Defenses

Defenses

 “Defense mechanisms”, the various manners in which we behave or think to better protect and “defend” ourselves, reveal much about our level of maturity or psychological growth as people. Identifying our particular defense mechanisms are primarily a way of looking at how we distance ourselves from full awareness of unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. There is usually negativity painted on people who admit to any defenses at all. But much like a crab needs its shell in order to survive we all need our defenses. So although the mere word “defense” is often used in an unbecoming light, our defenses do not make us less of a person. Rather they help to stabilize our inner emotional life and outer behavior in connecting to others. They are frequently used for adaptation rather than serving as a kind of self-defeat as people mistakenly portray them. Many psychiatrists and psychologists as well often lose sight of the positive use of neurotic behavior. We all walk a tight rope each day of our lives and need means by which to keep our balance. We all use a pole that sways according to the wind.

Most neuroses can be explained by five basic defenses: Intellectualization, displacement, dissociation, repression, and reaction formation. Intellectualization (isolation) underlies obsessions, displacement can lead to phobias, and the two mechanisms together explain compulsions. Dissociation is the mechanism behind fugues and dual personalities, while repression and dissociation together result in hysteria. Reaction formation begets those who must wear hair shirts and practice asceticism. A major paradox is that while these modes of adaptation are distressing to the owner and nearly invisible to observers, the more primitive defenses (i.e., narcissism, sociopathy) are felt as harmless to its owners and unbearably gross to observers.

Freud categorized defense mechanisms based upon how primitive they are. The more primitive a defense mechanism, the less effective it works for a person over the long-term. However, more primitive defense mechanisms are usually very effective in the short-term, and hence are favored by many people and children especially (when such primitive defense mechanisms are first learned). Adults who don’t learn better ways of coping with stress or traumatic events in their lives will often resort to such primitive defense mechanisms as well. Regardless of there nature, or the incapacity brought about by their deployment (i.e., narcissism, borderline personality) all defenses evolve over the life span into more mature styles.

Most defense mechanisms are fairly unconscious – that means most of us don’t realize we’re using them in the moment. This is primarily because repression is the prototype of all the adaptive mechanisms; if you cannot bear it… forget it. Fantasy, projection, passive aggression, hypochondriasis and acting out are primary primitive defenses. The label “character disorder” is often assigned the users of these traits, and they are seen as nothing but ugly. These people are consequently regarded as unmotivated for treatment and impervious to recovery. They seem to not give a damn about the very things that drive the normal crazy. It may make sense to say that the main reason individuals with character disorders remain relatively misunderstood is precisely because nobody likes them. Only by taking the long view with the tolerance it brings can such pessimism be mitigated. In fact, the immature mechanisms of defense can actually turn into dynamic modes of adaptation. They are by no means simply a rigid armor that deforms the personality.

 

Primitive Defense Mechanisms

For the user these mechanisms alter reality. To the observer these mechanisms appear “crazy”. They are common in “healthy” people before the age of five, and in adults’ dreams and fantasies. They tend to be immune to change by conventional psychotherapeutic techniques but are altered by a change in reality (a wife threatens divorce) or, the therapist provides strong confrontation as to the ignored reality.

1. Denial and Delusional Projection

Denial is the refusal to accept reality or fact, acting as if a painful event, thought or feeling did not exist. Delusional projection includes frank delusions about external reality, usually of the persecutory type. These are considered to be the most primitive of the defense mechanisms because they are characteristics of early development. Many people use denial in their everyday lives to avoid dealing with painful feelings or areas of their life they don’t wish to admit. For instance, a person who is a functioning alcoholic will often simply deny they have a drinking problem, pointing to how well they fit in their job and relationships. People who project will also fear that others are talking about their alcohol problem behind their back.

2. Distortion

Grossly reshaping external reality to suit inner needs makes for distortion. This may include megalomaniacal beliefs, hallucinations, wish fulfilling beliefs, and employment of sustained feelings of superiority or entitlement. It can encompass persistent denial of responsibility for one’s own behavior.

It can include acting upon and thinking about unrealistic obsessions or compulsions. In distortion there may be a pleasant merging or fusing with another person (“Jesus lives inside me and answers all my prayers”). But in contrast to delusional projection where distress is alleviated by assigning responsibility for offensive feelings elsewhere, in distortion unpleasant feelings are replaced with their opposites. As manifested in religious beliefs, distortion can be highly adaptive for many.

 

 

Immature Defense Mechanisms

These mechanisms are common in “healthy” individuals up to age fifteen, in personality disorders, and individuals in long-term therapy. For the user these mechanisms often alter stress engendered by the threat of personal intimacy, or the threat of experiencing its loss. To the beholder they appear to be socially undesirable and puzzling. Immature mechanisms change with improved interpersonal relationships, personal maturation, a more mature spouse, a better therapist, repeated and forceful interpretation during prolonged therapy, or persistent challenges by peers.

 

3. Regression

Regression is the reversion to an earlier stage of development in the face of unacceptable thoughts or impulses. For example, an adolescent who is overwhelmed with fear, anger, and growing sexual impulses might become clingy and start exhibiting earlier childhood behaviors he has long since overcome, such as bedwetting. An adult may regress when under a great deal of stress, refusing to leave their bed and engage in normal, everyday activities.

4. Passive-aggressive Behavior.

Aggression towards others expressed indirectly and ineffectively through passivity or, directed against the self. It includes failures, procrastinations, or illnesses (initially at least) that affect others more than oneself. It includes silly or provocative behavior in order to receive attention and clowning in order to avoid assuming a competitive/responsible role.

5. Hypochondriasis

Hypochondriasis is the transformation of reproach towards others arising from bereavement, loneliness, or unacceptable aggressive impulses into first self-reproach and then, complaints of pain, somatic illness, and neurasthenia.

It includes those aspects of introjection which permit traits of an ambivalently regarded person to be perceived within oneself and causing plausible disease. Hypochondriacal introjection produces dysphoria and a sense of affliction that the person often uses to belabor others with his pain or discomfort in lieu of making direct demands upon them.

