Some of us may be more aware than others when it comes to understanding the defenses that our psyche’s employ to protect us against unwanted emotional reactions. Some of Freud’s earliest work was on his “discovery” of these mechanisms of protection, how it was that they functioned, and the reasons behind why they are summoned during difficult experiences. In early recovery, we are sometimes like newborns in the sense that we are looking to establish ourselves in the world, and do to that properly, we need to understand how best to operate in that world. Understanding our defense mechanisms to a further extent won’t actually stop the negative reactions to experience, but it will provide insight as to why we react in certain ways and how different reactions, perspectives, and behaviors might be more effective in maintain harmony within ourselves. Another way to conceive of it is that we need to be concerned when these defenses, which are actually there to protect us in one way or another, become over-utilized as a means to avoid actually solving the difficult problems that we are faced with.
To avoid overcomplicating the matter, we are going to focus on the primary 10 defenses that we typically use. First, we can discuss the most utilized defense which is repression. The repression defense, in essence, is the unconscious suppression of information that we, the individual, find to be too offensive, overwhelming, or incompatible to allow into our psyche. As an example, if we experience trauma or abuse at a young age, we can repress these events in order to protect ourselves against the experience of re-living these events. In this context, we can easily understand the function of the repression defense. When it comes to matters that are of a more personal nature, however, we need to be mindful of what is repressed because the psychoanalytic rules states that what is repressed comes back with a vengeance. This means that if we repress, say for instance, aggressive impulses and fail to integrate them in a healthy manner (called sublimation which we will discuss later), they will return and manifest themselves in way that is almost completely out of our control. A variation of repression is suppression which functions similarly except that suppression is done consciously and deliberately rather than automatically.
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