Protecting Us From Ourselves Defense Mechanisms

Uploaded 5/21/2023, approx. 46 minute read

The main insight of psychoanalysis has been and is that we are our worst enemies for three reasons.

Number one, we are the only ones with unfettered access to our own consciousness.

Number two, we are capable of self-deceit, which is the topic of today's video.

And number three, and this is the most important one, no external enemy can be as pernicious, virulent, vindictive and damaging as we can.

We can and very often become self-destructive, self-defeating, self-harming and self-trashing to extremists.

Suicide comes to mind and suicidal ideation.

This insight of psychoanalysis, that there is a civil war within and it is the permanent state of being human, underlies all of modern psychology, even those who disparage psychoanalysis.

Because we know now that therapy, psychotherapy, is a way to provide us with this exact insight how we undermine ourselves, how we deceive ourselves and how we can stop doing both.

Psychological defense mechanisms are widely thought to be the main instruments of self-deceit.

As we shall see later in this video, it's not entirely true, but it is largely true.

And it raises a fascinating question.

Question of evolution. Why would evolution allow for self-deception? Why would evolution let us miss perceive reality? Isn't this detrimental to survival?

It's an evolutionary conundrum and we will try to solve it.

Now, I'm not the first one, and Freud was not the first one, to suggest that man is capable of self-deceit.

Go back to Demosthenes in 349 before Christ, when he wrote, "Nothing is more easy than to deceive oneself what a man wishes he generally believes to be true."

And of course, a woman too.

Jean-Jacques Cousteau, the great lover of humanity, the father of the noble savage, wrote, "Nature never deceives us, it is always we who deceive ourselves."

My name is Sam Vaknin, and I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, and former visiting professor of psychology.

The defense mechanisms were first described by Freud, Anna Freud, reminds me of Bond, James Bond.

So, Anna Freud, she is actually the mother of defense mechanisms.

Defensive organization is the totality of the defensive processes, including the defense mechanisms operating within the ego of a particular individual, and that of course tells you that there are many other forms of defenses.

At the time, Freud suggested that there is something called defensive neurosis, or neurosis of defense, which I will not go into right now.

By the way, the word for defense in German is "Abwehr", which was the intelligence arm of the Wehrmacht during the Second World War.

This is how German psychology is.

Now, defenses are not pathologies.

I repeat because it's going to shock many of you.

Psychological defense mechanisms are not pathological, although they can be psychogenic.

They can lead to a pathology.

Defense mechanisms feature in many etio-pathologies, but they in themselves are actually adaptive.

They help us to somehow survive in a reality which is often unbearable, intolerable and threatening.

Like everything else in human psychology, defense mechanisms can go awry.

They can become pathologized.

They can become rigid, overgeneralized, extensive, aging-appropriate, and generally maladaptive.

If they do or when they do, they interfere with other ego functions, most notably reality testing.

So, as they are, defense mechanisms are actually forms of adaptation.

And what is positive adaptation? And what is the role of defense mechanisms?

The main role of defenses is to separate internal reality from external reality.

Think of defense mechanisms as an antivirus program or a firewall or an anti-malware program.

The defenses make sure that the interface between internal reality and external reality is minimized in order to avoid conflict, real dangers, interpersonal failures and anxiety.

Defense mechanisms, therefore, are anxiolytic.

Their main function is to reduce anxiety.

But why do we need to separate internal reality from external reality?

Because internal reality sucks.

In the vast majority of people, internal reality is a space populated by uncontrollable instincts and impulses and drives, by pain, hurt, guilt, shame, fear and anxiety.

Internal space is seething with what we call negative affectivity and ego destiny.

If we were to let the internal environment interact unbridled, unfiltered with the external reality, we would have had mayhem and chaos. It would have been very dangerous for the individual because if you don't control your impulses, if you are reckless and defiant and contumacious, in essence, if you are psychopathic, you end badly. There are bad consequences for your actions.

Similarly, if you are riven and struck by pain and guilt and shame and fear, you are very unlikely to function appropriately or properly in your environment. Your self-efficacy is likely to be reduced and you are going to end up failing or defeated or punished somehow.

So there are real dangers here.

The aim of psychological defense mechanisms is to prevent this conflict with the human environment and inanimate environment, to protect the individual from the real dangers attendant upon the exercise of impulsive instincts and drives, to somehow disguise or mask or paper over or gloss over interpersonal failures lest they wreck relationships irrevocably and, as I said, to reduce anxiety.

