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Ego Defense Mechanisms

Updated on March 20, 2017

What are Ego defense mechanisms

Ego defense mechanisms are a psychological concept posited by Sigmund Freud and later defined by his daughter, child psychologist Anna Freud.

They are defined as coping mechanisms for anxiety, in other words they prevent the ego from accessing stimuli that causes stress or tension.

Defence mechanisms are unconscious and they're a form of protection.

Having some defence mechanisms are indicative of healthy mental functioning as accessing all unconscious or suppressed issues could be too traumatic. Problems arise when too many are in operation or they disrupt normal functioning in life & relationships.


Id, Ego, Super Ego & Defense Mechanisms

Sigmund Freud classified the personality as having 3 parts; the Id, Ego & Super Ego.

- The Id is defined as the instinctual, wild part of ourself;

- The super ego is the “inner parent”. this is the moralistic part of ourself that echoes religious, societal or parental constraints whose role is to curb the Id.

- The ego is defined as the conscious part of ourself that negotiates between and balances the Id & Superego.

To maintain healthy mental functioning, the Id, Ego & super ego must be balanced.

The primal force of the Id is powerful, as is the restraining influence of the super ego. This places continual pressure of the Ego. The ego therefore creates defence mechanisms to curb the anxiety caused by the demands of the Id & super ego.

Id Ego & Super Ego

Which part of your personality is dominant

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Regression is one of the ego defense mechanisms where there's a reversion to a behaviour from an earlier stage of development.

This occurs when confronted with difficult emotions.

An example is someone who reverts back to childlike behaviour when they're unwell, they do this because they believe (unconsciously) that acting like a child will elicit a nurturing response from others as it did during infancy.


Repression occurs when traumatic feelings or memories are pushed away into the unconscious where they cannot be consciously accessed.

This is often found in cases of childhood trauma or abuse – the victim has no memory of the incident.



Denial is a defense mechanism where there's a refusal to acknowledge what occurring in reality.

For instace, person has irrefutable evidence that their partner has been cheating but chooses to ignore it. Or someone who drinks 2 bottles of wine a day but denies they're an alcoholic


Intellectualization occurs when logic or analysis is used to distance from an emotion.

For example, talking about a traumatic experience with no affect and in a matter of fact manner


Reaction-formation is a defense where undesirable feelings are suppressed or denied by adopting the opposite view.

An example of this is a publicly homophobic person who has latent homosexual desire.


The defense mechanism of projection is where undesirable behaviour or attribute is not recognised in the self and is projected to another person.

An example is believing that a person dislikes you, when in reality you dislike the person which may manifest in unconscious or passive aggression towards them


Introjection is the the opposite of projection.

It occurs when aspects or characteristics of other people are internalised and adopted as part of the self.

This is an unconscious way of keeping a the introjected person close to you.

For example a wife internalising her husband political ideology and accepting it as her own



Displacement is defined as transferring negative feelings from someone who's perceived as powerful or inaccessible onto someone or something that's harmless.

This occurs because expressing the emotion towards the person/object that evoked the feelings would create a negative outcome.

An example a person who's angry with their boss but returns home and takes out the anger on a family member


Sublimation is a defence mechanism that's a healthy alternative to displacement.

Sublimation is finding an acceptable channel in which to let out your frustration.

In the instance above, the person goes to the gym in order to vent their aggression


Rationalisation is creating an explanation to minimise painful or unacceptable behaviour.

For example, failing to get a job promotion and stating that it was unwanted because it would have been too much hard work


Idealisation is a type of denial that involves seeing only the positive side of a person and not denying their faults.

This occurs because recognising the fault is too painful for the ego to bear


Splitting this is where one person or thing is idealised and only the negative is seen in another. Prejudice is usually a form of splitting.

An extreme example is Hitler's belief that the Germans were the master race and the Jews were subhuman.


Asceticism is a defence where all pleasurable activity is denied and pleasure is derived from said denial.

For example, a voluntary celibate or a person fasting for reasons not related to health or spirituality

How many ego defense mechanisms do you use

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Fantastic video about defense mechanisms


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