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Id, ego and super-ego

Id, ego and super-ego are the three parts of the psychic apparatus defined in Sigmund Freud's
structural model of the psyche; they are the three theoretical constructs in terms of whose activity
and interaction mental life is described. According to this model of the psyche, the id is the set of
uncoordinated instinctual trends; the ego is the organised, realistic part; and the super-ego plays
the critical and moralising role.[1]

Even though the model is "structural" and makes reference to an "apparatus", the id, ego and
super-ego are functions of the mind rather than parts of the brain and do not correspond one-to-
one with actual somatic structures of the kind dealt with by neuroscience.

The concepts themselves arose at a late stage in the development of Freud's thought: the
'structural model' (which succeeded his 'economic model' and 'topographical model') was first
discussed in his 1920 essay "Beyond the Pleasure Principle" and was formalised and elaborated
upon three years later in his "The Ego and the Id". Freud's proposal was influenced by the
ambiguity of the term "unconscious" and its many conflicting uses.


The id comprises the unorganised part of the personality structure that contains the basic drives.
The id acts according to the "pleasure principle", seeking to avoid pain or unpleasure aroused by
increases in instinctual tension.[2]

The id is unconscious by definition:

'It is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality, what little we know of it we have
learned from our study of the dream-work and of the construction of neurotic
symptoms, and most of that is of a negative character and can be described only as
a contrast to the ego. We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a
cauldron full of seething excitations... It is filled with energy reaching it from the
instincts, but it has no organisation, produces no collective will, but only a striving
to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of
the pleasure principle'[3].

In the id,

'contrary impulses exist side by side, without cancelling each other out....There is
nothing in the id that could be compared with negation...nothing in the id which
corresponds to the idea of time'[4].

Developmentally, the id is anterior to the ego; i.e. the psychic apparatus begins, at birth, as an
undifferentiated id, part of which then develops into a structured ego. Thus, the id:
". . contains everything that is inherited, that is present at birth, is laid down in the
constitution -- above all, therefore, the instincts, which originate from the somatic
organisation, and which find a first psychical expression here (in the id) in forms
unknown to us." [5]

The mind of a newborn child is regarded as completely "id-ridden", in the sense that it is a mass
of instinctive drives and impulses, and needs immediate satisfaction, a view which equates a
newborn child with an id-ridden individual—often humorously—with this analogy: an
alimentary tract with no sense of responsibility at either end[citation needed].

The id is responsible for our basic drives, 'knows no judgements of value: no good and evil, no
morality...Instinctual cathexes seeking discharge - that, in our view, is all there is in the id'[6]. It is
regarded as 'the great reservoir of libido'[7], the instinctive drive to create - the life instincts that
are crucial to pleasurable survival. Alongside the life instincts came the death instincts — the
death drive which Freud articulated relatively late in his career in 'the hypothesis of a death
instinct, the task of which is to lead organic life back into the inanimate state'[8]. For Freud, 'the
death instinct would thus seem to express itself - though probably only in part - as an instinct of
destruction directed against the external world and other organisms'[9]: through aggression. Freud
considered that 'the id, the whole person...originally includes all the instinctual impulses...the
destructive instinct as well'[10] as Eros or the life instincts.

[edit] Ego

The Ego acts according to the reality principle; i.e. it seeks to please the id’s drive in realistic
ways that will benefit in the long term rather than bringing grief.[11] At the same time, Freud
concedes that as the ego 'attempts to mediate between id and reality, it is often obliged to cloak
the Ucs. [Unconscious] commands of the id with its own Pcs. [Preconscious] rationalizations, to
conceal the id's conflicts with reality, to be taking notice of reality even when the id
has remained rigid and unyielding'[12].