So we can already see the defenses are dissociative in nature. There's a close affinity between defense mechanisms, psychological defense mechanisms, and dissociation. They leverage dissociation or incorporate dissociation many times.

And yes, the word is dissociation, not disassociation.

Okay, self-styled experts, not disassociation.


Now, what about people who are pathologized to start with?

For example, what about narcissists?

The narcissist, for example, doesn't have a functioning ego at all.

According to Anna Freud and many other scholars, which I will be quoting in this video, the residence of defense mechanisms is in the ego, or at the very least, they collaborate with the ego somehow.

But the narcissist doesn't have a functioning ego.

Consequently, he has only what we call primitive defenses.

In a minute, I will elaborate on the various levels of defenses, the hierarchy of defenses.

Similarly, borderline have a functional ego, as distinct from the narcissist, but their defenses are either primitive or compromise as well.

In both cases, narcissists and borderlines, we are faced with the situation of an absence of mid-range and higher order or higher level defenses.

And the reason, of course, is the stunted growth, what used to be called the arrested development of narcissists and borderlines, because defenses evolve with age. They are age-appropriate.

Splitting is appropriate to the ages of six months to 36 months.

Other defenses develop in adolescence and even in young adulthood.

If you don't grow, if you are not allowed to separate, to individuate, to develop personhood, a self, or at least a coherent assemblage of self-states, if you are not allowed to traverse the trajectory of self-development and self-growth because of bad parenting or adverse childhood experiences, then you are not likely to develop mid-level and higher level defenses. You are likely to remain stuck with the defenses of infancy and toddlerhood.

And this is what we're dealing with, narcissists and borderlines, are kids, they're children.

The defenses, it's important to reiterate, are not only defenses. They play a role in the normal psychic structure formation.

For example, Freud considered justly that introjection is a form of defense.

I will not go into why right now, but he was right, and his view was widely adopted later by the object relations schools, starting with Melanie Klein.

But introjection leads to the enrichment of the ego and especially the superego, according to psychoanalytic theories.

And so introjection is a good thing, and yet it is a defense.

Remember this, defenses are normal. They help you to develop a structural formation, which is functional, healthy and good for the rest of your life.

This is the problem with narcissists and borderlines. They don't have the defenses needed in order to evolve and to create the inner structures which get integrated into what is called the self.

Narcissists don't have an ego to start with.

So narcissists and borderline have a shattered, ruined inner environment. And it is this way because they don't have age-appropriate corresponding defenses because they never get to grow up.

The contents of what is being defended against, what do defense mechanisms do?

I mentioned that they dissociate.

Freud used to call it early on censorship. They censor.

My sister used to be the chief censor of the Israeli army, by the way. So I know a thing or two about censorship. They censor information.

What kind of information?

According to all thinkers and scholars involved in the study of defense mechanisms, defenses filter out unpleasurable experiences, experiences which if they were to reach consciousness, they would have made you feel bad, egodystonic, uncomfortable, even threatened.

These unpleasurable experiences contradict the normative part of the personality, the superego.

Conscience. You have a conscience.

This is exactly this kind of problem.

The conscience is a cluster of introgets which is so powerful, so ingrained via the process of socialization, that it overcomes our defenses.

And when content from the conscious reaches consciousness, we feel bad. We feel bad for something we have done. It's an unpleasant experience.

Normally, defenses, the defenses would have blocked this information. You're a bad boy. You misbehave. You shouldn't have done it. They would have blocked this kind of information.

But the conscience augmented by socialization agents like parents, peers, teachers, society itself, and morality, religion, the conscience is too strong for the defense mechanism.

So we have an example here of what happens when defense mechanisms are disabled, inactivated, disempowered.

We feel really, really bad.

So they block unpleasurable information because it contradicts our morality, our conscience, the superego, or because they are representative, these thoughts, these ideas, these wishes, they're representative of wishes whose fulfillment would be dangerous to the individual or to the ego in the course of experience because of inevitable punishment.

Let me repeat this.

The defense mechanisms block several types of information.

Number one, information that contravenes, conflicts with the superego and with our conscience.

Number two, information or actually wishes, drives, impulses, instincts that if we were to act upon this, if we were to realize our wishes, we would have ended up being punished, sanctioned, in danger, threatened.

So the defense mechanisms, when they come across an instinctual wish, a drive, an urge, they block it. They block it because it's socially unacceptable or even criminal punishable.

This is the role of defenses.

This is why narcissists, borderlines, let alone psychopaths, they have no impulse control because they have no age-appropriate adult defenses. They are in direct contact with their instincts, urges, and drives, and these overpower them, force them to act regardless of consequences.

