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Ego-Defense Mechanisms

Homeopathic Journal :: Volume: 4, Issue: 3, Jan, 2011 (General Theme)   -   from
Author : Dr. Rajeev Khanna, BHMS, MD, Associate Professor Swasthya Kalyan Homeopathic Medical College, Jaipur
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Article Updated: Jan 17, 2011

Today we are going to discuss a very interesting part of our behavior which we often adapt in our life or see in society, something which is very common but very strange, that is Ego Defense Mechanism.

Sigmund Freud and his daughter Anna Freud made this term popular while describing the pattern of behavior.

As we know according to Freud personality has three folds i.e. Id, Ego and Super Ego. This is the Ego who keeps balance between the desires of Id and demands of Super Ego in different situations. But in certain conditions the ego has a difficult time satisfying both the id and the superego, that time ego uses some tools to defend itself, specially when there are some anxiety situations.

In other words when human is under the tension he seeks to reduce the anxiety by Ego defense mechanism. Defense Mechanisms can be psychologically healthy or maladaptive, but tension reduction is the overall goal in both cases.

Freud mentions three different kinds of anxieties:

The first is realistic anxiety, which you and I would call fear. The reality anxiety is caused by the real dangers in the external world. Nevertheless, if I throw you into a pit of poisonous snakes, you might experience realistic anxiety.

The second is moral anxiety. This is what we feel when the threat comes not from the outer, physical world, but from the internalized social world of the superego. It is, in fact, just another word for feelings like shame and guilt and the fear of punishment. People with strong superegos feel guilty when they do something that violates the moral code.

The last is neurotic anxiety. This is the fear that instinct will get out of control and cause the individual to do something for which he will be punished. If you have ever felt like you were about to "lose it," lose control, yours temper, your rationality, or even your mind; you have felt neurotic anxiety. Neurotic is actually the Latin word for nervous, so this is nervous anxiety.

When some type of anxiety occurs, the mind responds in two ways :

  • First, problem solving efforts are increased,
  • and Secondly, defense mechanisms are triggered. These are tactics which the Ego develops to help deal with the ID and the Super Ego.

All Defense Mechanisms share two common properties :

  • They can operate unconsciously
  • They can distort, transform, or falsify reality in some way.

The changing of perceived reality allows for a lessening of anxiety, reducing the psychological tension felt by an individual.






Denial is an outright refusal to admit or recognize that something has occurred or is currently occurring.

arguing against an anxiety provoking stimuli by stating it doesn't exist

Denial functions to protect the ego from things that the individual cannot cope with. While this may save us from anxiety or pain for example denying that your physician's diagnosis of cancer is correct and seeking a second opinion


Repression acts to keep information out of conscious awareness and pulling it into the unconscious. It is also known as intentional forgetting.

A girl who has been raped, would never like to recall those memories she tries to forget it intentionally, to avoid the emotional trauma or anxiety.


Projection involves transferring blame for our own shortcomings onto others.

A student who fails an exam attributes the failure to the poor quality of the test. Or when losing an argument, we state "You're just Stupid;".


The development of a talent as a response to a personal deficiency.

Perhaps Napoleon compensated his shortness by becoming a conqueror

Reaction Formation

The tendency to act in a manner opposite to one's true feelings.

Example a child, angry at his or her mother, may become overly concerned with her and rather dramatically shower her with affection, in order to hide his true feelings.


If the anxiety of the next stage is too great a defense mechanism is adapted by individual called regression. Regression is a reaction to stress that involves reverting back to a less maturity level of adjustment in order to feel safe and secure.

So Regression is returning to a previous stage of development

When we are troubled or frightened, our behaviours often become more childish or primitive. For example at your poor performance, sitting in a corner and crying after hearing bad news; throwing a temper tantrum when you don't get your way


A defense mechanism that involves explaining an unacceptable behavior or feeling in a rational or logical manner, avoiding the true reasons for the behavior. Or providing of socially acceptable reasons for one's inappropriate behavior

A student who got Distinction marks in one paper but got fail in subjects may claim that he studied too much for the course in which he received D and could not get time to work on those four in which he is fail.


acting out unacceptable impulses in a socially acceptable way

sublimating your aggressive impulses toward a career as a boxer; becoming a surgeon because of your desire to cut; lifting weights to release 'pent up' energy


taking out impulses on a less threatening target

Hitting the dog on street instead of hitting as person, yelling at your spouse after an argument with your boss


Increasing feelings of worth by identifying self with person or associate with successful organizations or causes in order to improve their sense of acceptability

For example one might identify with social clubs that impart status. A student identify with favorite teacher.


pushing into the unconscious

trying to forget something that causes you anxiety

While defense mechanisms are often thought of as negative reactions, some of these defenses can be helpful. For example, utilizing humor to overcome a stressful, anxiety-provoking situation can actually be an adaptive defense mechanism. Ego defenses are not necessarily unhealthy as we can see by the examples above. In face, the lack of these defenses, or the inability to use them effectively can often lead to problems in life. However, we sometimes employ the defenses at the wrong time or overuse them, which can be equally destructive.

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Good Article
  Comment by: Dr. Ravinder S. Mann, India.    on Jan 27, 2011 9 Agree  |  3 Disagree       Report Abuse

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