Aim inhibition: Placing a limitation upon instinctual demands; accepting
partial or modified fulfillment of desires.
Examples: (1) a person is
conscious of sexual desire but if finding it frustrating, "decides"
that all that is really wanted in the relationship is companionship. (2) a student who originally wanted to be a
physician decides to become a physician's assistant.
Aim inhibition, like the other mechanisms, is
neither healthful nor pathological, desirable nor undesirable, in itself. It may be better to have half a loaf than no
bread, but an unnecessary aim inhibition may rob one of otherwise attainable
Note that the first example could include the
mechanism of displacement, and the second, rationalization. Up to a point, mutual idealization can make
for a happy relationship; however, unrealistic expectations of another person
based upon this mechanism can lead to serious disappointment.
individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by
dedication to meeting the needs of others.
Unlike the self-sacrifice sometimes characteristic of reaction
formation, the individual receives gratification either vicariously or from the
response of others.
Anticipation: The individual deals with
emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by experiencing emotional
reactions in advance of, or anticipating consequences of, possible future
events and considering realistic, alternative responses or solutions.
Autistic Fantasy: The individual deals with
emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by excessive daydreaming
as a substitute for human relationships, more effective action, or problem
Avoidance: A defense mechanism consisting of refusal to
encounter situations, objects, or activities because they represent unconscious
sexual or aggressive impulses and/or punishment for those impulses; avoidance,
according to the dynamic theory, is a major defense mechanism in phobias. [symbolization] [displacement]
Compensation: Encountering failure or frustration
in some sphere of activity, one overemphasizes another. The term is also applied to the process of
over-correcting for a handicap or limitation.
Examples: (1) a physically
unattractive adolescent becomes an expert dancer. (2) a youth with residual muscle damage from poliomyelitis
becomes an athlete. (3) Demosthenes.
Conversion: Conflicts are presented by physical symptoms
involving portions of the body innervated by sensory or motor nerves. This mechanism and somatization are the only
ones that are always pathological.
Examples: a man's arm becomes
paralyzed after impulses to strike another
(2) regular heavy drinking limited to weekends; (3) long periods of
sobriety interspersed with binges of daily heavy drinking lasting for weeks or
Deflection: Also detected when the individual is in group
therapy and consists of redirecting attention to another group member.
Denial: Failing to recognize obvious implications or
consequences of a thought, act, or situation.
Examples: (1) a person having an extramarital affair gives no thought to
the possibility of pregnancy. (2) persons living near a volcano disregard the
dangers involved. (3) a disabled person plans to return to former activities
without planning a realistic program of rehabilitation. [repression]
Devaluation: The individual deals with
emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by attributing exaggerated
negative qualities to self or others. [idealization]
Displacement: A change in the object by which an
instinctual drive is to be satisfied; shifting the emotional component from one
object or idea to another. Examples:
(1) a woman is abandoned by her fiance’; she quickly finds another man about
whom she develops the same feelings; (2) a salesman is angered by his superior
but suppresses his anger; later, on return to his home, he punishes one of his
children for misbehavior that would usually be tolerated or ignored.
Displacements are often
quite satisfactory and workable mechanisms; if one cannot have steak, it is
comforting to like hamburger equally well.
As the March Hare observed, "I like what I have is the same as I have
what I like." However, the example of displaced anger illustrates a
situation which, if often repeated, could cause serious complications in the
person’s life. Conscious acceptance of
a substitute with full recognition that it is a substitute for something one
wants is an analog of displacement.
Dissociation: Splitting-off a group of thoughts
or activities from the main portion of consciousness; compartmentalization.
Example: a politician works vigorously for integrity in government, but at the
same time engages in a business venture involving a conflict of interest
without being consciously hypocritical and seeing no connection between the two
Some dissociation is helpful
in keeping one portion of one's life from interfering with another (e.g., not
bringing problems home from the office).
However, dissociation is responsible for some symptoms of mental
illness; it occurs in "hysteria" (certain somatoform and dissociative
disorders) and schizophrenia, The dissociation of hysteria involves a large
segment of the consciousness while that in schizophrenia is of numerous small
portions. The apparent splitting of
affect from content often noted in schizophrenia is usually spoken of as
dissociation of affect, though isolation might be a better term.