When there is no dividing line, when there's no partition between the id, the seat of instincts and urges and drives and wishes, when there's no partition between the id and the ego, and this partition is the defense mechanisms, when there are no defense mechanisms, insulating the ego and reality from the id, when there are no defense mechanisms which prevent us from acting on our crazy, demented, anti-social drives and wishes and instincts and urges, then we end up badly. We pay the consequences for our actions.

Now, the ego knows this. That's why it prevents us from misbehaving.

In the case of narcissists, there's no ego. In the case of borderlines, there is an ego, but there are no defenses.

So the ego is in direct touch with the id. In narcissism, there's only the id. In effect, there's only the id.

In borderline, there's an ego which is not protected from the id, not insulated from the id, and therefore under the sway of the id, and very often overtaken by the id. It's a kind of invasion.

So defenses are unconscious. They are unconscious because they stem from a conflict between the drive and the ego, between perception or representation and moral imperatives.

Our memories, our fantasies, our wishes, our drives, our instincts, our urges are always negated by morality, by social mores and conventions.

The ego is there to enforce them using the defense mechanisms in the unconscious as a tool of repression.

Indeed, initially, Sigmund Freud suggested that all defenses, that repression is the only defense. Only much later, he came around to his daughter's view that defenses are actually myriad.

But for a very long time, he believed that only repression is a defense.

And so defenses reflect an internal working model.

Defenses have content. They are not only algorithms. They are not only action-oriented. They are containers of content.

What is the content? The content is, you are potentially a very bad person. I need to protect you from yourself.

So defense mechanisms reflect an internal working model of a bad object.

I'm going to repeat this because it's a bit revolutionary.

Defense mechanisms represent the belief, the belief, the belief within the system, within the ego system.

The belief that all human beings are bad objects left to their own devices. They are immoral. They are dangerous. They engage. They are risk-seeking. They are thrill-seeking. They are defiant.

What defense mechanisms tell you is everyone is a potential psychopath.

There's an internal working model that says, in the absence of a controlling, domineering ego, in the absence of filtering, censoring, repressing and suppressing defense mechanisms, in the absence of these two, you're going to be a really, really bad person. You're going to be unworthy. You're going to be inadequate. You're going to catastrophically fail. You're a danger to yourself.

You need to be protected from yourself. This is the message. This is the message of the defense mechanisms and the ego.

And that means that in narcissism, where the ego is gone, has never formed. And the defense mechanisms are too primitive, too infantile to cope with the exigencies and the vicissitudes of adult life.

In narcissism, therefore, what is left is the internal working model, "I am a bad object. Now I need to compensate for this by pretending that I'm a good object."

This is the narcissist dilemma. That's his conundrum. That's the trap he's in.

Deep inside, he believes himself to be a bad object.

He has what Adler called inferiority complex. Shame, a huge reservoir of life-threatening shame, Morrison.

Deep inside, in narcissism is a child's way, an infantile way, of compensating for this, of showing to the world a false self, which is all good. It's a self-splitting defense.

Narcissism is among the few surviving defenses of the narcissist.

And splitting is inwardly directed. The narcissist splits himself.

So splitting is one of the surviving mechanisms.

The narcissist uses splitting to split himself. Internally, he is all bad. Externally, he is all good.

A similar process happens with borderlines. They have a functioning ego, but their defenses are so primitive.

And one of the very few surviving defenses with borderlines is splitting.

So the borderline splits herself. Internally, she's all good. Externally, she's all bad.

The narcissist embed inside and good outside. The borderline embed inside and good outside.

Self-splitting among the few defenses left to these pathological personality organizations.

And so the existence of defense mechanisms reflects a model of a bad object.

And to avoid ego-distonic conscious contact with a bad object, the defenses remain unconscious.

So what I'm proposing here is an explanation why defenses are unconscious and not conscious.

I will recap it for you. I know it's very difficult material. It's very difficult material because some of the things I'm saying are very new.

What does the ego say?

The ego says, "I need to protect you from yourself. I'm the reality principle. If I leave you to your own devices, you will die. You will destroy yourself. You will get punished. You will ruin your relationships. You are inadequate. You are a bad object." That's the message of the ego.

The defense mechanisms are the instruments of the ego. They are the tools of the ego to enforce discipline, to introduce reality. In a way that will modify behavior and prevent from acting on impulses and instincts and drives and urges.

So there is a very dictatorial system, authoritarian system, intended to control the bad object.