The Ego comprises that organised part of the personality structure that includes defensive,
perceptual, intellectual-cognitive, and executive functions. Conscious awareness resides in the
ego, although not all of the operations of the ego are conscious. Originally, Freud used the word
ego to mean a sense of self, but later revised it to mean a set of psychic functions such as
judgement, tolerance, reality-testing, control, planning, defence, synthesis of information,
intellectual functioning, and memory.[1] The ego separates out what is real. It helps us to organise
our thoughts and make sense of them and the world around us.[1]"The ego is that part of the id
which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world ... The ego represents what
may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions ... in
its relation to the id it is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength
of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength, while the ego
uses borrowed forces"[13]. Still worse, "it serves three severe masters...the external world, the
super-ego and the id"[12]. Its task is to find a balance between primitive drives and reality while
satisfying the id and super-ego. Its main concern is with the individual's safety and allows some
of the id's desires to be expressed, but only when consequences of these actions are marginal.
"Thus the ego, driven by the id, confined by the super-ego, repulsed by reality, struggles...[in]
bringing about harmony among the forces and influences working in and upon it", and readily
"breaks out in anxiety - realistic anxiety regarding the external world, moral anxiety regarding
the super-ego, and neurotic anxiety regarding the strength of the passions in the id"[14]. It has to
do its best to suit all three, thus is constantly feeling hemmed by the danger of causing discontent
on two other sides. It is said, however, that the ego seems to be more loyal to the id, preferring to
gloss over the finer details of reality to minimize conflicts while pretending to have a regard for
reality. But the super-ego is constantly watching every one of the ego's moves and punishes it
with feelings of guilt, anxiety, and inferiority.

To overcome this the ego employs defense mechanisms. The defense mechanisms are not done
so directly or consciously. They lessen the tension by covering up our impulses that are
threatening.[15] Ego defense mechanisms are often used by the ego when id behavior conflicts
with reality and either society's morals, norms, and taboos or the individual's expectations as a
result of the internalisation of these morals, norms, and their taboos.

Denial, displacement, intellectualisation, fantasy, compensation, projection, rationalisation,

reaction formation, regression, repression, and sublimation were the defense mechanisms Freud
identified. However, his daughter Anna Freud clarified and identified the concepts of undoing,
suppression, dissociation, idealisation, identification, introjection, inversion, somatisation,
splitting, and substitution.

"The ego is not sharply separated from the id; its lower portion merges into it... But
the repressed merges into the id as well, and is merely a part of it. The repressed is
only cut off sharply from the ego by the resistances of repression; it can
communicate with the ego through the id." (Sigmund Freud, 1923)

In a diagram of the Structural and Topographical Models of Mind, the ego is depicted to be half
in the consciousness, while a quarter is in the preconscious and the other quarter lies in the

In modern English, ego has many meanings. It could mean one’s self-esteem, an inflated sense of
self-worth, or in philosophical terms, one’s self. Ego development is known as the development
of multiple processes, cognitive function, defenses, and interpersonal skills or to early
adolescence when ego processes are emerged.[11]
[edit] Super-ego

Freud developed his concept of the super-ego from an earlier combination of the ego ideal and
the 'special psychical agency which performs the task of seeing that narcissistic satisfaction from
the ego ideal is ensured...what we call our "conscience"'[16]. For him 'the installation of the super-
ego can be described as a successful instance of identification with the parental agency', while as
development proceeds 'the super-ego also takes on the influence of those who have stepped into
the place of parents - educators, teachers, people chosen as ideal models'[17].

The Super-ego aims for perfection[15]. It comprises that organised part of the personality
structure, mainly but not entirely unconscious, that includes the individual's ego ideals, spiritual
goals, and the psychic agency (commonly called "conscience") that criticises and prohibits his or
her drives, fantasies, feelings, and actions. 'The Super-ego can be thought of as a type of
conscience that punishes misbehavior with feelings of guilt. For example, for having extra-
marital affairs'[18].