6. Acting Out

Acting out is manifested by the direct expression of an unconscious wish or impulse in order to avoid being conscious of the affect that accompanies it. Acting out is performing an extreme behavior in order to express thoughts or feelings the person feels incapable of otherwise expressing. Instead of saying, “I’m angry with you,” a person who acts out may instead throw a book at the person, or punch a hole through a wall. When a person acts out, it can act as a pressure release, and often helps the individual feel calmer and peaceful once again. For instance, a child’s temper tantrum is a form of acting out when he or she doesn’t get his or her way with a parent. Self-injury may also be a form of acting-out, expressing in physical pain what one cannot stand to feel emotionally.

7. Schizoid Fantasy.

The tendency to use fantasy and to indulge in autistic like retreat for the purpose of conflict resolution and gratification represents schizoid defense.

It is associated with global avoidance of interpersonal intimacy and the use of eccentricity to repel others. Schizoid fantasies serve to gratify unmet needs for personal relationships. Unlike dissociation, this defense remakes the outer not the inner world.

9. Projection

Projection is the misattribution of a person’s undesired thoughts, feelings or impulses onto another person who does not have those thoughts, feelings or impulses. Projection is used especially when the thoughts are considered unacceptable for the person to express, or they feel completely ill at ease with having them. For example, a spouse may be angry with their significant other for not listening, when in fact it is the angry spouse who does not listen. Projection is often the result of a lack of insight and acknowledgement of one’s own motivations and feelings. It includes severe prejudice, rejections of intimacy through unwarranted suspicions, a marked hyper- vigilance to external danger, and injustice collecting. The behavior of someone using this defense may be eccentric or abrasive but within the “letter of the law”.

 

Less Primitive, More Mature Defense Mechanisms

Less primitive defense mechanisms are a step up from the primitive defense mechanisms. Many people employ these defenses as adults, and while they work okay for many, they are not ideal ways of dealing with feelings, stress and/or intense arousal. If you recognize yourself using a few of these, no need to feel bad – everybody does it.

10. Reaction Formation

Reaction Formation is the converting of unwanted or dangerous thoughts, feelings or impulses into their opposites. For instance, a woman who is very angry with her boss and would like to quit her job may instead be overly kind and generous toward her boss and express a desire to keep working there forever. She is incapable of expressing the negative emotions of anger and unhappiness with her job, and instead becomes overly kind to publicly demonstrate her lack of anger and unhappiness.

11. Dissociation

Dissociation is when a person loses track of time and/or person, and instead finds another representation of their self in order to continue in the moment. A person who dissociates often loses all sense of time or sense of self and cannot access their usual thought processes and memories. People who have a history of any kind of childhood abuse often suffer from some form of dissociation. In extreme cases, dissociation can lead to a person believing they have multiple selves. These people get the label Multiple Personality Disorder. People who use dissociation often have a disconnected view of themselves in their world. Time and their own self-image may not flow continuously, as it does for most people. In this manner, a person who dissociates can “disconnect” from the real world for a time, and live in a different world that is not cluttered with thoughts, feelings or memories that are unbearable.

12. Compartmentalization

Compartmentalization is a lesser form of dissociation, wherein parts of oneself are separated from awareness of other parts and consequently the person behaves as if one had separate sets of values. An example might be an honest person who cheats on their income tax return and keeps their two value systems distinct and un-integrated while remaining unconscious of the cognitive dissonance.

13. Repression

Repression is the unconscious blocking of unacceptable thoughts, feelings and impulses. The key to repression is that people do it unconsciously, so they often have very little control over it. “Repressed memories” are memories that have been unconsciously blocked from access or view. While memory is quite malleable and ever changing, it is in spite of our normative wishes, not like playing back a DVD of your life. The DVD has been filtered and altered by one’s life experiences, even by what you’ve read or seen. Moreover, the DVD is being rewritten every few years sometimes to the point where earlier versions might be unrecognizable to the one who made them.

14. Displacement

Displacement is the redirecting of thoughts, feelings, and impulses directed at one person or object, but taken out upon another person or object. People often use displacement when they cannot express their feelings in a safe manner to the person they are directed at. The classic example is the man who gets angry with his boss, but can’t express his anger to his boss for fear of being fired. He instead comes home and kicks the dog or, starts an argument with his wife. The man is redirecting his anger from his boss to his dog or wife. Naturally, this is a largely ineffective defense mechanism, because while the anger finds a route for expression, it’s misapplication to other harmless people or objects will cause additional problems for most people. These problems call for a new defense piled onto the previous one which often leads to further production of defenses in defense of secondary armory and so on.

15. Intellectualization

Intellectualization is the overemphasis on thinking when confronted with an unacceptable impulse, situation or behavior without employing any emotions whatsoever to help mediate and place the thoughts into an emotional, human context. Rather than deal with the painful associated emotions, a person might employ intellectualization to distance themselves from the impulse, event or behavior. For instance, a person who has just been given a terminal medical diagnosis, instead of expressing their sadness and grief, focuses instead on the details of all possible fruitless medical procedures.

16. Rationalization

Rationalization is putting something into a different light or offering a different explanation for one’s perceptions or behaviors in the face of a changing reality. For instance, a woman who starts dating a man she really, really likes and thinks the world of, is suddenly dumped by the man for no reason. She reframes the situation in her mind with, “I suspected he was a loser all along.”

17. Undoing

Undoing is the attempt to take back an unconscious behavior or thought that is unacceptable or hurtful. For instance, after realizing you just insulted your significant other unintentionally, you might spend then next hour praising their beauty, charm and intellect. By “undoing” the previous action, the person is attempting to counteract the damage done by the original comment, hoping the two will balance one another out.

 

Mature Defense Mechanisms

Mature defense mechanisms are often the most constructive and helpful to most adults, but may require practice and effort to put into daily use. While primitive defense mechanisms do little to try and resolve underlying issues or problems, mature defenses are more focused on helping a person be a more constructive component of their environment. People with more mature defenses tend to be more at peace with themselves and those around them.

