Sigmund Freud began studying human defense mechanisms in the late 1800s. His work became a solid foundation for the continued study into this topic for the last century, especially in regards to the work of his daughter, Anna Freud. Anna Freud believed that identifying a patient’s way of defending himself against his undesirable instincts would help psychotherapist discover the root of “unwelcome affects” (A. Freud, 1936, p. 32 via Sollod, Wilson and Monte, 2009, p. 199). Although there are a multitude of defense mechanisms to consider in psychoanalytic psychology, the five chosen for discussion include repression, denial, projection, displacement, and sublimation.
The Harm in Use of Defense Mechanisms Indiscriminately
The use of any one or combination of defense mechanisms can be extraordinarily harmful when used indiscriminately. A multitude of studies have been done to discover different results of immature defense mechanisms and have begun to identify ties with various clinical and pathological dysfunctions. A study done in Scotland determined that an individual with a reported use of immature defense mechanisms is associated with a greater risk of deliberate self harm (Brody and Carson, 2012, p. 766). Immature defense mechanisms have also been found to be linked with comorbid depressive symptoms, poorer physical health, severity of dependency in substance dependents, dissociative experiences and alexithymia (Evren et al., 2012).
Repression is one of the most common defense mechanisms found in human behavior, which has resulted in a large magnitude of studies done on how to treat patients in psychotherapy dealing with its harmful effects. Repression takes place in the unconscious superego functioning and can be explained as a sort of “motivated amnesia” (Sollod et al., 2009, p. 40). As defined in the text Beneath the Mask, repression is “motivated forgetting characterized by its unconscious, automatic nature”. This means that the individual experiencing repression is no longer aware at all of whatever experience or memory is being repressed. The individual is not consciously aware of its occurrence; it is the mind’s way of completely blocking out an experience in order to avoid anxiety. An example of repression is an individual who suffers from acrophobia who cannot remember when he became afraid of heights is experiencing repression of the memory of the anxiety-provoking occurrence with heights.
Although repression is an extremely common defense mechanism, it is also a potentially extremely harmful defense as well. An article published in 2010 discusses a possible link between the indiscriminate use of the repressive defense mechanism in schizophrenic patients (Scholes & Martin, 2010). The same article addresses that repressors tend to “overestimate their own level of physiological resilience” (Scholes & Martin, 2010, p. 406). That tendency could potentially lead to issues in that the individual does not take necessary...