The Super-ego works in contradiction to the id. The Super-ego strives to act in a socially
appropriate manner, whereas the id just wants instant self-gratification. The Super-ego controls
our sense of right and wrong and guilt. It helps us fit into society by getting us to act in socially
acceptable ways.[1]
The Super-ego's demands oppose the id’s, so the ego has a hard time in reconciling the two.[15]

Freud's theory implies that the super-ego is a symbolic internalisation of the father figure and
cultural regulations. The super-ego tends to stand in opposition to the desires of the id because of
their conflicting objectives, and its aggressiveness towards the ego. The super-ego acts as the
conscience, maintaining our sense of morality and proscription from taboos. The super-ego and
the ego are the product of two key factors: the state of helplessness of the child and the Oedipus
complex.[19] Its formation takes place during the dissolution of the Oedipus complex and is
formed by an identification with and internalisation of the father figure after the little boy cannot
successfully hold the mother as a love-object out of fear of castration.

"The super-ego retains the character of the father, while the more powerful the
Oedipus complex was and the more rapidly it succumbed to repression (under the
influence of authority, religious teaching, schooling and reading), the stricter will be
the domination of the super-ego over the ego later on—in the form of conscience or
perhaps of an unconscious sense of guilt."

—Freud, The Ego and the Id (1923)

The concept of super-ego and the Oedipus complex is subject to criticism for its perceived
sexism. Women, who are considered to be already castrated, do not identify with the father, and
therefore, for Freud, 'their super-ego is never so inexorable, so impersonal, so independent of its
emotional origins as we require it to be in men....they are often more influenced in their
judgements by feelings of affection or hostility'[20]. He went on however to modify his position to
the effect 'that the majority of men are also far behind the masculine ideal and that all human
individuals, as a result of their bisexual disposition and of cross-inheritance, combine in
themselves both masculine and feminine characteristics'[21].

In Sigmund Freud's work Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) he also discusses the concept of
a "cultural super-ego". Freud suggested that the demands of the super-ego 'coincide with the
precepts of the prevailing cultural super-ego. At this point the two processes, that of the cultural
development of the group and that of the cultural development of the individual, are, as it were,
always interlocked'[22]. Ethics are a central element in the demands of the cultural super-ego, but
Freud (as analytic moralist) protested against what he called 'the unpsychological proceedings of
the cultural super-ego...the ethical demands of the cultural super-ego. It does not trouble itself
enough about the facts of the mental constitution of human beings'[23].

[edit] Advantages of the structural model

Freud's earlier, topographical model of the mind had divided the mind into the three elements of
conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. At its heart was 'the dialectic of unconscious
traumatic memory versus consciousness...which soon became a conflict between System Ucs
versus System Cs'[24]. With what Freud called the 'disagreeable discovery that on the one hand
(super-)ego and conscious and on the other hand repressed and unconscious are far from
coinciding'[25], Freud took the step in the structural model to 'no longer use the term
"unconscious" in the systematic sense', and to rename 'the mental region that is foreign to the
ego...[and] in future call it the "id"'[26]. The partition of the psyche defined in the structural model
is thus one that cuts across the topographical model's partition of "conscious vs. unconscious".

'The new terminology which he introduced has a highly clarifying effect and so made further
clinical advances possible'[27]. Its value lies in the increased degree of precision and
diversification made possible: although the id is unconscious by definition, the ego and the
super-ego are both partly conscious and partly unconscious. What is more, with this new model
Freud achieved a more systematic classification of mental disorder than had been available

"Transference neuroses correspond to a conflict between the ego and the id;
narcissistic neuroses, to a conflict between the ego and the superego; and
psychoses, to one between the ego and the external world."

