|2009-04-12, by John Ringland|
The individual ego is a self perpetuating thought process within
the mind that identifies with the activity of the mind and the
contents of the mind and assumes that “I did that”. The
collective ego is a ruling regime within a culture that identifies
with the activity of the culture and the contents of the culture and
assumes that “it is responsible and in control”.
In the same way that an individual ego believes that the organism
is “its body” so too does a collective ego identify with the
population. Thus the term 'ego' refers to the general phenomenon,
which may be an individual ego in an organism or a collective ego in
Mechanisms are psychological strategies brought into play by
individuals, groups and nations to cope with reality and to maintain
self-image. An ego defence mechanism becomes pathological when its
persistent use leads to maladaptive behaviour such that physical
and/or mental health is adversely affected. The purpose of the Ego
Defence Mechanisms is to protect the ego from anxiety, social
sanctions or to provide a refuge from a situation that it cannot
currently cope with.
Ego Defence Mechanism are pathological when they prevent the
individual or collective from being able to cope with a real threat
and it obscures their ability to perceive reality. Ego defence
mechanisms are basically immature and are commonly used during the
formation of the ego but usually persist throughout the life of the
entity. Use of defence mechanisms prevents optimal coping with
reality and leads to inappropriate behaviour. They are neurotic and
common in almost everyone, and are not optimal for healthy reality
coping and lead to problems with participation in the world thus they
generally result in suffering.
Defence mechanisms are used by the ego to consolidate and maintain
itself. Mental illness is a dysfunctional demonstration of a
pathological maladaptive response to life events. An ego defence
mechanism becomes pathological when:
the defence mechanism becomes rigid, inflexible, and
exclusive in its implementation,
the motivation for using the particular defence mechanism is
oriented more in the past than in the needs demonstrated in present
the defence mechanism being used severely distorts the
the defence mechanism being used leads to significant
problems in functioning and effective participation,
the use of the defence mechanism impedes or distorts the
expression of emotions and feelings, rather than re-channelling them
The use of ego defences is related to poor adjustment throughout
the process of development and results in greater conflict and
tension, poor ability to create and maintain relationships, higher
likelihood of mental illness and poorer health in general.
Types of Defence Mechanisms
The mechanisms on this level are severely pathological. These
three defences, in conjunction, permit one to effectively rearrange
ones perceptions of reality to avoid coping with reality. These
defences, although extremely destructive, are very common. They
is the refusal to accept something because it is too threatening;
arguing against an anxiety provoking stimuli by stating it doesn't
exist. This involves resolution of emotional conflict and reduction
of anxiety by refusing to perceive or consciously acknowledge the
more unpleasant aspects of a situation.
Denial is a defence mechanism in which one is faced with a fact
that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting
that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence. The
subject may deny the reality of the unpleasant fact altogether
(simple denial), admit the fact but deny its seriousness
(minimisation) or admit both the fact and seriousness but deny
The concept of denial is particularly important to the study of
pathological behaviour. The ability to deny or minimize is an
essential part of what enables an ego to continue its self-deception
in the face of evidence that, to an outsider, appears overwhelming.
This is one of the reasons that rational discussion is seldom
effective in liberating a mind or culture from an oppressive ego.
Denial of denial can be difficult to identify within oneself,
hence it is a major barrier to changing pathological ways of being.
Denial of denial involves thoughts, actions and behaviours which
bolster confidence that nothing needs to be changed. This form of
denial typically overlaps with all of the other forms of denial, but
involves a deeper level of self-delusion.
Once pathological behaviour has been exhibited, a common strategy
of the ego-dominated person is to attack those who attempt to make
them accountable for their offence, thereby reversing victim and
offender roles. "I have observed that actual abusers threaten,
bully and make a nightmare for anyone who holds them accountable or
asks them to change their abusive behavior. This attack, intended to
chill and terrify, typically includes threats of law suits, overt and
covert attacks on the whistle-blower's credibility, and so on.....