18. Suppression

Suppression is the conscious or semiconscious decision to postpone paying any attention to a conscious impulse or conflict. This mechanism includes looking for silver linings, minimizing acknowledged discomfort, employing a stiff upper lip, and deliberately postponing but not avoiding. With suppression one says, “I’ll think about it tomorrow”… and come the next day one remembers to think about it.

19. Anticipation

People who can realistically anticipate or plan for future inner discomfort use anticipation. This mechanism includes goal directed but overly careful planning, or worrying, premature but realistic affective anticipation of death or surgery, separation, and the conscious use of insight gained from psychotherapy.

20. Sublimation

Sublimation is simply the channeling of unacceptable impulses, thoughts and emotions into more acceptable ones. For instance, when a person has sexual impulses they would like not to act upon, they may instead focus on rigorous exercise. Refocusing such unacceptable or harmful impulses into productive use helps people channel energy that otherwise would be lost or used in a manner that might cause a person even more anxiety. Sublimation can also be done with humor, fantasy, or altruism. Humor, when used as a defense mechanism, is the overt expression of ideas and feelings without individual discomfort or immobilization and without unpleasant effects on others. Unlike wit, which is a form of displacement, humor lets you call a spade a spade; and humor can never be applied without some strong reflection on the nature of life. Like hope, humor permits one to bear and yet to focus on what is too terrible to be borne. Humor also closes the gap between people by a kind of relief or assurance that we all live in the same world. Fantasy, when used as a defense mechanism, is the channeling of unacceptable or unattainable desires into imagination. For example, imagining one’s ultimate career goals can be helpful when one experiences temporary setbacks in academic achievement. Altruism, when used as a defense mechanism, is vicarious but constructive and instinctually gratifying service to others. There are no strings attached or desired. In making someone else’s life better, a person releases themselves momentarily from an attachment to their own suffering and is therefore different from projecting and acting out in that it provides real not imaginary benefits to others. The gratitude of others can bring a smile of satisfaction that is not achieved by reaction formation or other means of giving to oneself. These different kinds of sublimation can help a person look at a situation in a different way, or focus on aspects of the situation not previously explored.

21. Compensation

Compensation is a process of psychologically counterbalancing perceived weaknesses by emphasizing strength in other arenas. By emphasizing and focusing on one’s strengths, a person is recognizing they cannot be strong at all things and in all areas in their lives. For instance, when a person says, “I may not know how to cook, but I can sure do the dishes!” they’re trying to compensate for their lack of cooking skills by emphasizing their cleaning skills instead. When done appropriately and not in an attempt to over-compensate, compensation is defense mechanism that helps reinforce a person’s self-esteem and self-image.

22. Assertiveness

Assertiveness is the emphasis of a person’s needs or thoughts in a manner that is respectful, direct, and firm. Communication styles exist on a continuum, ranging from passive to aggressive, with assertiveness falling neatly in-between. People who are passive and communicate in a passive manner tend to be good listeners, but rarely speak up for themselves or their own needs in a relationship. People who are aggressive and communicate in an aggressive manner tend to be good leaders, but often at the expense of being able to listen empathetically to others and their ideas and needs. People who are assertive strike a balance where they speak up for themselves, express their opinions or needs in a respectful yet firm manner, and listen when they are being spoken to. Becoming more assertive is one of the most desired communication skills and helpful defense mechanisms most people want to learn, and would benefit in doing so.

It should be remembered that defense mechanisms are learned behaviors, most of which we acquired in our youth. That’s a good thing, because it means that, as an adult, you can choose to learn new defense mechanisms that may be more beneficial in life. Many psychotherapists will help you work on these things, if you feel the need. But even becoming more aware of when you’re using one of the less primitive types of defense mechanisms above can be helpful in identifying behaviors you’d like to reduce. Awareness is oftentimes at least half the solution.

 

Don Crowe, PhD

3/12/14

 

 

 

Dumbo’s Feather

Dumbo’s Feather

Remember the story of Dumbo?  It was an animated film by the Walt Disney Studios released in 1941. There are some pretty uncomfortable characterizations in it, which may be one reason it’s not a popular DVD redux feature.

But political incorrectness is not a point with any direction or consideration for our future lives. In the spirit of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, let me tell you the heart of the Dumbo story.  It has a significant take-home message I believe we could all use.

Imagine a typical Disney story: A cuter than cute infant elephant is born to a circus-performing Mom. Mom adores her baby despite his fatal flaw – really ugly, gigantic ears.

Mom dies (tear jerker to be sure) leaving the baby an orphan with no means of support. He is forced to become a clown elephant, poor little guy. A helpful circus mouse points out that if he opened up his giant ears he could fly and perhaps become a big star. Dumbo, being no dummy, disagrees until the mouse says he’s got a magic feather. If Dumbo would just hold the magic feather in his trunk, open up his wings and jump off the high-dive platform, he would fly.

Desperate to get away from the creepy clowns, Dumbo gives the magic feather a go. He takes a leap of faith.

His big ears hold the air and off he goes flying all over the Big Top, strafing the clowns with popcorn! Dumbo becomes an instant star!

Weeks, months go by. Convinced that the magic feather is what keeps him afloat, Dumbo continues to fly. One fine day, flying along at cruising altitude, a strong wind whisks the feather out of his trunk.  Horrified, Dumbo drops like a stone. The mouse, hitching a ride in his hat, screams at Dumbo that the feather was a trick, a ruse, a lie!  He could fly without the feather!

Could this be true? At the last possible moment, just before he and the mouse would go splat all over the sidewalk, Dumbo opens up his giant ears and soars!

The End.