—Freud, Neurosis and Psychosis (1923)

It is important to realise however 'the three newly presented entities, the id, the ego and the
superego, all had lengthy past histories (two of them under other names)'[28] - the id as the
systematic unconscious, the super-ego as conscience/ego ideal. Equally, Freud never abandoned
the topographical division of conscious, preconscious, and unconscious - though as he noted
ruefully 'the three qualities of consciousness and the three provinces of the mental apparatus do
not fall together into three peaceful couples...we had no right to expect any such smooth
[edit] Translation

The terms "id," "ego," and "super-ego" are not Freud's own. They are latinisations by his
translator James Strachey. Freud himself wrote of "das Es," "das Ich," and "das Über-Ich"—
respectively, "the It," "the I," and the "Over-I" (or "Upper-I"); thus to the German reader, Freud's
original terms are more or less self-explanatory. Freud borrowed the term "das Es" from Georg
Groddeck, a German physician to whose unconventional ideas Freud was much attracted
(Groddeck's translators render the term in English as "the It").[30] The word ego is taken directly
from Latin, where it is the nominative of the first person singular personal pronoun and is
translated as "I myself" to express emphasis.

Figures like Bruno Bettelheim have criticized the way 'the English translations impeded students'
efforts to gain a true understanding of Freud'[31] by substituting the formalised language of the
elaborated code for the homely immediacy of Freud's own language.

Freud's Structural and Topographical Models of Personality

Sigmund Freud's Theory is quite complex and although his writings on psychosexual development set the
groundwork for how our personalities developed, it was only one of five parts to his overall theory of
personality. He also believed that different driving forces develop during these stages which play an
important role in how we interact with the world.

Structural Model (id, ego, superego)

According to Freud, we are born with our Id. The id is an important part of our personality because as
newborns, it allows us to get our basic needs met. Freud believed that the id is based on our pleasure
principle. In other words, the id wants whatever feels good at the time, with no consideration for the
reality of the situation. When a child is hungry, the id wants food, and therefore the child cries. When the
child needs to be changed, the id cries. When the child is uncomfortable, in pain, too hot, too cold, or just
wants attention, the id speaks up until his or her needs are met.

The id doesn't care about reality, about the needs of anyone else, only its own satisfaction. If you think
about it, babies are not real considerate of their parents' wishes. They have no care for time, whether
their parents are sleeping, relaxing, eating dinner, or bathing. When the id wants something, nothing else
is important.

Within the next three years, as the child interacts more and more with the world, the second part of the
personality begins to develop. Freud called this part the Ego. The ego is based on the reality principle.
The ego understands that other people have needs and desires and that sometimes being impulsive or
selfish can hurt us in the long run. Its the ego's job to meet the needs of the id, while taking into
consideration the reality of the situation.

By the age of five, or the end of the phallic stage of development, the Superego develops. The Superego
is the moral part of us and develops due to the moral and ethical restraints placed on us by our
caregivers. Many equate the superego with the conscience as it dictates our belief of right and wrong.
In a healthy person, according to Freud, the ego is the strongest so that it can satisfy the needs of the id,
not upset the superego, and still take into consideration the reality of every situation. Not an easy job by
any means, but if the id gets too strong, impulses and self gratification take over the person's life. If the
superego becomes to strong, the person would be driven by rigid morals, would be judgmental and
unbending in his or her interactions with the world. You'll learn how the ego maintains control as you
continue to read.

Topographical Model

Freud believed that the majority of what we experience in our lives, the underlying emotions, beliefs,
feelings, and impulses are not available to us at a conscious level. He believed that most of what drives
us is buried in our unconscious. If you remember the Oedipus and Electra Complex, they were both
pushed down into the unconscious, out of our awareness due to the extreme anxiety they caused. While
buried there, however, they continue to impact us dramatically according to Freud.

The role of the unconscious is only one part

of the model. Freud also believed that
everything we are aware of is stored in our
conscious. Our conscious makes up a
very small part of who we are. In other
words, at any given time, we are only
aware of a very small part of what makes
up our personality; most of what we are is
buried and inaccessible.

The final part is the preconscious or

subconscious. This is the part of us that we
can access if prompted, but is not in our
active conscious. Its right below the
surface, but still buried somewhat unless
we search for it. Information such as our
telephone number, some childhood
memories, or the name of your best
childhood friend is stored in the preconscious.

