggest that the slew of anti-gay activists that get caught doing sexy, gay things developed this particular defence mechanism. In fact, often, homophobic men find homosexual stimuli more sexy than more well-adjusted guys. It’s certainly not always the case, but it’s an interesting finding that supports a recent continuum theory of homosexuality (where everyone has varying levels of same sex attraction, but our socialisation more often pushes us to the extremes). Freuds mechanisms remained fairly undeveloped in his time, but have since been fairly well supported in the literature. And although Freud had a way of researching his methods that were fairly useless in terms of their validity, he had some very incisive insights into the human unconsciousness (although some of his stuff is a bit off the wall). In this, he was on-the-spot, and so it’s important to note that while our defence mechanisms are there to protect us, sometimes we need to feel the pain live a fuller life.
Being unconscious is the ultimate disability” – Jessa Gamble in “The Siesta and the Midnight Sun”About 1/4 of people will admit to some homosexual feelings or experiences (a number which is probably on the rise as tolerance goes up). Learn how best to support our friends and family when they come out. Or learn how our unconscious processes will keep us from knowing just how happy we can be. Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and 'the good life' at The Dirt Psychology.