Recently I shared this story with a few clients. They were talking about people, places or things they felt they needed in their lives in order to function. Without these people, places, or things, my clients seemed convinced they were indigent, incomplete, incompetent, God-forsaken people. Their Dumbo feather might be a person close to them, a relative, a friend, or a spouse. Their relationships seem to begin as amiable, but slowly evolved to a kind of dependency. The Dumbo feather could be a job that keeps them feeling down, or a house with so much sentimental baggage they can’t let it go.  Sometimes it is a friend or partner they had grown used to being made to feel small in the presence of.

What would happen if we let go of our Dumbo feather? That’s not to say we need to end certain relationships, although in some cases that might be the best thing. Usually it just means daring to make a decision without consulting with every important person in our lives first.  It might mean beginning a job search, even exploring starting your own business, while holding onto the one that is needed to pay the bills. It might mean choosing to live alone and in so doing begin to lead our own lives for the very first time. Daring to imagine a successful life without clinging to our feather could be one of the bravest things we ever do.

Without our feather we can still fly, but only if we have faith that this is true.

Don Crowe, PhD

5/10/14

Defenses are Adaptive

Defenses

“Defense mechanisms”, the various manners in which we behave or think to better protect and “defend” ourselves, reveal much about our level of maturity or psychological growth as people. Identifying our particular defense mechanisms are primarily a way of looking at how we distance ourselves from full awareness of unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. There is usually negativity painted on people who admit to any defenses at all. But much like a crab needs its shell in order to survive we all need our defenses. So although the mere word “defense” is often used in an unbecoming light, our defenses do not make us less of a person. Rather they help to stabilize our inner emotional life and outer behavior in connecting to others. They are frequently used for adaptation rather than serving as a kind of self-defeat as people mistakenly portray them. Many psychiatrists and psychologists as well often lose sight of the positive use of neurotic behavior. We all walk a tight rope each day of our lives and need means by which to keep our balance. We all use a pole that sways according to the wind.

Most neuroses can be explained by five basic defenses: Intellectualization, displacement, dissociation, repression, and reaction formation. Intellectualization (isolation) underlies obsessions, displacement can lead to phobias, and the two mechanisms together explain compulsions. Dissociations is the mechanism behind fugues and dual personalities, while repression and dissociation together result in hysteria. Reaction formation begets those who must wear hair shirts and practice asceticism. A major paradox is that while these modes of adaptation are distressing to the owner and nearly invisible to observers, the more primitive defenses (i.e., narcissism, sociopathy) are felt as harmless to its owners and unbearably gross to observers.

Freud categorized defense mechanisms based upon how primitive they are. The more primitive a defense mechanism, the less effective it works for a person over the long-term. However, more primitive defense mechanisms are usually very effective in the short-term, and hence are favored by many people and children especially (when such primitive defense mechanisms are first learned). Adults who don’t learn better ways of coping with stress or traumatic events in their lives will often resort to such primitive defense mechanisms as well. Regardless of their nature, or the incapacity brought about by their deployment (i.e., narcissism, borderline personality) all defenses evolve over the life span into more mature styles.

Most defense mechanisms are fairly unconscious – that means most of us don’t realize we’re using them in the moment. This is primarily because repression is the prototype of all the adaptive mechanisms; if you cannot bear it… forget it. Fantasy, projection, passive aggression, hypochondriasis and acting out are primary primitive defenses. The label “character disorder” is often assigned the users of these traits, and they are seen as nothing but ugly. These people are consequently regarded as unmotivated for treatment and impervious to recovery. They seem to not give a damn about the very things that drive the normal crazy. It may make sense to say that the main reason individuals with character disorders remain relatively misunderstood is precisely because nobody likes them. Only by taking the long view with the tolerance it brings can such pessimism be mitigated. In fact, the immature mechanisms of defense can actually turn into dynamic modes of adaptation. They are by no means simply a rigid armor that deforms the personality.

 

Primitive Defense Mechanisms

For the user these mechanisms alter reality. To the observer these mechanisms appear “crazy”. They are common in “healthy” people before the age of five, and in adults’ dreams and fantasies. They tend to be immune to change by conventional psychotherapeutic techniques but are altered by a change in reality (a wife threatens divorce) or, the therapist provides strong confrontation as to the ignored reality.

1. Denial and Delusional Projection

Denial is the refusal to accept reality or fact, acting as if a painful event, thought or feeling did not exist. Delusional projection includes frank delusions about external reality, usually of the persecutory type. These are considered to be the most primitive of the defense mechanisms because they are characteristics of early development. Many people use denial in their everyday lives to avoid dealing with painful feelings or areas of their life they don’t wish to admit. For instance, a person who is a functioning alcoholic will often simply deny they have a drinking problem, pointing to how well they fit in their job and relationships. People who project will also fear that others are talking about their alcohol problem behind their back.

2. Distortion

Grossly reshaping external reality to suit inner needs makes for distortion. This may include megalomaniacal beliefs, hallucinations, wish fulfilling beliefs, and employment of sustained feelings of superiority or entitlement. It can encompass persistent denial of responsibility for one’s own behavior.

It can include acting upon and thinking about unrealistic obsessions or compulsions. In distortion there may be a pleasant merging or fusing with another person (“Jesus lives inside me and answers all my prayers”). But in contrast to delusional projection where distress is alleviated by assigning responsibility for offensive feelings elsewhere, in distortion unpleasant feelings are replaced with their opposites. As manifested in religious beliefs, distortion can be highly adaptive for many.

 

Immature Defense Mechanisms

These mechanisms are common in “healthy” individuals up to age fifteen, in personality disorders, and individuals in long-term therapy. For the user these mechanisms often alter stress engendered by the threat of personal intimacy, or the threat of experiencing its loss. To the beholder they appear to be socially undesirable and puzzling. Immature mechanisms change with improved interpersonal relationships, personal maturation, a more mature spouse, a better therapist, repeated and forceful interpretation during prolonged therapy, or persistent challenges by peers.

3. Regression

Regression is the reversion to an earlier stage of development in the face of unacceptable thoughts or impulses. For example, an adolescent who is overwhelmed with fear, anger, and growing sexual impulses might become clingy and start exhibiting earlier childhood behaviors he has long since overcome, such as bed-wetting. An adult may regress when under a great deal of stress, refusing to leave their bed and engage in normal, everyday activities.

