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Updated: Aug 27 2020

Ego Defenses

  • Overview
    • Unconscious processes that prevent undesirable feelings (such as anxiety or depression)
  • Immature Defenses (More Primitive)
    • Acting out
      • use actions to express unacceptable feelings and thoughts
        • tantrums
    • Dissociation
      • temporary drastic change in behavior
      • extreme forms can result in dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder)
    • Denial
      • avoidance of awareness of some painful reality
        • initially refusing to believe a diagnosis of AIDS or cancer
    • Displacement
      • taking feelings out on a neutral 3rd party
        • fight with wife → yell at dog
    • Fixation
      • "stuck" in an earlier developmental stage
        • Freud's "oral fixation"
    • Fantasy
      • substituting an imaginary, less disturbing view of the world when the actual reality is difficult or painful
    • Identification
      • imitating behavior (good or bad) of a more powerful person
        • abused child becomes abusive parent later in life
    • Isolation of affect
      • separation of emotion from events or ideas
        • describing murder in graphic detail without emotional response
    • Passive aggression
      • expression of angry feelings in a non-confrontational way
    • Projection
      • attributing unacceptable internal feelings to an external source
        • Philandering husband claims his wife is cheating
    • Rationalization
      • making excuses to avoid the real reason for actions or to avoid self-blame
        • claiming that grades are not important anyway after failing a test
    • Reaction formation
      • replacing an unwanted idea or feeling with its opposite ("an equal and opposite reaction")
        • a patient with hypersexual thoughts becomes a nun
    • Regression
      • reversion to more childlike behavior
        • particularly seen in children under stress (illness, punishment, birth of new sibling, or fatigue)
        • e.g. toilet trained child wets the bed while he is hospitalized
    • Repression
      • involuntary withholding of bad thoughts from consciousness
    • Splitting
      • belief that people are either all good or all bad
        • resident is mean but the medical student is warm and caring
      • seen in borderline personality disorder
  • Mature Defenses (Less Primitive)
    • Altruism
      • alleviating guilt through charity and generosity
        • e.g. criminal donates to church
    • Humor
      • appreciating the humor in a situation to relieve stress
        • joke about your licensing exams
    • Sublimation
      • replacing an unacceptable action with a more acceptable action
        • aggressive personality is redirected toward a successful military career
    • Suppression
      • voluntary withholding of an idea or feeling from consciousness
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