If the defenses were conscious, then we would have been in touch with our own bad object because the defenses interface with the bad object. The defenses hold the bad object at bay. The defenses insulate and isolate the bad object. They fight back the bad object. They conflict with the bad object. So if they were conscious, we would have become aware of our own bad object. This would have driven us to commit suicide.


So to avoid this, to protect us from our own internal bad object, the defenses remain unconscious.

And the whole process of interaction with the bad object remains mercifully unconscious. To affect reality, to render it ego congruent, defenses operate only via behaviors.

So we know that defenses exist because we observe behaviors that cannot be explained otherwise.

In short, defense mechanisms are a theoretical figment.

An abstract or obstruction, they account for many behaviors and so probably they exist.

I recommend that you watch my video on IPAM, the intrapsychic activation model.

Okay. So we figured out why the defenses are unconscious.

It is in order to isolate us from the bad object inside and to prevent us from becoming suicidal. Otto Fenneko in 1945 suggested a classification of defense mechanisms. He said that some of them are successful and others are unsuccessful.

Successful defense mechanisms allow for the expression of the instinctual drive so they never lead to neurosis.

An example of successful defense mechanisms are repressive inhibitions.

Repressive inhibitions are not neurotic.

Let me try to explain this to laymen.

You remember that the aim of the defenses is to prevent the instincts from being translated into action. So the defenses make sure that the instincts remain wishes but are never acted or rarely acted on.

So because the defenses repress instincts, don't allow drives and urges to manifest and to be converted into behavior because that's dangerous.

Because the defenses are preoccupied with this role, they create pathology. This pathology is known as neurosis.

But some defenses do allow instincts and drives, instinctual drives, urges and wishes. They do allow them to be expressed. They provide alternative modes of expression. These are known as sublimations or sublimatory channels.

The defense comes to the instinct and says, "Hello instinct, how are we today?" Instinct said, "I'm grumpy. I can't express myself and it's all because of you. This is coercive control. I'm going to report you to the police."

Defense mechanism says, "Hold your horses, instinct. Hold your horses. I have a proposition for you. I have a proposal."

"Okay," says the instinct. "What do you have in mind?"

And the defense mechanism says, "Listen, I know that you wish to do A. I know that you wish to do something A. But A is very dangerous to the individual. It's very dangerous to us.

If you act on your impulse, if you express the instinctual drive, if you fulfill the wish and gratify the urge, you're going to end up in prison or dead.

Not a good idea. But I have a way for you to express yourself and your wishes. That is socially acceptable.

Write a book, for example.

And so if you do this, you will feel fully gratified and satisfied. And society will even applaud you and laud you for your efforts. You will be commended rather than condemned.

The instinct scratches its proverbial head and says, "You know what, defense? You've outdone yourself."

I'm going to embark on writing a book right this very minute. And this is the process of sublimation.

Sublimation converts socially unacceptable instinctual drives and urges and so on and wishes into socially acceptable activities.

And so these kinds of defenses are successful because they prevent apotheology. They prevent neurosis.

But the vast majority of defenses are actually unsuccessful. They simply block the drive. And they have to be in operation all the time, 24/7.

Because if the defense mechanism were to go to sleep, the drive, the instinctual drive would take over and make you do horrible, delightful things.

You don't want that. You don't want that because you will be punished.

Freud called it "castration." You'll be castrated, at least metaphorically speaking.

So you don't want this to happen to you.

And so these kinds of defenses, the unsuccessful defenses, are on watch all the time, 24/7, 60 seconds a minute.

And does this remind you of something? Yes.

Personality disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, they can be amply described as clusters of unsuccessful defenses, protecting against a bad object inside, which is affiliated with socially condemnable and socially sanctioned and punishable instinctual drives and urges and wishes.

Now, defense mechanisms are organized in the hierarchy. And I recommend that you, for those of you who want to go deeper, I recommend that you study the works of Trower and Chadwick, Kalati, Perry, especially Perry, and Bond, Bernie and Chioka. These are the authorities on defense mechanisms.

Perry and Bond, in 2017, suggested a hierarchy of defenses, three levels, seven levels, I think, but three strata, three layers of defenses.

The mature defense mechanisms are the most adaptive strategies. They maximize gratification, and they allow relatively good conscious awareness of feelings, ideas and behavior related consequences.

In short, they are ego-aligned. They are definitely ego-converant and ego-cohesive, ego-coherent, but they are also ego-aligned. They are so integrated with ego that, frankly, it's very difficult to differentiate between them, these defenses and the ego.