4. Passive-aggressive Behavior.

Aggression towards others expressed indirectly and ineffectively through passivity or, directed against the self. It includes failures, procrastinations, or illnesses (initially at least) that affect others more than oneself. It includes silly or provocative behavior in order to receive attention and clowning in order to avoid assuming a competitive/responsible role.

5. Hypochondriasis

Hypochondriasis is the transformation of reproach towards others arising from bereavement, loneliness, or unacceptable aggressive impulses into first self-reproach and then, complaints of pain, somatic illness, and neurasthenia.

It includes those aspects of introjection which permit traits of an ambivalently regarded person to be perceived within oneself and causing plausible disease. Hypochondriacal introjection produces dysphoria and a sense of affliction that the person often uses to belabor others with his pain or discomfort in lieu of making direct demands upon them.

6. Acting Out

Acting out is manifested by the direct expression of an unconscious wish or impulse in order to avoid being conscious of the affect that accompanies it. Acting out is performing an extreme behavior in order to express thoughts or feelings the person feels incapable of otherwise expressing. Instead of saying, “I’m angry with you,” a person who acts out may instead throw a book at the person, or punch a hole through a wall. When a person acts out, it can act as a pressure release, and often helps the individual feel calmer and peaceful once again. For instance, a child’s temper tantrum is a form of acting out when he or she doesn’t get his or her way with a parent. Self-injury may also be a form of acting-out, expressing in physical pain what one cannot stand to feel emotionally.

7. Schizoid Fantasy.

The tendency to use fantasy and to indulge in autistic like retreat for the purpose of conflict resolution and gratification represents schizoid defense.

It is associated with global avoidance of interpersonal intimacy and the use of eccentricity to repel others. Schizoid fantasies serve to gratify unmet needs for personal relationships. Unlike dissociation, this defense remakes the outer not the inner world.

9. Projection

Projection is the misattribution of a person’s undesired thoughts, feelings or impulses onto another person who does not have those thoughts, feelings or impulses. Projection is used especially when the thoughts are considered unacceptable for the person to express, or they feel completely ill at ease with having them. For example, a spouse may be angry with their significant other for not listening, when in fact it is the angry spouse who does not listen. Projection is often the result of a lack of insight and acknowledgement of one’s own motivations and feelings. It includes severe prejudice, rejections of intimacy through unwarranted suspicions, a marked hyper- vigilance to external danger, and injustice collecting. The behavior of someone using this defense may be eccentric or abrasive but within the “letter of the law”.

 

Less Primitive, More Mature Defense Mechanisms

Less primitive defense mechanisms are a step up from the primitive defense mechanisms. Many people employ these defenses as adults, and while they work okay for many, they are not ideal ways of dealing with feelings, stress and/or intense arousal. If you recognize yourself using a few of these, no need to feel bad – everybody does it.

10. Reaction Formation

Reaction Formation is the converting of unwanted or dangerous thoughts, feelings or impulses into their opposites. For instance, a woman who is very angry with her boss and would like to quit her job may instead be overly kind and generous toward her boss and express a desire to keep working there forever. She is incapable of expressing the negative emotions of anger and unhappiness with her job, and instead becomes overly kind to publicly demonstrate her lack of anger and unhappiness.

11. Dissociation

Dissociation is when a person loses track of time and/or person, and instead finds another representation of their self in order to continue in the moment. A person who dissociates often loses all sense of time or sense of self and cannot access their usual thought processes and memories. People who have a history of any kind of childhood abuse often suffer from some form of dissociation. In extreme cases, dissociation can lead to a person believing they have multiple selves. These people get the label Multiple Personality Disorder. People who use dissociation often have a disconnected view of themselves in their world. Time and their own self-image may not flow continuously, as it does for most people. In this manner, a person who dissociates can “disconnect” from the real world for a time, and live in a different world that is not cluttered with thoughts, feelings or memories that are unbearable.

12. Compartmentalization

Compartmentalization is a lesser form of dissociation, wherein parts of oneself are separated from awareness of other parts and consequently the person behaves as if one had separate sets of values. An example might be an honest person who cheats on their income tax return and keeps their two value systems distinct and unintegrated while remaining unconscious of the cognitive dissonance.

13. Repression

Repression is the unconscious blocking of unacceptable thoughts, feelings and impulses. The key to repression is that people do it unconsciously, so they often have very little control over it. “Repressed memories” are memories that have been unconsciously blocked from access or view. While memory is quite malleable and ever changing, it is in spite of our normative wishes, not like playing back a DVD of your life. The DVD has been filtered and altered by one’s life experiences, even by what you’ve read or seen. Moreover, the DVD is being rewritten every few years sometimes to the point where earlier versions might be unrecognizable to the one who made them.

14. Displacement

Displacement is the redirecting of thoughts, feelings, and impulses directed at one person or object, but taken out upon another person or object. People often use displacement when they cannot express their feelings in a safe manner to the person they are directed at. The classic example is the man who gets angry with his boss, but can’t express his anger to his boss for fear of being fired. He instead comes home and kicks the dog or, starts an argument with his wife. The man is redirecting his anger from his boss to his dog or wife. Naturally, this is a largely ineffective defense mechanism, because while the anger finds a route for expression, it’s misapplication to other harmless people or objects will cause additional problems for most people. These problems call for a new defense piled onto the previous one which often leads to further production of defenses in defense of secondary armory and so on.

15. Intellectualization

Intellectualization is the overemphasis on thinking when confronted with an unacceptable impulse, situation or behavior without employing any emotions whatsoever to help mediate and place the thoughts into an emotional, human context. Rather than deal with the painful associated emotions, a person might employ intellectualization to distance themselves from the impulse, event or behavior. For instance, a person who has just been given a terminal medical diagnosis, instead of expressing their sadness and grief, focuses instead on the details of all possible fruitless medical procedures.

