Tuesday, October 23, 2007

In Defense of Defenses

Defenses are psychological operations that maintain equilibrium when a person cannot manage emotions that stem from conflict or trauma.

Defenses are something we ALL employ in our lives and can be divided into two categories.

"Adaptive defenses" which lead to smooth psychosocial functioning


"Maladaptive defenses" which lead to psychosocial troubles.

Defenses are largely unconscious, although insight into one's defensive structure can be obtained with psychoanalysis.

Defense mechanisms are amazing and should be regarded as exceptional feats by the psyche. I believe that analyzing defenses helps bring light to one's life and greater understanding of a person's uniqueness. Learning why certain kinds of defenses operate makes room for new adaptive defenses to grow.

For more about defense mechanisms link to Mental Help Net or check out this book here .



~Deb said...

I truly believe that a lot of self-defensive mechanisms are stemmed from either early childhood or the past in some ways... There's a root for all things.

Sorry I haven't been around, haven't had a computer for the last 2 weeks. Hope you're doing well!

Dreaming again said...

I first heard the term maladaptive defenses a couple of weeks ago sitting my psychiatrist office discussing why I am not taking care of myself as I should ..and why my eating disorder had relapsed so badly.

Fortunately, since she's my NEW psychiatrist and not my beloved Dr. Bobblehead (who's gone to a new clinic that didn't take my insurance) she didn't pry too deeply, but gave me thoughts to think on ... I started to put 'food for thought' but I don't even like that phrase right now ... ok, I could have a problem.

SeaSpray said...

All very interesting. Maladaptive defenses also interesting. Hmmm...if were Freud...I suppose I would be stroking my beard right now...

Psych Pundit said...

Nice post, Deb!

When I teach about Freud in my undergrad Personality course, students are always interested in taking stock of Freud's legacy. One of the things I emphasize is the fact that his basic discovery of defense mechanisms is now widely accepted throughout the field, although many will describe their occurrence in non-Freudian language (e.g., as "coping strategies", "experiential avoidance", "distress tolerance skills", etc.).

Interestingly, it was really Freud's daughter, Anna, who did much of the original work in articulating defense mechanisms, although the old man gets all the credit. ;-)

PalmTreeChick said...

i love defense mech. I need to go check out that link!

Barbara (aka Layla) said...

Very interesting as always. I am aware of some of my defense mechs and never really stopped to think that some could be helfpul.

Barbara (aka Layla) said...

(do you know much about arsonists? its a hot* topic down here due to the fires near my home that was for sure set intentionally)

*no pun intended

jumpinginpuddles said...

yeh guess we used the defense mechanism in the extreme

Casdok said...

An interesting topic. My son has many!!!

Fallen Angels said...

And then there are defense mechanisms that were adaptive and become maladaptive...okay, enough about me(s) ;)

Ian Lidster said...

And, as you suggest, Deb, your defenses can be appropriate or not. Denial is, of course, a classic defense. It gives the impression we are 'safe' if we deny a certain reality.
Growing up in an emotionally abusive family I early learned to cover my ass by not coming entirely clean about certain things. It took me years, much later in life, to eradicate that impulse and to become fully honest in myself and in my dealings with others. It was a difficult task.

Godwhacker said...

I experimented with LSD quite a bit as a young man. I don't recommend it to anyone, but the drug has a way of breaking down those defenses and letting you feel your whole consciousness all at once. Some people can't take that trauma and suffer short-term breakdowns (a bad trip) and others suffer even more permanent damage. But others manage to take something out of the experience that I can best describe as a deep self awareness. But the drug is just a dangerous shortcut to a place that we can get to without the hazards I mentioned.

Know yourself, and to thy own self be true.

Ms.L said...

Good post Deb!
I love how you explained this.
A lot of my best defenses I learned from a toxic childhood
and now as I explore the whys I'm finding it way easier to shed the the maladaptive ones and fine tune and add to the rest,just like you said:) As I grow older I'm actually thankful for all those experiences,good and bad...

cp said...

I believe that my defense mechanism is humor. It is why I laugh at inappropriate times. People tend to blame that on my diagnosis as opposed to the fact that this is simply the cloth I am cut from. I guess I fall into the maladaptive category, if that's the case.


Dr. Deb said...

Dear Deb,
Defenses are importnat structures. Getting maladaptive ones to be replaced by healthier ones is the goal. I know how awful it is to be without a computer. So glad you're back.

Dear Dreaming,
You will connect in time. And it is terrible that managed care makes such a mess of things.

Dear Seaspray,
Very funny.