[T]he offender rapidly creates the impression that the abuser is the
wronged one, while the victim or concerned observer is the offender.
Figure and ground are completely reversed... The offender is on the
offense and the person attempting to hold the offender accountable is
put on the defense." (Freyd, J.J. (1997) Violations of power,
adaptive blindness, and betrayal trauma theory)
Distortion: a reshaping of ones perceptions and
understanding of reality to meet the internal needs of the ego. This
is where the ego constructs and maintains, within the mind or
culture, a fantasy representation of the situation and treats that
fantasy as if it was the actual situation.
Delusional Projection: delusions about reality based upon
the needs of the ego, which are often of a persecutory nature. Due to
denial, the actual situation is unrecognised and due to distortion
the fantasised situation is experienced. Thus judgements, statements
and actions are projected from the fantasy onto the actual situation,
where they are inevitably inappropriate.
These mechanisms lessen distress and anxiety provoked by
threatening situations or by uncomfortable aspects of reality.
Entities that excessively use such defences 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" defences and their use almost always lead to
serious problems in one's ability to cope effectively. These defences
are often seen in severe depression, personality disorders and
fascist regimes. In human adolescence, the occurrence of all of these
defences is normal. They include:
Fantasy: a tendency to retreat into fantasy in order to
resolve inner and outer conflicts.
Projection: 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 as perceived as being possessed by
Hypochondriasis: the transformation of negative feelings
towards others into negative feelings toward self, pain, illness and
Passive Aggression: aggression towards others expressed
indirectly or passively.
Acting Out: direct expression of an unconscious wish or
impulse without conscious awareness of the emotion that drives that
These mechanisms are considered neurotic and are common in egoic
entities. Such defences have short-term advantages in coping, but can
often cause long-term problems in relationships and effective
interaction, and often result in suffering when used as one's primary
style of coping with one's situation. They include:
Displacement: a defence mechanism that shifts primitive
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 an entity that is less
threatening in order to avoid dealing directly with what is
frightening or threatening.
Dissociation: a temporary drastic modification of one's own
identity or character to avoid emotional distress; separation or
postponement of a feeling that normally would accompany a situation
Intellectualisation: a form of isolation; concentrating
exclusively 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.
Reaction Formation: converting unconscious wishes or
impulses that are perceived to be dangerous into their opposites;
behaviour that is completely the opposite of what one really wants or
feels; taking the opposite belief because the true belief causes
anxiety. This defence can work effectively for coping in the short
term, but will eventually break down.
Repression: the process of pulling thoughts into the
unconscious and preventing painful or dangerous thoughts from
entering consciousness. Manifests as seemingly unexplainable naivete,
memory lapse or lack of awareness of one's own situation and
condition; the emotion is conscious, but the idea behind it is
These are commonly considered the most mature, even though they
have their origins in the immature level. However, these have been
adapted through the years so as to optimise effective participation
and relationships. The use of these defences enhances the ego's
pleasure and feelings of mastery in non-destructive ways. These
defences help the ego to integrate conflicting emotions and thoughts
while still remaining in control. Entities that use these mechanisms
are often perceived to have virtues. They include:
Altruism: constructive service to others that brings
pleasure and personal satisfaction.
Anticipation: realistic planning for future discomfort.
Humour: 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. Humour enables someone to call a spade
a spade, while "wit" is a form of displacement (see above
under Level 3)
Identification: the unconscious modelling of one's self
upon another's character and behaviour.
Introjection: identifying with some idea or object so
deeply that it becomes a part of the entity's self-image.
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; then
later to access the uncomfortable or distressing emotions and accept
Sublimation: transformation of negative emotions or
instincts into positive action, behaviour, or emotion; acting out
unacceptable impulses in a socially acceptable way; refocusing of
psychic energy away from negative outlets to more positive ones;
sublimation is the process of funnelling the unacceptable into
socially useful achievements. Sublimation is instrumental to the
development of culture and civilization. Psychoanalysts often refer
to sublimation as the only truly successful defence mechanism.
Paraphrased and adapted