16. Rationalization

Rationalization is putting something into a different light or offering a different explanation for one’s perceptions or behaviors in the face of a changing reality. For instance, a woman who starts dating a man she really, really likes and thinks the world of, is suddenly dumped by the man for no reason. She reframes the situation in her mind with, “I suspected he was a loser all along.”

17. Undoing

Undoing is the attempt to take back an unconscious behavior or thought that is unacceptable or hurtful. For instance, after realizing you just insulted your significant other unintentionally, you might spend then next hour praising their beauty, charm and intellect. By “undoing” the previous action, the person is attempting to counteract the damage done by the original comment, hoping the two will balance one another out.

 

Mature Defense Mechanisms

Mature defense mechanisms are often the most constructive and helpful to most adults, but may require practice and effort to put into daily use. While primitive defense mechanisms do little to try and resolve underlying issues or problems, mature defenses are more focused on helping a person be a more constructive component of their environment. People with more mature defenses tend to be more at peace with themselves and those around them.

18. Suppression

Suppression is the conscious or semiconscious decision to postpone paying any attention to a conscious impulse or conflict. This mechanism includes looking for silver linings, minimizing acknowledged discomfort, employing a stiff upper lip, and deliberately postponing but not avoiding. With suppression one says, “I’ll think about it tomorrow”… and come the next day one remembers to think about it.

19. Anticipation

People who can realistically anticipate or plan for future inner discomfort use anticipation. This mechanism includes goal directed but overly careful planning, or worrying, premature but realistic affective anticipation of death or surgery, separation, and the conscious use of insight gained from psychotherapy.

20. Sublimation

Sublimation is simply the channeling of unacceptable impulses, thoughts and emotions into more acceptable ones. For instance, when a person has sexual impulses they would like not to act upon, they may instead focus on rigorous exercise. Refocusing such unacceptable or harmful impulses into productive use helps people channel energy that otherwise would be lost or used in a manner that might cause a person even more anxiety. Sublimation can also be done with humor, fantasy, or altruism. Humor, when used as a defense mechanism, is the overt expression of ideas and feelings without individual discomfort or immobilization and without unpleasant effects on others. Unlike wit, which is a form of displacement, humor lets you call a spade a spade; and humor can never be applied without some strong reflection on the nature of life. Like hope, humor permits one to bear and yet to focus on what is too terrible to be borne. Humor also closes the gap between people by a kind of relief or assurance that we all live in the same world. Fantasy, when used as a defense mechanism, is the channeling of unacceptable or unattainable desires into imagination. For example, imagining one’s ultimate career goals can be helpful when one experiences temporary setbacks in academic achievement. Altruism, when used as a defense mechanism, is vicarious but constructive and instinctually gratifying service to others. There are no strings attached or desired. In making someone else’s life better, a person releases themselves momentarily from an attachment to their own suffering and is therefore different from projecting and acting out in that it provides real not imaginary benefits to others. The gratitude of others can bring a smile of satisfaction that is not achieved by reaction formation or other means of giving to oneself. These different kinds of sublimation can help a person look at a situation in a different way, or focus on aspects of the situation not previously explored.

21. Compensation

Compensation is a process of psychologically counterbalancing perceived weaknesses by emphasizing strength in other arenas. By emphasizing and focusing on one’s strengths, a person is recognizing they cannot be strong at all things and in all areas in their lives. For instance, when a person says, “I may not know how to cook, but I can sure do the dishes!” they’re trying to compensate for their lack of cooking skills by emphasizing their cleaning skills instead. When done appropriately and not in an attempt to over-compensate, compensation is defense mechanism that helps reinforce a person’s self-esteem and self-image.

22. Assertiveness

Assertiveness is the emphasis of a person’s needs or thoughts in a manner that is respectful, direct, and firm. Communication styles exist on a continuum, ranging from passive to aggressive, with assertiveness falling neatly in-between. People who are passive and communicate in a passive manner tend to be good listeners, but rarely speak up for themselves or their own needs in a relationship. People who are aggressive and communicate in an aggressive manner tend to be good leaders, but often at the expense of being able to listen empathetically to others and their ideas and needs. People who are assertive strike a balance where they speak up for themselves, express their opinions or needs in a respectful yet firm manner, and listen when they are being spoken to. Becoming more assertive is one of the most desired communication skills and helpful defense mechanisms most people want to learn, and would benefit in doing so.

It should be remembered that defense mechanisms are learned behaviors, most of which we acquired in our youth. That’s a good thing, because it means that, as an adult, you can choose to learn new defense mechanisms that may be more beneficial in life. Many psychotherapists will help you work on these things, if you feel the need. But even becoming more aware of when you’re using one of the less primitive types of defense mechanisms above can be helpful in identifying behaviors you’d like to reduce. Awareness is oftentimes at least half the solution.

 

Don Crowe, PhD

3/12/14

 

 

 

Local Organization Provides Critical Funds for Orinda Public Schools

An experienced clinical psychologist, Donald Crowe, PhD, has been in practice in Orinda, California, since 1975. Outside of his professional pursuits, Don Crowe, PhD, supports his community through such nonprofit organizations as the Educational Foundation of Orinda (EFO).

Composed of parents and community members like Don Crowe, PhD, the EFO works to provide financial support for educational and enrichment programs in Orinda public schools. The EFO was established in 1979 and partners with Orinda Union School District and Miramonte High School in its efforts to supplement state funding for the purpose of keeping Orinda schools nationally competitive.

Today, the EFO provides financial support that directly affects students in kindergarten through the 12th grade. In fact, EFO funds are currently covering 100 percent of all visual and performing arts programs at Miramonte High School. For the 2013-2014 school year alone, the EFO has committed $500,000 to Miramonte, which will be used to fund additional courses in English, as well as jazz band, mixed chorus, and digital photography. The EFO also supports a number of student programs and electives at Miramonte, including library and college counseling.