So all defense mechanisms are thought to protect the individual from anxiety, as I said.

But the mature defenses do not threaten interpersonal relationships and don't distort reality in order to become anxiolytic, in order to avoid anxiety or reduce or mitigate it.

The price paid for reducing anxiety is very, very minimal.

Now, there's an intermediate level of neurotic defense mechanisms, and they function to keep distressing thought content, cognitions, out of awareness. They involve minimal reality distortion, as opposed to the mature ones.

The mature ones don't. The less mature ones, the neurotic ones, involve reality distortion.

Now, the lowest level of defenses, they are maladaptive or immature or primitive defenses, usually originating in very, very, very early childhood, up to age 36 months, and some of them even before the age of 6 months.

So these defenses act through strong reality distortion, or even total detachment from reality. They impair reality testing dramatically. They are associated with mental health problems and lower interpersonal functioning. They are characteristic, for example, of severe mood and anxiety disorders, and of course, they operate a lot in personality disorders.

Now, there is one special category of mental illness which has an effect on the way defense mechanisms operate. And this mental illness is colloquially known as depression. Depression, of course, is a family of depressive illnesses. So, it's quite a few of them.

Now, depression, in depression, the immature defense category is mostly in operation, and it is divided into depressive and non-depressive defenses. Depressive defenses have been empirically associated with depression, whereas non-depressive defenses are negatively associated with depression.

Perry did some work with the Hoagland about this. In depressed patients, the use of the immature primitive defenses decreases by the end of treatment.

So we know that they have something to do with the depression itself. But no treatment of depression has any effect on the neurotic and mature defenses. They remain unchanged, at least according to studies by Mullen.

Within the immature or primitive defenses, the subgroup of depressive defense mechanisms is linked to decreases in depression symptomatology when treatment is successful. That's a very recent discovery by Perry in 2020.

Okay, I'm going to summarize for you all the types of defenses, and then I'm going to take you on a tour of very, very counterintuitive, unusual, bizarre cases of defense.


Now, defensive categories are mature, neurotic, and immature. You remember, yes?

So let's start with the mature. It's level seven. They are also known as high-adaptive defenses, and they involve affiliation, altruism, anticipation, humor, self-assertion, self-observation, sublimation, and suppression.

The neurotic ones, level six and level five, level five is divided to hysterical and other neurotic, never mind. So the neurotic ones are isolation of effects, intellectualization, undoing. It's very common in obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Repression, dissociation, reaction formation, and displacement.

The immature or primitive defenses are level four, three, two, and one, and they're divided, as I said, to non-depressive and depressive.

Now, the non-depressive immature defenses involve idealization of self-image, idealization of other's image, devaluation of self-image, devaluation of self-image, omnipotence, denial, rationalization, projection, and autistic fantasy.

The depressive immature defenses involve splitting of self-image, splitting of other's image, projective identification, passive aggression, help-rejecting, complaining, and acting out. Yes, acting out is a very primitive defense.

Now, we commonly think of defenses in ways which are, you know, splitting and projection, projective identification, and so on. These are very common, and everyone in this dog is an expert on these defenses. There's a lot of misinformation and nonsense online. Again, warning.

But I'm going to describe to you today outliers, special cases of defense.

Just to demonstrate to you how all pervasive defenses are, there isn't an area of our mental space and mental life untouched by defenses at one point or another.

Dozens of defenses operate all the time around the clock in the background. Others are activated as per need.

Self-states are associated with specific defenses via introjects and constructs. Again, see my video on IPAP, intrapsychic activation model.

Let's start with altruistic surrender.

You ever heard of this defense? I bet you haven't.

Altruistic surrender is when an individual is barred from an attractive partner. So an individual is attracted to a partner, but for some reason can never get her, can never become her intimate or his intimate partner.

So the individual is barred from the attractive person by virtue of some reality situation or internal conflict or whatever.

At that point, this frustrated individual who cannot have a relationship with the person he desires or she desires, at that point, they actively aid a rival.

I want a woman very much. I can't have her either because of some real constraints or because I have an internal conflict or because she has an internal conflict. I can't have her for some reason.

Then I will have my rival to have her. I will have another man to have her.

So this is known as altruistic surrender. The defense makes sure that the person who does this gains satisfaction through identification with the beneficiary of his altruism and from the sense of control in determining who wins the desired object.

And that's an example of defense.

Now, this is very frequently confused with cacoldry. It is not actually.

