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Defense Mechanisms 2

Last week we looked at the mature defense mechanisms that allow a person to live at the optimum adaptation of life. However, there are many defenses that reflect a person’s pathology. Denial is avoiding the awareness of some painful aspect of reality by negating sensory data. Here the external reality is denied. For e.g. in bereavement, a spouse may deny that her husband is dead and may carry on the activities as if her husband is alive. Distortion is grossly reshaping external reality to suit inner needs including unrealistic megalomanic beliefs, hallucinations or wish fulfilling delusions. For e.g. a stock market speculator may distort the losses he has made in order to avoid the anxiety. Projection is perceiving and reacting to unacceptable inner impulses and their derivatives as though they were outside the self. It is attributing one’s own feelings and wishes to another person becuae of intolerable inner feelings or painful emotions. For e.g. in a restaurant a boy may stare at a girl because he believes that she is staring at him as she is interested in him. He is attributing a sexual interest in him to the girl so that it allows him to stare at her while not taking into account that it may be his sexual interest in her as this may produce anxiety. Acting out is expressing an unconscious wish or impulse through action to avoid being conscious of its accompany emotion. The unconscious fantasy is lived out impulsively in behaviour, thereby gratifying the impulse, rather than the prohibition against it. Acting out involves chronically giving in to an impulse to avoid the tension that would result from the postponement of expression. For e.g. compulsive shopping when one cannot afford it is acting out a fantasy of having unlimited money. This is to avoid the painful emotion of one’s poverty. Blocking is temporarily or transiently inhibiting thinking, emotions or impulses. For e.g. forgetting to go to a party which one is dreading as it involves meeting people whom one wants to avoid, or forgetting to go to a movie because it is not interesting. Here it is unconscious forgetting so that one does not have to take the blame for it. So the appointment is blocked out from the mind and only remembered after the event is over. Hypochondriasis is exaggerating or overemphasizing an illness for the purpose of evasion. Reproach arising from bereavement, loneliness, or unacceptable aggressive impulses towards others is transformed into self-reproach and complaints of pain, physical illness and weakness. Here responsibility may be avoided, guilt may be circumvented and impulses warded off. Here one may feel that a pain reflects cancer even though there is no data to conclude this. Passive aggressive behaviour is expressing aggression towards others indirectly through passivity, masochism and turning against the self. Manifestations of passive aggressive behaviour include failures, procrastination and illnesses that affects others more than oneself. A satyagrah or a hunger strike is an example. Regression is an attempt to return to an earlier libidinal phase of functioning to avoid the tension and conflict evoked at the present level of development. It reflects the basic tendency to gain instinctual gratification at a less-developed period. For e.g. a girl failing in a love relationship may turn to eating food to ward off her depressive feelings. A certain amount of regression is a normal phenomenon as it is essential for relaxation, sleep and orgasm. It is also considered an essential concomitant of the creative process. Fantasy is indulging in a retreat in order to resolve the conflict and to obtain gratification. Interpersonal intimacy is avoided and the eccentricity serves to repel others. This avoids the acting out of fantasies. For e.g. one may fantasize about objects that are not possible to obtain like a sports car, palatial house when one cannot afford it. Controlling is attempting to manage or regulate events or objects in the environment to minimize anxiety and to resolve inner conflicts. For e.g. a mother may control the child’s friendships in order to minimize the anxiety of separation from it and a child may do so vice versa. Dissociation is temporarily but drastically modifying a person’s character or one’s sense of personal identity to avoid the emotional distress. For e.g. a counterphobic behaviour may be found in meek people when they may become extremely aggressive on a trifle matter and later feel confused as to why that happened.