Don Crowe, PhD: Helping Patients Understand Happiness

Psychologist Donald “Don” Crowe, PhD, serves individuals, families, couples, and groups in his private practice in Orinda, California, and teaches courses to his patients on ways to find true happiness, based on the book, The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, by University of California professor Sonja Lyubomirsky

The How of Happiness offers readers a guide to understanding happiness. Opening with a short diagnostic quiz, the book allows readers to determine their own capacity for happiness, and then teaches strategies, activities, and mindful actions that they can use to lead a happier life, including practicing optimism for the future, savoring pleasures, living in the moment, and keeping an active lifestyle.

Psychologist Don Crowe use the principles in the book to help his patients become less time-urgent and oriented to consumption, and more focused on engaging with others through acts of kindness, gratitude, and forgiveness.

Don Crowe and the SPLC – Teaching and Promoting Tolerance

Don Crowe, PhD., has worked as a licensed clinical psychologist since 1981. For over 30 years, Don Crowe, PhD. has been providing humanistic psychotherapy to families and individuals. When he’s not working Donald Crowe enjoys being charitably active and donates to organizations that help communities around the world. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is one of these organizations. The Southern Poverty Law Center was founded in 1971 by two civil rights lawyers. The nonprofit organization strives to fight hate and protect those members of society who are the most vulnerable. Through the SPLC’s international exposing and tracking of hate group activities they have been able to help promote tolerance.

In order to achieve its goals, the SPLC offers free resources to students that teach against hatred and bigotry. Currently, the Southern Poverty Law Center is focused on LGBT rights, justice for immigrants and children at risk, and teaching children and young adults about tolerance. Through donations and support from around the country, the SPLC has been able to remain financially secure and continue to promote tolerance around the nation.

Don Crowe, PHD, on the Basics of International Adoptions

Psychologist Donald Crowe operates a private clinical practice in Orinda, California, where he serves the psychotherapy needs of individuals, families, and couples. In 2006, Don Crowe, PHD, and his wife adopted a baby girl from Guatemala through the California-based nonprofit Heartsent Adoptions.

Pre-adoptive parents seek international adoption for a variety of reasons. One benefit of international adoption is that it is generally a more structured and predictable process than domestic adoption. Additionally, there is a very low risk of birth parents contesting the adoption.

Once the decision to adopt internationally has been made, the complex and lengthy adoption process begins. Americans are eligible to adopt children from more than 50 countries throughout Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa, but not from Australia, Western Europe, or Canada. In most cases, the birth parents are a nonfactor in the adoption because of illness, death, or family problems.

Popular countries for adoption include China, Russia, Ethiopia, and Guatemala. Each country enforces different policies and procedures, and availability can change without notice because of political instability. American families adopt about 20,000 international children each year.

Psychological Treatment of Veterans Opens Doors for First Responders

Donald “Don” Crowe, PhD, is a psychologist based in Orinda, California, with over 25 years in providing services to police and firefighters, specializing in the treatment of alcohol and drug abuse as well as depression. Since Sept. 11, 2001 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, attitudes about the treatment of psychological trauma have changed, with more first responders seeking mental health counseling.

Following the Vietnam War, psychological trauma became a widely known problem because of its propensity to lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. The promotion of psychological treatment for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars has increased, also causing both civilians and first responders to seek treatment more openly. Now, first responders, who may have been hesitant to pursue psychological treatment and instead turned to alcohol or drug use, are more willing to talk about their trauma.

In his private practice, Don Crowe, PhD, has treated patients who, once the immediate and short-term effects of trauma have faded, are left with severe anxiety, flashbacks, and difficulty socializing. With a support system built from family, friends, and community, psychological treatment is often the last critical step for first responder on the road to full recovery.

Innovative Therapists John and Julie Gottman, By Don Crowe, Ph.D.

As a licensed clinical psychologist and practitioner of the Gottman method in couples therapy, it is helpful to provide a bit of background on the married couple, both therapists, who created the techniques that bear their name.

Dr. John Gottmann, who has worked with thousands of couples during his 40-plus years in practice, is recognized by Psychotherapy Networker Magazine among the top 10 of the past 25 years’ most influential therapists. A prolific author, he has published nearly 200 academic articles and more than 40 books.

Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman comes from a background of clinical psychology. She supervises a  study titled “Couples Together Against Violence.” She has authored or co-authored several books, was awarded Washington State Psychologist of the Year, and is recognized by her peers for work with couples in distress due to illness, substance abuse, and/or as survivors of trauma or abuse.

Together, the Gottmans created Gottman Couples Therapy and founded The Gottman Relationship Institute in Seattle, Washington.

About the Author:

Don Crowe, Ph.D., has practiced psychotherapy since 1975. He is based in Orinda, California.

What Did the Framers of The US Constitution Say About Guns?

What Did the Framers of the US Constitution Declare about Guns?

I think, as do about 85% of my fellow hunters that the NRA is ideology driven, maniacally self-serving, and the primary representative of gun manufacturers and anyone else in the business of guns…, which means the entire world. There is big money in guns. The NRA does not represent hunters or their interests and concerns about habitat and wildlife. It is almost unanimous for those who know guns that the current idiocy of being able to buy a gun at any gun show (in 49 0f the 50 states) with no ID, no background, no nothing…. is the most egregious of their greed cloaked in veneration for the sacred cow known as the Second Amendment. It is estimated that half of the guns in the world are in America.
In no particular order, early American settlers viewed the right to arms and/or the right to bear arms and/or state militias as important for one or more of these purposes:
• deterring tyrannical government;
• repelling invasion;
• suppressing insurrection;
• facilitating a natural right of self-defense;
• participating in law enforcement;
• enabling the people to organize a militia system.
I will argue that the very nature and purpose of a democracy is to create trust in those governed and that the scope of bearing arms is therefor limited by the absence of insurrection, tyranny, invasion, or other lawlessness that would support an armed militia and/or need to bear arms.

Here is something that most people don’t know that the signers of the declaration and amendments that followed were cognizant of when considering the “right to bear arms.”

