Ego Defence Mechanism: Meaning, Examples And Types

As they are sometimes called, ego Defence Mechanisms, or adjustment or mental mechanisms, consist of several ways of responding to frustrations and conflicts. They are ways of finding out-let to be repressed and frustrated desires. They enable individuals to ward off or reduce tensions and anxieties arising from frustration, thus protecting their self-esteem or personality from embarrassment and obvious disintegration. They are ways of moderating levels of emotions and anxiety created by stresses, and unresolved psycho-social problems brought about by repressed urges and desires, that conflict between an individual’s ideas and realities of life and those frustrations and disappointments we meet in our social interactions and daily life.
According to Sigmund Freud’s psycho-dynamic theory, ego or mental defense mechanisms arise from the fact that we all, at one time or the other, have certain urges and desires which are morally or socially unacceptable in society. Thus, they are repressed due to the social or moral unacceptability of such urges and desires. To protect the individual from the frustration and emotional stresses arising from the inability to realize such desires or urges and their consequent repression, certain defenses are put forward by individuals, either consciously or unconsciously, to protect their self-esteem or ego (personality).
But overuse of such mechanisms may result in the manifestation of neurotic symptoms. People who are neurotic spend so much time and energy trying to deflect and disguise the unacceptable urges and desires that they are hardly left with any energy for productive and meaningful living or satisfying relationships.
Swedish psychoanalyst and daughter of Sigmund Freud, Ann Freud. Br identified several such ego defense mechanismsiefly discussed here are some of the Ego Defence Mechanisms:
1. Rationalization
This defense mechanism is a situation whereby a person frames certain faulty or socially laudable logic to explain away or as an excuse for socially unacceptable habits or behavior. For instance, a heavy drinker confronted with the danger of his drinking habit may claim that he feels happier or even more rational when drunk. Rationalization has two main defensive values:
i. It helps to justify specific behaviors, and
ii. It aids in softening the disappointment connected with unattainable goals. For instance, a student expelled from the polytechnic may claim he did not like attending a polytechnic.
2. Projection
Have you ever seen your own emotions and intentions in someone else’s before? When we perceive our undesirable traits or motives in others, we are demonstrating projection. Using this mechanism, we may blame others for our shortcomings or difficulties. Or we may attribute to others our unacceptable desires. For instance, a weak student who has failed his course may blame his failure on the strict way the lecturers had marked his scripts. Or a cheat may believe that every other person around is a cheat.
3. Sublimation
Sublimation has been described as working off frustrated desire (especially sexual desires) in substitute activities that are constructive and accepted by society. It channels the psychomotor energies generated by Libidinal urges and other repressed impulses to more socially useful activities. For instance, the irresistible urge to tell lies may be channeled into fiction writing; A barren woman may substitute her frustrated maternal urges by working at an orphanage or running a nursery home.
Sigmund Freud believes that art, music, poetry, scientific discoveries, and other such creative activities largely represent a rechannelling of frustrated sexual energies into productive behaviors.
4. Compensation
Compensation is a behavior whereby a person tries to make up for some personal defect or fault. Compensatory reactions serve as defenses against feelings of inferiority. A person with a deficiency (real or imagined) may go to unusual lengths to overcome the weakness or compensate for it by excelling in other areas. For example, a student who has been very unsuccessful in his academic programs may join the school football team or a music band and become successful in this area.
Compensation may be direct or indirect, positive or negative. Direct compensation consists of intensifying efforts to achieve success in the same field as the person who feels inferior. For example, a student who is very weak at mathematics may change his reading habit, buy better books and even pay for extra lectures and eventually becomes a good mathematics student.
Indirect compensation is when a person attempts to compensate for his failure by achieving success in a different or alternative field. An example of this type of compensation is a case of a student who drops out of school because of below-average performance and later joins a petty trading business and makes enough money to earn the respect of his former schoolmates, who used to despise him for his failure in school. Another example is a very ugly and unattractive young lady who devotes all her time and energy to her studies, so she becomes very intelligent and wins the admiration of her schoolmates and others.
What makes compensatory activity positive or negative depends on how desirable or undesirable it is to the individual and its effect on his social relation and adjustment with others. Positive or desirable compensation is like the example of the school dropper who joined the petty business. An undesirable or negative compensation may be given in the case of a dull student who feels inferior to his classmates because of his dullness and snobbish attitude toward the more brilliant ones in the class. To compensate for this inferiority, Valentine, as he was called, joined a cult group and began to resort to intimidation and an aggressive attitude toward his fellow students. However, he was eventually expelled from school.
5. Denial Of Reality
Denial of reality is an attempt to “Screen out” disagreeable realities by ignoring or refusing to accept their existence. It is probably the simplest and most primitive of all self-defense mechanisms. Sometimes, it is called “Reality Evasion.”
6. Displacement
This defense mechanism has to do with discharging pent-up feelings, usually of hostility, on objects less dangerous than those initially arousing the emotion of frustration. For instance, a child who is angry with a parent may vent the anger on a younger brother or sister; or a young lady whose lover has jilted her may give out-let to her frustration by destroying the lover’s pictures and other items that remind her of her lover.
7. Identification
Identification is a situation whereby an individual tries to enhance his feelings of worth and protect himself against self-devaluation when threatened with low self-esteem or failure by associating himself with those who have been successful in one way or another. E.g., illiterate persons would always boast of their well-read friends or relatives, while poor persons would always boast of their very rich relatives or friends.
8. Introjections
Introjection is closely related to the identification. As a defense reaction, it involves accepting others’ values and norms as one’s own, even when they are contrary to one’s previous assumptions and beliefs. Introjection has been referred to as “Identification with the aggressor or dictator” and is a defensive reaction that seems to follow the principle, “if you can’t beat them, join them.” For instance, during Abacha’s regime, some persons identified with him out of fear and not out of their will.
9. Repression
This defense mechanism is used to exclude threatening or painful thoughts and desires from consciousness. It is sometimes referred to as selective forgetting. Although the memory of the experience so repressed or suppressed is denied admission in conscious awareness, it is not forgotten. For instance, a soldier who has seen his best friend’s head shattered with a bayonet at the battlefront may find the sight so terribly painful that he excludes the memory of the sight from consciousness and becomes “amnesic” of the battle experience.
Repression is a very important self-defense mechanism that protects from sudden traumatic experiences. It may also help an individual to control morally unacceptable desires and, at the same time, alleviate the anxiety associated with the desires.
10. Reaction Formation
Reaction formation involves hiding one’s emotional desires by repressing them and developing conscious attitudes and behavior patterns that are just the opposite. For example, desires of sexual promiscuity may be concealed under moralistic sexual attitudes and behaviors, such as advocating for punitive punishment against those caught in sexual misconduct or joining some religious groups to preach against sex. By so doing, the individual successfully or partially represses his or her real desires and emotions.
The examples discussed above are not exhaustive of the numerous ego defense mechanisms that people use in various degrees as psychological measures to ward off some frustrating situations that are likely to harm or upset their psychological balance. Others worth mentioning include regression, intellectualization, withdrawal, undoing, acting out, emotional insulation, fantasy, procrastination, etc.
As earlier stated, the above defense mechanisms can only serve their purpose as long as they are used within the limit, that is, as temporary means, but when they come to be relied so much upon and seen as solutions to problems, they may lead to worse frustrations, which may likely result to the manifestation of some mental symptoms and neurotic reactions.