Dr. Randy Young
29 January 2010
_____Thought Paper #2
_____Freudian Defense Mechanisms and Empirical
_____Findings in Modern Social Psychology:
_____Reaction Formation, Projection, Displacement,
_____Undoing, Isolation, Sublimation, and Denial
_____I first learned about defense mechanisms in my General Psychology class at Harrisburg Area Community College during the fall semester of 2008. Concepts like defense mechanisms, coping strategies, the stages of grief, and face-saving techniques have always stayed with me because, as a Sociology major, I find them particularly interesting. Although we studied both defense mechanisms and Freud in my General Psychology class, I had never connected the two. Because of this, my personal view of defense mechanisms was not that they protect the ego, like Freud said, or self-esteem, like the article by Baumeister, Dale, and Sommer; but that defense mechanisms are used by an individual to protect their personal emotional health.
_____Baumeister, et al., holds the opinion that defense mechanisms are in place to defend against a situation that threatens one’s self-perception. However, I think that defense mechanisms protect one’s emotional health, rather than self-esteem. The article explains that a defense mechanism must do more than simply make a person happy and I agree. To me, emotional health is deeper than simple happiness. To me, good emotional health refers to all positive feelings towards one’s self: worth, esteem, confidence, security, etc.
_____I disagree with a lot of the conclusions in this article, mainly because it dismisses defense mechanisms when they do not appear to have the effect that was expected. The reason I disagree with these sections of the article is because the effects the authors expected are not positive. For example, when projection is discussed, the predicted result is that projecting a negative trait upon others would allow the individual to avoid recognizing that same negative trait within one’s self (p. 276). However, the authors did not find support for this expectation and I believe that it was because this was the wrong expectation to have. In addition to protecting emotional health, my optimistic opinion is that defense mechanisms exist for the betterment of the individual. I believe that the view of projection described in the article was not found because avoiding recognition of a negative trait would not help to better the individual.
_____It seems like my view of defense mechanisms would negate itself in regards to denial. Although honest denial of a negative personality trait would not succeed in the betterment of the individual, this is not how I think denial works. In order to deny a negative trait, one must be somewhat aware of the trait in order to try and ignore it. Furthermore, it has been my experience that trying to ignore something ends up making me more aware of it and I believe that denial can ultimately make one more aware of a negative trait. The article provides support for this when it discusses denial and says that “denial predicted greater stress” (p. 280). I believe this stress is caused by underlying guilt over denying a negative trait in one’s self. This elevated stress over the trait forces the individual to recognize it and, after this occurs, the negative trait can be confronted and efforts can be made to change it.
_____One thing in the article I do agree with is the possibility that defense mechanisms defend against the negative image associated with a certain impulse instead of the actual impulse (p. 282). I have experienced this to be true in my own life, especially since entering the college atmosphere, where many people act on impulse. In reflecting why I do not act on impulse, I decided that my main motivation is to avoid embarrassment. Therefore, I defend myself against such impulses because of my image, not because of the impulse itself, and I do not act on them because I fear embarrassment in regards to my reputation, which has been strong and overshadowing throughout my entire life.
_____Although I disagree with the article’s foundation of protecting self-esteem, I ultimately do agree with the concept of “keeping up appearances.” The philosophy of “keeping up appearances” often annoys me because I frequently discover that someone’s appearance was false and that they lack integrity. However, when it comes to defense mechanisms, the motivation of protecting one’s image is an effective motivation to conform to the norms of socially acceptable and proper behavior. We are concerned with self-image and this concern for self-image ultimately results in a concern for maintaining emotional health and being a healthy, functioning, moral human being.