Neurotic defense mechanisms are processes that are developed by the ego and are believed to have the capability to destroy a person’s mentality. They work by helping an individual avoid guilt and anxiety that is caused by inhibitions connected with aggressive tendencies and sexual desires, revealing the vicissitudes and complexity of the relationships between representation and affection.
As noted by Sigmund Freud in 1894 and 1896, there is a number of neurotic defense mechanisms that he had referred to in all of his written works. He got help from his daughter, Anna, who developed and elaborated on such concepts, even adding five of her own. In 1896, Freud concluded that defense is the essence of neurotic psychic mechanisms, which is an idea that came after his analysis of the neuro-psychoses of defense in 1894.
Aside from Freud and his daughter, many other psychoanalysts added more types of ego defenses, and here are the primary ones:
This was the first neurotic defense mechanism discovered by Freud and is believed to be the most important. Basically, repression is an unconscious process that is developed by the ego to keep threatening or disturbing thoughts from becoming conscious, especially those that result in feelings of guilt from the super-ego. It is deemed as not a very successful type of defense mechanism, especially in long-term situations, as it forces disturbing ideas, wishes or memories into the unconscious, which can still create anxiety even if they are hidden. In the Oedipus complex for instance, aggressive thoughts about same-sex parents are being repressed.
Identification with the Aggressor
Basically, this focuses on feared or negative traits, such as when you are afraid of someone and then try to become more like him/her to practically conquer such fear. One of the best examples of this is the Stockholm Syndrome, where a hostage would identify him/herself with the terrorists. In the case of Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army, she was raped and abused by those who captured her, yet she still joined her captors’ movement and then took part in one of robberies they committed, though she was acquitted at her trial because she was found to be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.
Displacement is the case where a person redirects an impulse to a powerless, symbolic substitute target, which can be an object or a person. For example, someone who feels uncomfortable with his/her sexual desire for a real person might substitute a fetish, or someone who feels frustration towards his/her superiors might go home and beat up a family member, kick the dog or engage in cross-burnings.
This type of defense mechanism is where people attribute their own motives and feelings to others, especially those that would cause guilt, such as sexual fantasies and aggressive thoughts. As an example, you might hate a certain person, but your superego would tell you that such feeling is unacceptable, so you tend to solve the problem by believing that he/she hates you.
This involves blocking external events from awareness, like if a situation has become too much to handle for you, you would refuse to experience it. Now, this is said by experts to be a primitive and dangerous defense mechanism, where no one can disregard reality and get away with it for long. For example, a smoker might refuse to admit to him/herself that smoking is bad for his/her health.
Sublimation is quite similar to displacement, only that it takes place when you manage to displace your emotions into an activity that is constructive, rather than destructive, such as switching your focus to something artistic or athletic. In fact, many great artists, musicians and athletes have had unhappy lives and then used the medium of art, music and sports to express themselves. For Freud, sublimation is the cornerstone of civilized life, science and the arts.
Rationalization is defined as the cognitive distortion of the facts in order to make an impulse or an event less of a threat. It often occurs on a fair level of consciousness when a person provides him/herself with excuses. But for those having sensitive egos, making excuses would be so easy that there would be cases where they are not aware of it. Simply put, these people are quite prepared to believe their own lies.
This is a defense mechanism that especially occurs when you are faced with stress, frightened or troubled, where your behaviors would often become more primitive or childish. For example, a child might once again start to suck his/her thumb or wet the bed when he/she is required to spend some time in the hospital. For teenagers, they might giggle uncontrollably when they are introduced into a social situation that involves the opposite sex.
This is a situation where you would go beyond denial and tend to behave the other way from which you feel or think originally. Through reaction formation, the id is said to be satisfied while the ego is kept in ignorance of the true motives. In most cases, this type of neurotic defense mechanism is marked by compulsiveness and showiness. According to Freud, some individuals who are prejudice against homosexuals are creating a defense against their own feelings of homosexuality by adopting harsh anti-homosexual behaviors that help with convincing them of their heterosexuality.
The analysis of neurotic defense mechanisms has been extended and refined through decades of studies by experts, such as Helene Deutsch and Otto Fenichel, among others. This has added more types to the list, such as for the phobic neurotic, avoidance of anxiety and canceling. The refinement of such analysis has even allowed the consideration of neurosis as other than an essential pathological system. Currently, neurotic defense mechanisms are already described in the context of the so-called normal-neurotic psychic activity. Also, research on traumatic neuroses since Freud, including mechanisms of splitting, repetition and denial, as well as research on psychic functioning in borderline processes, were said to have contributed to a certain vulgarization of these defensive mechanisms, which are essential to understanding the Freudian metapsychology.