Because the unconscious is so large, and because we are only aware of the very small conscious at any
given time, this theory has been likened to an iceberg, where the vast majority is buried beneath the
water's surface. The water, by the way, would represent everything that we are not aware of, have not
experienced, and that has not been integrated into our personalities, referred to as the nonconscious.
Introduction to Sigmund Freud's id, ego, and super-ego

June 17, 2010

From the turn of the twentieth century until about the end of the second world war, Sigmund
Freud was considered the end-all, be-all of modern psychology. Then, and almost ever since, it's
been very vogue to be critical of Freud and his theories. I'll give a lot of my psychology
professors credit, when I was studying in the early 1980's, for giving Freud his due. He may
have had some strange theories, but he also had some that were worthy of consideration. My
favorite of Freud's theories is that of the id, ego and super-ego. It's very simple, but seems to
capture the essence of human growth, development and behavior in a profound way.

Essentially, Feud said we have these three basic drives that wax and wane throughout our
lives. Depending on our circumstances and our reactions to them, a person can be very id-, ego-,
or super-ego-oriented. Let's start with the id, as it is the easiest to understand.

The id is the most basic of instincts. A person who is very id-oriented is very self-concerned,
even selfish. The most obvious example is an infant child. A baby has needs, and little ability to
communicate those needs. A baby is hungry or soiled or is, in some way, uncomfortable.
Having few communication skills, the baby cries. For those who aren't parents, the sound of a
baby's crying is quite annoying. This infant is very id-oriented. (S)he wants his/her needs met
and that is the only concern. For a very small child, being id-oriented is not only expected, it is a
sign of good self-preservation skills. An adult who is id-oriented, on the other hand, is basically
just viewed as selfish.

Now, the super-ego, as a stark contrast, is very concerned with all those around him. A person
who is super-ego driven is more concerned with mankind and its problems than his own issues.
A person who is super-ego driven would be a prime candidate for charrity work or other giving
fields of endeavor. A person who is too super-ego oriented may forsake his own needs in order
to meet the needs of others. Obviously, this can be detrimental to one's health, if one doesn't also
get his most basic needs met (i.e., food and shelter), as a result of too much super-ego.

Now, the ego is the balance. According to Freud's theory, a person who is very ego-driven is
actually the most well-adjusted an adult can be. (As opposed to how "ego" is thought of, in the
vernacular, where a person with a big "ego" is considered selfish or vain or conceited). The
person who is ego driven will make sure his own needs are met, but not at the expense of others.
At the same time, he will recognize that others have needs too, and will try to be of assistance,
but won't sacrifice his own comfort (at least, not to the point of self-injury) to help others. The
ego-driven personality is a sort of "centered" person. According to Freud, we all strive to be as
close to ego-driven as possible.

If you think about it, Freud's theory of id, ego and super-ego is really a very simple concept.;
But, in its simplicity, lies a lot of truth.
Defence mechanism
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In Freudian psychoanalytic theory, defense mechanisms are unconscious[1] psychological

strategies brought into play by various entities to cope with reality and to maintain self-image.
Healthy persons normally use different defenses throughout life. An ego defense mechanism
becomes pathological only when its persistent use leads to maladaptive behavior such that the
physical and/or mental health of the individual is adversely affected. The purpose of ego defense
mechanisms is to protect the mind/self/ego from anxiety, social sanctions or to provide a refuge
from a situation with which one cannot currently cope.[2]

They are more accurately referred to as ego defense mechanisms, and can thus be categorized as
occurring when the id impulses are in conflict with each other, when the id impulses conflict
with super-ego values and beliefs, and when an external threat is posed to the ego.