Fixation: The cessation of the process of development of
the personality at a stage short of complete and uniform mature independence is
known as fixation. [regression]
Complaining: The individual deals with
emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by complaining or making
repetitious requests for help that disguise covert feelings or hostility or
reproach toward others, which are then expressed by rejecting the suggestions,
advice, or help that others offer. The
complaints or requests may involve physical or psychological symptoms or life
Humor: The individual deals with
emotional conflict or external stressors by emphasizing the amusing or ironic
aspects of the conflict or stressors.
Idealization: Overestimation of the desirable qualities and
underestimation of the limitations of a desired object. Examples: (1) a lover speaks in glowing
terms of the beauty and intelligence of an average-looking woman who is not
very bright. (2) a purchaser, having
finally decided between two items, expounds upon the advantages of the one
Identification: Similar to introjection, but
of less intensity and completeness. The unconscious modeling of one's self upon
another person. One may also identify
with values and attitudes of a group. Examples:
(1) without being aware that he is copying his teacher, a resident physician
assumes a similar mode of dress and manner with patients. (2) a school girl
wants her mother to buy her the same kind of shoes her classmates are wearing;
she angrily rejects the idea that she is trying to be like the other girls and
insists that the shoes are truly the best available and are the style she has
always wanted. Conscious analogs of
identification are intentional imitation of others and volitional efforts to
conform to a group. [incorporation] [introjection]
Incorporation: The assimilation of the object into
one's own ego and/or superego. This is
one of the earliest mechanisms utilized.
The parent becomes almost literally a part of the child. Parental values, preferences, and attitudes
are acquired. [introjection] [identification]
Intellectualization: The individual deals with emotional
conflict or internal or external stressors by the excessive use of abstract
thinking or the making of generalizations to control or minimize disturbing
Introjection: The process of assimilation of
the picture of an object (as the individual conceives the object to be). For example, when a person becomes depressed
due to the loss of a loved one, his feelings are directed to the mental image
he possesses of the loved one.
Isolation: The splitting-off of the emotional components from
a thought. Example: a medical student
dissects a cadaver without being disturbed by thoughts of death. Isolation may be temporary (affect postponement). Example: a bank teller appears calm and cool
while frustrating a robbery but afterward is tearful and tremulous.
mechanism of isolation is commonly over utilized by obsessive compulsives.
Omnipotence: The individual deals with emotional
conflict or internal or external stressors by feeling or acting as if he or she
possesses special powers or abilities and is superior to others.
Passive Aggression: The individual deals with emotional
conflict or internal or external stressors by indirectly and unassertively
expressing aggression toward others.
There is a facade of overt compliance masking covert resistance,
resentment, or hostility. Passive
aggression often occurs in response to demands for independent action or
performance or the lack of gratification of dependent wishes but may be
adaptive for individuals in subordinate positions who have no other way to
express assertiveness more avertly.
Projection: Attributing one's thoughts or impulses to
another person. In common use, this is
limited to unacceptable or undesirable impulses. Examples: (1) a man, unable to accept that he has competitive or
hostile feelings about an acquaintance, says, “He doesn’t like me.” (2) a
woman, denying to herself that she has sexual feelings about a co-worker,
accuses him, without basis, of flirt and described him as a “wolf.”
This defense mechanism is
commonly over utilized by the paranoid.
A broader definition of
projection includes certain operations that allow for empathy and understanding
of others. Recognition that another
person is lonely or sad may be based not upon having seen other examples of
loneliness or sadness and learning the outward manifestations but upon having
experienced the feelings and recognizing automatically that another person’s
situation would evoke them. [projective identification]
Identification: As in projection, the
individual deals with emotional conflict or internal or external stressors by
falsely attributing to another his or her own unacceptable feelings, impulses,
or thoughts. Unlike simple projection,
the individual does not fully disavow what is projected. Instead, the individual remains aware of his or her own affects or impulses but
mis-attributes them as justifiable reactions to the other person. Not infrequently, the individual induces the
very feelings in others that were first mistakenly believed to be there, making
it difficult to clarify who did what to whom first. [projection]
Rationalization: Offering a socially
acceptable and apparently more or less logical explanation for an act or
decision actually produced by unconscious
impulses. The person rationalizing is
not intentionally inventing a story to fool someone else, but instead is
misleading self as well as the listener.
Examples: (1) a man buys a new car, having convinced himself that his
older car won't make it through the winter. (2) a woman with a closet full of
dresses buys a new one because she doesn't have anything to wear.