Dear PP,
Yes, his daughter, Heinz Hartmann and a host of other ego psychologists to be thankful for!

Dear Palmtree,
They are most important.

Dear Barbara,
Terrible what is going on with the fires, etc.

Dear JIP,
It is ok, and someday you will learn to use others.

Dear Casdok,
We all do!

Dear FA,
And then you find adaptive ones again.

Dear Ian,
Primitive defenses are what we all have when we are born. As we age, through experience, maturity or therapy we can learn more adaptive ones. Sounds like you did.

Dear GW,
I know what you mean...but we will caution others, just as you say.

Dear Ms. L,
EVerything that makes us who we are should be uniquely celebrated. We can change what needs strengthening and keep what works.

Dear CP,
I use humor and sarcasm a lot and I notive that I sometimes smile when things are "not good". I am aware and keep working on it. A defense if maladaptive if it chronically impedes life, love, work, etc.


wolfbaby said...

it's the relearning new techniques that is a killer

L. Lewis said...

I had never thought about defense mechanisms as being either adaptive or maladaptive. Thanks for the insight. I'm thinking most of mine are maladaptive. My biggest one is sarcasm. sigh

PalmTreeChick said...

I'm the queen of avoidance and denial!! Love them!

IntelligentLayPerson said...

Having to take care of my aging parents and trying to keep myself from falling back into what I saw as maladaptive coping behaviors is omg... Next to impossible. I am glad I have an awareness of it. An afternoon with my parents feels like an endless ironman competition.

I find myself going into the calm detached 'fix everything' mode that I was known for as a youth. Other kids would get advice from me on their lives. haha I became quite the problem solver because I learned early on to observe people for reactions.

I don't think defenses are that bad unless they prohibit you from having a normal life. Then you'd have to define normal, because that's different for everyone.

For example, a person goes through a very bad divorce that rips their heart out. They develop defenses that make them very careful or overly careful in a relationship. Is that bad? Maybe for the OTHER person, but for the person that has been hurt they need that time to heal. It's good to have that defense up and have that time to adjust to not being married before leaping into other relationships. That person is going to be more careful than a person who did not learn anything at all from their experience.

So do you think you can call it a maladaptive defense if it aids the person in recovery? At what point is it a bad thing.

Rue said...

Isn't it true that self defense mechanisms developed in childhood.lead to coping skills that can end up being detrimental in adulthood?

tk said...

As usual, you've given me something to ponder . . . and a little introspection never hurt anyone (I think!)

Godwhacker said...

Absolutely right Deb. Meditation is a far better choice than dangerous and unpredictable drugs.

"Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back." - The Buddha

Candace said...

Hi, Deb,

Way back in the dark ages I was unfortunate (and uninformed) enough to have gotten myself into primal therapy, which as I'm sure you know, is designed to strip away one's defenses. BAD idea. Very very very very bad idea. We need our defenses! They are there for protection, even the maladaptive ones - perhaps ESPECIALLY the maladaptive ones, at least for a while, to get us through until we learn more constructive ways to react.

The mind's ability to construct defenses is truly awesome.

Jade said...

I love these sorts of topics. Analyzing is fun :-)

Mel Avila Alarilla said...

Yes, I agree with you. Most defenses are on the subconscious levels and we hardly notice that they are working that way. Psycho analysis bring them out in the open. Thanks for the wonderful post. Smile always. God bless and have a wonderful and pleasant weekend.

Scott said...

Hmmm . . . That would be interesting to be psychoanalysed to see what defenses I use.

Dr. Deb said...

Dear Wolf,
YEs, they are hard to learn, but are worth the effort.

Dear I. Lewis,
Sarcasm is actually adaptive.

Dear Palmtree,
At least you are aware.

Dear ILP,
Good question. Each person has to uniquely look at how his or her defenses impact the quality of their life.

Dear Rue,
We all learn and use defenses from birth on. We carry them into adulthood. By then it is hoped that maladaptive ones can be replaced with more adaptive ones. So yes, we can carry them into adulthood and they can be obstacles or damaging.

Dear TK,
A little time reflecting is a good thing.

Dear GW,
You are so wise.

Dear Candace,
YEs, we need to not beat down our bad defenses because they DID serve a purpose - and we cannot strip ourselves of them as then we would have nothing with which to offer as coping strategies. So step by step we learn new ones and let go of the old.

Dear Jade,
I'm with you on that!

Dear Mel,
Awareness is key. It helps us grow.

Dear Scott,
Psychoanalysis can be a great journey!