The term "defense mechanism" is often thought to refer to a definitive singular term for
personality traits which arise due to loss or traumatic experiences, but more accurately refers to
several types of reactions which were identified during and after daughter Anna Freud's time.
Defense mechanisms are sometimes confused with coping strategies.[3]

Structural model: The id, ego, and superego

The concept of id impulses comes from Sigmund Freud’s structural model. According to this
theory, id impulses are based on the pleasure principle: instant gratification of one's own desires
and needs. Sigmund Freud believed that the id represents biological instinctual impulses in
ourselves, such as aggression (Thanatos or the Death instinct) and sexuality (Eros or the Life
instinct). For example, when the id impulses (e.g. desire to have sexual relations with a stranger)
conflict with the superego (e.g. belief in societal conventions of not having sex with unknown
persons), unsatisfied feelings of anxiousness or feelings of anxiety come to the surface. To
reduce these negative feelings, the ego might use defense mechanisms (conscious or unconscious
blockage of the id impulses).

Freud also believed that conflicts between these two structures resulted in conflicts associated
with psychosexual stages.

The iceberg metaphor is often used to explain the psyche's parts in relation to one

Definitions of individual psyche structures

Freud proposed three structures of the psyche or personality:

• Id: a selfish, primitive, childish, pleasure-oriented part of the personality with

no ability to delay gratification.
• Superego: internalized societal and parental standards of "good" and "bad",
"right" and "wrong" behavior.
• Ego: the moderator between the id and superego which seeks compromises
to pacify both. It can be viewed as our "sense of time and place",

Primary and secondary processes

In the ego, there are two ongoing processes. First there is the unconscious primary process,
where the thoughts are not organized in a coherent way, the feelings can shift, contradictions are
not in conflict or are just not perceived that way, and condensations arise. There is no logic and
no time line. Lust is important for this process. By contrast, there is the conscious secondary
process, where strong boundaries are set and thoughts must be organized in a coherent way.
Most unconscious thoughts originate here.

The reality principle

Id impulses are not appropriate in civilized society, so society presses us to modify the pleasure
principle in favor of the reality principle; that is, the requirements of the external world.

Formation of the superego

The superego forms as the child grows and learns parental and social standards. The superego
consists of two structures: the conscience, which stores information about what is "bad" and
what has been punished and the ego ideal, which stores information about what is "good" and
what one "should" do or be.

The ego's use of defense mechanisms

When anxiety becomes too overwhelming, it is then the place of the ego to employ defense
mechanisms to protect the individual. Feelings of guilt, embarrassment and shame often
accompany the feeling of anxiety. In the first definitive book on defense mechanisms, The Ego
and the Mechanisms of Defense (1936),[6] Anna Freud introduced the concept of signal anxiety;
she stated that it was "not directly a conflicted instinctual tension but a signal occurring in the
ego of an anticipated instinctual tension". The signaling function of anxiety is thus seen as a
crucial one and biologically adapted to warn the organism of danger or a threat to its equilibrium.
The anxiety is felt as an increase in bodily or mental tension and the signal that the organism
receives in this way allows it the possibility of taking defensive action towards the perceived
danger. Defense mechanisms work by distorting the id impulses into acceptable forms, or by
unconscious or conscious blockage of these impulses.

Theories and classifications

The list of defense mechanisms is huge and there is no theoretical consensus on the number of
defense mechanisms. Classifying defense mechanisms according to some of their properties (i.e.
underlying mechanisms, similarities or connections with personality) has been attempted.
Different theorists have different categorizations and conceptualizations of defense mechanisms.
Large reviews of theories of defense mechanisms are available from Paulhus, Fridhandler and
Hayes (1997)[7] and Cramer (1991).[8] The Journal of Personality published a special issue on
defense mechanisms (1998).[9]

Otto F. Kernberg (1967) developed a theory of borderline personality organization of which one
consequence may be borderline personality disorder. His theory is based on ego psychological
object relations theory. Borderline personality organization develops when the child cannot
integrate positive and negative mental objects together. Kernberg views the use of primitive
defense mechanisms as central to this personality organization. Primitive psychological defenses
are projection, denial, dissociation or splitting and they are called borderline defense
mechanisms. Also, devaluation and projective identification are seen as borderline defenses.[10]

