Psychological Defenses

Understanding Our Psychological Defenses Pt. II

While sticking to the example of aggressive impulses, we can move on to the displacement defense. As an example, if we were to get angry with our boss at work, we might come home and get upset at our children. What we are doing is displacing the anger we had towards our boss onto a less threatening individual such as our kids. Obviously, this is not fair to our children nor is this type of defense advantageous to the individual over the long term as it requires a lack of confidence and assertiveness. The solution we can pose to the problem of an overuse of displacement is to assert ourselves in the moment that we become angry in order to address what is really problematic instead of turning this aggression towards someone unrelated to the source of our anger.

Next, we can turn our attention to projection which is one of the more interesting means of defense against anxiety. Projection is typically thought of as the projection of an unacceptable quality within us that we project onto another person in order to externalize the unwanted aspect within us. While this is accurate, it is not a complete explanation because what is actually happening is that we were aware of this aspect of ourselves, and before we are able to consciously see it within us, we necessarily need to see it in another individual. This defense has the ability to really cause us trouble because if we are unaware of the parts of ourselves that we believe to be unacceptable, we can get in unintentional wars with others for the traits we project onto them which are actually traits we despise within ourselves.

Lastly, let’s examine a defense that is actually advantageous for the individual when it is utilized correctly. Sublimation is a defense whereby we take an unacceptable emotion or thought and transform it into something useful and often times artistic. One of the most obvious examples of this is the musician who takes their pain and suffering and sublimates these negative experiences into music. Sublimation can be done with painting, exercise, poetry and nearly all facets of artistic endeavor.

In conclusion, we cannot nor should we try to rid ourselves of psychological defenses as they do serve a purpose. We should, however, try to become as aware as we can be about the frequency of which we employ them because the overuse of these defenses can become a barrier to personal growth.


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