Formation: Going to the opposite extreme;
overcompensation for unacceptable impulses.Examples: (1) a man violently
dislikes an employee; without being aware of doing so, he "bends over
backwards" to not criticize the employee and gives him special privileges
and advances. (2) a person with strong antisocial impulses leads a crusade
against vice. (3) a married woman who is disturbed by feeling attracted to one
of her husband's friends treats him rudely.
efforts to compensate for conscious dislikes and prejudices are sometimes
analogous to this mechanism. [undoing] [restitution]
Regression: By another anxiety-evading mechanism known as
regression, the personality may suffer a loss of some of the development
already attained and may revert to a lower level of adaptation and expression.
Repression: The involuntary exclusion of
a painful or conflictual thought, impulse, or memory from awareness. This is the primary ego defense mechanism;
others reinforce it.
Resistance: This defense mechanism produces a deep-seated
opposition to the bringing of repressed (unconscious) data to awareness. Through its operation, the individual seeks
to avoid memories or insights which would arouse anxiety.
Restitution: The mechanism of relieving the
mind of a load of guilt by making up or reparation (paying up with interest). [reaction
Self-Assertion: The individual deals with emotional conflict or stressors
by expressing his or her feelings and thoughts directly in a way that is not
coercive or manipulative.
Somatization: Conflicts are represented by
physical symptoms involving parts of the body innervated by the sympathetic and
parasympathetic system. Example: a
highly competitive and aggressive person, whose life situation requires that
such behavior be restricted, develops hypertension. [conversion]
Splitting: This term is widely used today to explain the
coexistence within the ego of contradictory states, representative of self and
others, as well as attitudes to self and others; other individuals or the self
is perceived as "All good or all bad.
Sublimation: Attenuating the force of an
instinctual drive by using the energy in other, usually constructive
activities. This definition implies
acceptance of the Libido Theory; the examples do not require it. Sublimation is often combined with other
mechanisms, among them aim inhibition, displacement, and symbolization. Examples: (1) a man who is dissatisfied with
his sex life but who has not stepped out on his wife becomes very busy
repairing his house while his wife is out of town. Thus, he has no time for social activities. (2) a woman is forced
to undertake a restrictive diet; she becomes interested in painting and does a
number of still life pictures, most of which include fruit.
The conscious use of work or
hobbies to divert one’s thoughts from a problem or from a rejected wish is an
analog of this. Sublimation is often a
desirable mechanism. However, the
consequences may, in addition to preventing instinctual satisfaction, interfere
with the person's life in other ways if disproportionate time, money, or effort
is used in the activity.
Substitution: Through this defense mechanism,
the individual secures alternative or substitutive gratification comparable to
those that would have been employed had frustration not occurred.
Suppression: Usually fisted as an ego defense
mechanism but actually the conscious analog of repression; intentional
exclusion of material from consciousness.
At times, suppression may lead to subsequent repression. Examples: (1) a young man at work finds that
he is letting thoughts about a date that evening interfere with his duties; he
decides not to think about plans for the evening until he leaves work. (2) a
student goes on vacation worried that she may be failing; she decides not to
spoil her holiday by thinking of school. (3) a woman makes an embarrassing faux
pas at a party; she makes an effort to forget all about it.
the first example, suppression was probably a desirable mechanism since it
permitted concentration on work and deferred dealing with plans for the evening
until a more appropriate time. In the
second instance, suppression would have been undesirable if failing work could
have been corrected during vacation or if a realistic appraisal of probable
consequences of the school situation would have permitted battery planning.
Symbolization: An object or act represents a complex
group of objects and acts, some of which may be conflictual or unacceptable to
the ego; objects or acts stand for a repressed desire. Examples: (1) a soldier, when asked why he
volunteered, he said, "To defend the flag." He rejects as irrelevant
a question about the purpose of the war. (2) a boy asks for a girl's hand (in
As in the second illustration, symbolization is often combined with
displacement. it is one of the mechanisms usually involved in phobias. [avoidance] [displacement]
Undoing: An act or communication
which partially negates a previous one.
Examples: (1) two close friends have a violent argument; when they next
meet, each act as if the disagreement had never occurred. (2) when asked to
recommend a friend for a job, a man makes derogatory comments which prevent the
friend's getting the position; a few days later, the man drops in to see his
friend and brings him a small gift.
In a conscious analog of this, Napoleon made it a practice after reprimanding any officer to find some words of praise to say at their next meeting.
[reaction formation] [restitution]