In George Eman Vaillant's (1977) categorization, defenses form a continuum related to their
psychoanalytical developmental level.[11] Vaillant's levels are:

• Level I - pathological defenses (i.e. psychotic denial, delusional projection)

• Level II - immature defenses (i.e. fantasy, projection, passive aggression,
acting out)
• Level III - neurotic defenses (i.e. intellectualization, reaction formation,
dissociation, displacement, repression)
• Level IV - mature defenses (i.e. humor, sublimation, suppression, altruism,

Robert Plutchik's (1979) theory views defenses as derivatives of basic emotions. Defense
mechanisms in his theory are (in order of placement in circumplex model): reaction formation,
denial, repression, regression, compensation, projection, displacement, intellectualization.[12]

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) published by the
American Psychiatric Association (1994) includes a tentative diagnostic axis for defense
mechanisms.[13] This classification is largely based on Vaillant's hierarchical view of defenses,
but has some modifications. Examples include: denial, fantasy, rationalization, regression,
isolation, projection, and displacement.

Vaillant's categorization of defense mechanisms

Level 1 - Pathological

The mechanisms on this level, when predominating, almost always are severely pathological.
These four defenses, in conjunction, permit one to effectively rearrange external experiences to
eliminate the need to cope with reality. The pathological users of these mechanisms frequently
appear irrational or insane to others. These are the "psychotic" defenses, common in overt
psychosis. However, they are found in dreams and throughout childhood as well.

They include:

• Delusional Projection: Grossly frank delusions about external reality,

usually of a persecutory nature.
• Denial: Refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening;
arguing against an anxiety-provoking stimulus by stating it doesn't exist;
resolution of emotional conflict and reduction of anxiety by refusing to
perceive or consciously acknowledge the more unpleasant aspects of
external reality.
• Distortion: A gross reshaping of external reality to meet internal needs.
• Splitting: A primitive defense. Negative and positive impulses are split off
and unintegrated. Fundamental example: An individual views other people as
either innately good or innately evil, rather than a whole continuous being.
• Extreme projection: The blatant denial of a moral or psychological
deficiency, which is perceived as a deficiency in another individual or group.

Level 2 - Immature

These mechanisms are often present in adults and more commonly present in adolescents. These
mechanisms lessen distress and anxiety provoked by threatening people or by uncomfortable
reality. People who excessively use such defenses are seen as socially undesirable in that they are
immature, difficult to deal with and seriously out of touch with reality. These are the so-called
"immature" defenses and overuse almost always leads to serious problems in a person's ability to
cope effectively. These defenses are often seen in severe depression and personality disorders. In
adolescence, the occurrence of all of these defenses is normal.

They include:

• Acting out: Direct expression of an unconscious wish or impulse in action,

without conscious awareness of the emotion that drives that expressive
• Fantasy: Tendency to retreat into fantasy in order to resolve inner and outer
• Idealization: Unconsciously choosing to perceive another individual as
having more positive qualities than he or she may actually have.[14]
• Passive aggression: Aggression towards others expressed indirectly or
passively such as using procrastination.
• Projection: Projection is a primitive form of paranoia. Projection also reduces
anxiety by allowing the expression of the undesirable impulses or desires
without becoming consciously aware of them; attributing one's own
unacknowledged unacceptable/unwanted thoughts and emotions to another;
includes severe prejudice, severe jealousy, hypervigilance to external danger,
and "injustice collecting". It is shifting one's unacceptable thoughts, feelings
and impulses within oneself onto someone else, such that those same
thoughts, feelings, beliefs and motivations are perceived as being possessed
by the other.
• Projective identification: The object of projection invokes in that person
precisely the thoughts, feelings or behaviors projected.
• Somatization: The transformation of negative feelings towards others into
negative feelings toward self, pain, illness, and anxiety.
Level 3 - Neurotic

These mechanisms are considered neurotic, but fairly common in adults. Such defenses have
short-term advantages in coping, but can often cause long-term problems in relationships, work
and in enjoying life when used as one's primary style of coping with the world.