While the development of the long rifle is a distinctly American invention, its use in our war of independence was more limited than many would believe. The Long Rifles of the American Revolution, made generally by German gunsmiths in Pennsylvania, were fine works of art, with barrels often over 4 feet long and covered in fine metal work and carving. The grooves inside the barrel, called rifling giving the weapon its name and long range, had to be carved by hand, and often individually.
While its advantages as a firearm are clear to most; a rifle is accurate to over 200 yards, skilled shooters being able to hit man-sized targets at ranges of 500 yards, and a few documented instances of shots of a thousand yards. This compared to the Smooth bore musket, where the victim of a shoot was considered very unlucky at any range over 75 yards.

It is, however, the weaknesses of the rifle that forced it into an auxiliary role in the armies of the late 18th century. At the time, all firearms were muzzle loading, which means that the bullet (A round lead ball at the time), had to be pushed down from the end of the barrel. The British Brown Bess, the main firearm of the British Army, and the main weapon used by the Colonial Forces at the start of the American Revolution, was a 74 caliber, firing a 69 caliber ball. In effect, the round ball would simply drop down the barrel with little effort on the part of the loader. A wad of paper was used to seal the round in the barrel. Over several firings, a residue from the black powder would develop, resulting in more effort being needed to push the ball down the barrel.

By comparison, rifles were of lower caliber, and fired appropriately sized rounds, again lead balls. Greased leather would be used, instead of paper for the wading, guaranteeing a tight fit against the rifling grooves on the inside of the barrel. Because of this tight fit, it required a great deal more effort to force the ball down the barrel, and many riflemen actually carried wooden mallets to assist them.

The result was a trained British soldier was to be able to load and fire 3 times in one minute. Modern muzzleloaders have managed as many as 8 shots in a minute, though under ideal conditions. By comparison, a modern rifleman can rarely load and fire more often than every minute and a half, again under favorable conditions. We do not have reliable records of the loading times of the period.

This is what Ben Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson and the rest were contemplating. It gives the recipient of fire a “fair chase”… a chance to get away and or return fire, or even to subdue his attacker. If the teachers at Sandy Hook had been dealing with a musket loader they would have succeeded in stopping him.

Now compare this minimalist description with what the current justices of the Supreme Court are using to interpret the Second Amendment:
“There are three standard measurements of rate of fire for automatic weapons.

Cyclic rate

This is the mechanical rate of fire, or how fast the weapon “cycles” (loads, locks, fires, unlocks, ejects). Measurement of the cyclic rate assumes that the weapon is being operated as fast as possible and does not consider operator tasks (magazine changes, aiming, etc.). When the trigger is squeezed, the rate at which rounds are fired is the cyclic rate. Typical cyclic rates of fire are 460–900 RPM for assault rifles, 1,000-1,100 RPM in some cases, 900-1,200 RPM for submachine guns and machine pistols, and 600-1,200 RPM for machine guns. M134 Miniguns mounted on helicopters can achieve rates of fire of over 50 rounds per second (3,000 RPM).

Sustained or Effective rate

This is the rate at which the weapon could reasonably be fired indefinitely without failing. In contrast to the cyclic rate, the sustained rate is the actual rate at which the weapon would typically be fired in combat. Sustained rate considers several factors, time spent reloading, aiming, changing barrels if necessary, and allowing for some cooling. Knowing the sustained rate of fire is useful to know for logistics and supply purposes. Machine guns are typically fired in short bursts rather than in long continuous streams of fire, although there are times when they must be fired in very long bursts. Sustained rate also applies to box magazine fed assault rifles and semi-automatic rifles. In these weapons it refers to the rate at which the typical rifleman can effectively engage targets in a combat situation. The rate is usually 12-15 rpm, except for barrel changes it considers most of the same factors as for the belt fed MGs.”

There are few people who actually know what 1,000 round per minute (8-9 per second) means in terms of lethality. It is impossibly difficult to imagine unless you have seen one. I have at the local gun range. Their only obvious purpose is to out kill the other combatants who are unfortunate to be engaged with them. If thought of it in terms of domestic contexts, their only purpose is to be able to kill more people before a counterforce is applied. This is precisely what happened at Sandy Hook and if the killer’s AR-15 had not jammed we would have had even more dead kids. But the framers of the constitution could not have imagined in their wildest dreams that teachers may have to fight unarmed against 1,000 rounds per minute any more than they could foretell the invention of the Internet. Does this mean they were short sighted?? I think not.

Here is what I have proposed for some time:
(1) We need an absolute ban on all automatic rifles and pistols. The government should mandate their surrender and compensate the owners accordingly.
(2) Anyone owning a gun of any kind needs to pass a psychological evaluation like that used on police cadets in most states today.
(I was involved in constructing a test battery profile that would predict rogue cops in Oakland PD in the1980’s. This screening has been very successful and is used in some form across the land.)
(3) Anyone owning a gun needs to be re-evaluated every few years just like a driver’s license. Anyone owning a gun needs to be available for review by mental health agencies for major depression, a diagnosis of severe personality disorder, and/or schizophrenia. (When the Fort Hood psychiatrist in Texas killed his colleagues I did some research and found that every single mass murderer had been diagnosed with at least major depression). Any condition that is predictive of violence, lack of impulse control, etc. would require treatment and surrender of guns until patient has been successfully treated.

I think this is of urgency since the mass murderer is similar in profile to the suicide bomber. They are as a group lonely, isolated, depressed people who feel the world has mistreated them terribly. Their primary motive is to make the world listen to their internal wounds, which is why the ante will keep getting raised. The name Lanza should not have been publicized. This was a mistake. It supports the next killer’s motive to become known and seen as unique, which is why we may have kindergartners victimized next, or even nursery rooms.
I hope that Biden does not cave to the special interests and just buy more guns. The last thing we need is to fight guns with guns in our own homes. This will just set up an endless escalation cycle. We need a radical change with massive action taken.

Don Crowe, PhD
12/24/12