They include:

• Displacement: Defense mechanism that shifts sexual or aggressive

impulses to a more acceptable or less threatening target; redirecting emotion
to a safer outlet; separation of emotion from its real object and redirection of
the intense emotion toward someone or something that is less offensive or
threatening in order to avoid dealing directly with what is frightening or
threatening. For example, a mother may yell at her child because she is
angry with her husband.
• Dissociation: Temporary drastic modification of one's personal identity or
character to avoid emotional distress; separation or postponement of a
feeling that normally would accompany a situation or thought.
• Hypochondriasis: An excessive preoccupation or worry about having a
serious illness.
• Intellectualization: A form of isolation; concentrating on the intellectual
components of a situation so as to distance oneself from the associated
anxiety-provoking emotions; separation of emotion from ideas; thinking
about wishes in formal, affectively bland terms and not acting on them;
avoiding unacceptable emotions by focusing on the intellectual aspects (e.g.
isolation, rationalization, ritual, undoing, compensation, magical thinking).
• Isolation: Separation of feelings from ideas and events, for example,
describing a murder with graphic details with no emotional response.
• Rationalization (making excuses): Where a person convinces him or
herself that no wrong was done and that all is or was all right through faulty
and false reasoning. An indicator of this defense mechanism can be seen
socially as the formulation of convenient excuses - making excuses.
• Reaction formation: Converting unconscious wishes or impulses that are
perceived to be dangerous into their opposites; behavior that is completely
the opposite of what one really wants or feels; taking the opposite belief
because the true belief causes anxiety. This defense can work effectively for
coping in the short term, but will eventually break down.
• Regression: Temporary reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of
development rather than handling unacceptable impulses in a more adult
• Repression: The process of attempting to repel desires towards pleasurable
instincts, caused by a threat of suffering if the desire is satisfied; the desire is
moved to the unconscious in the attempt to prevent it from entering
consciousness;[15] seemingly unexplainable naivety, memory lapse or lack of
awareness of one's own situation and condition; the emotion is conscious, but
the idea behind it is absent.[citation needed]
• Undoing: A person tries to 'undo' an unhealthy, destructive or otherwise
threatening thought by engaging in contrary behavior.
• Withdrawal: Withdrawal is a more severe form of defense. It entails
removing yourself from events, stimuli, interactions, etc… that could remind
you of painful thoughts and feelings.

Level 4 - Mature

These are commonly found among emotionally healthy adults and are considered mature, even
though many have their origins in an immature stage of development. They have been adapted
through the years in order to optimize success in life and relationships. The use of these defenses
enhances pleasure and feelings of control. These defenses help us integrate conflicting emotions
and thoughts, while still remaining effective. Those who use these mechanisms are usually
considered virtuous.

They include:

• Altruism: Constructive service to others that brings pleasure and personal

• Anticipation: Realistic planning for future discomfort.
• Humor: Overt expression of ideas and feelings (especially those that are
unpleasant to focus on or too terrible to talk about) that gives pleasure to
others. The thoughts retain a portion of their innate distress, but they are
"skirted round" by witticism.
• Identification: The unconscious modeling of one's self upon another
person's character and behavior.
• Introjection: Identifying with some idea or object so deeply that it becomes
a part of that person.
• Sublimation: Transformation of negative emotions or instincts into positive
actions, behavior, or emotion.
• Thought suppression: The conscious process of pushing thoughts into the
preconscious; the conscious decision to delay paying attention to an emotion
or need in order to cope with the present reality; making it possible to later
access uncomfortable or distressing emotions while accepting them.