In cacoldry, the person involved derives pleasure from either a masochistic sense of self-punishment or from observing the proceedings, like observing pornography kind of.

Altruistic surrender is a defense mechanism. So it's unconscious and it yields egosyntony, satisfaction and gratification and a sense of control.

So here's an example of a bizarre defense mechanism, which I bet you never heard of. None of you, even the professionals among you, I'm sure never heard of altruistic surrender.

Let me give you another example, a defense against envy.

According to Melanie Klein in 1957, the main defenses against envy are number one, contempt and devaluation. Number two, omnipotent control. And number three, narcissistic withdrawal, schizoid response.

Contempt and devaluation is when the subject seeks to diminish his estimation of the object. That way it resolves the cognitive dissonance and reduces anxiety, but it's a defense against envy.

Similarly, by exerting omnipotent control, the subject forcibly takes over the envy and the envy producing qualities of the object. The subject says I'm superior to the object, not by devaluing the object, but just by declaring himself omnipotent and controlling.

And narcissistic withdrawal means that the subject shuns envy-arousing objects and in this way reduces his suffering. Though evident in individuals with severe personality disorders, the use of these mechanisms is most marked in narcissistic personalities, of course.

Let's proceed.

Have you ever heard of the defenses against goodness?

Goodness me, I need a drink. It's water, not vodka.

Have you ever heard of psychological defense mechanisms against goodness? I bet you haven't.

It was described by Roy Schaeffer in 2002, and he was drawing on chlinean ideas of goodness in the depressive position.

You see, when you're depressed, you don't think of yourself as a good object. You're in the throes of being in direct touch with your bad object.

When you're depressed, you think of yourself as a failure, as a loser, as incorrigible, as hopeless and helpless. So you are totally bad object.

But what to do with the good parts of you? There are good parts of you. You can't deny them, but you want to deny them because as someone with depression, you need to think only the worst about yourself with regards to yourself.

So you need to do something with these good parts.

And this is where there are defenses against goodness in the depressive position.

Omnipotence, greed, envy are set aside in favor of concern, gratitude, reparation, altruism, charity.

Because the depressive person cannot countenance and tolerate his own goodness, it is worded off by these defense mechanisms.

In 1946, Melanie Klein wrote that endangered good aspects of the self can be deposited into other people for safekeeping during the depressive phase.

Like I'm depressed right now, I can't think of myself as in any good way. Can you please hold on to my good aspects? And when I'm out of my depression, remind me how good I am.

This is Melanie Klein's idea. And Gregory Hamilton in 1986 elaborated on this Kleinian notion, and he called it positive projective identification.

Schaeffer, however, in 2002 emphasized that in approaching the depressive position, one can develop massive reactions against feeling, believing in, and avowing openly personal goodness and the goodness of one's primary objects.

And then one tends to hide what is good in oneself and attribute it to others. One also curtails attitudes that would elicit goodness from others towards oneself.

All this is done to ward off the anxiety consequent upon renouncing narcissistic and sadomasochistic pleasures and bearing the sweet burden of gratitude and of making reparation to others.

Here you are defenses against feeling good defenses against feeling that you are a good object, that you are a good person.

There are defenses against this, especially when you're depressed.

Now, what about mental pain?

There are defenses against mental pain.

Salman Akhtar, the guy who co-discovered covert narcissism, together with Cooper, the late Cooper, he died two years ago, I think, Salman Akhtar in 2000 wrote a paper about mental pain. He noted that many defenses can be used against mental pain. It's a disturbing experience.

And each of these defenses can have a pathological or a healthy outcome depending upon the intrapsychic and social context and upon whether they ultimately permit mourning to take place or not.

Again, we come to the issue of grief. Essentially, these defenses include the following.

Number one, psychic retreat and self-holding. If this is accompanied by a sense of futility and generalized inhibition of drive and ego functions, then the outcome is pathological.

However, if the retreat, the withdrawal, the avoidance, their transient, focal, and they're accompanied by an effort to sort out the ego weakening that has resulted from pain, then the outcome is not so bad after all. It's healthy.

Number two, defense against mental pain, denial and manic defense. If this leads to psychic numbing, I refer you to work by Kogan in 1990, if this leads to psychic numbing, substance abuse, promiscuity, then the knowledge of what is going on in the internal reality is diminished and the outcome is pathological.

However, if the manic defense involves only the unaffected sector of the personality, then it can serve as an umbrella under which the pain ridden part can carry out mourning and grief in a piecemeal, incrementally graduated fashion.

And that's very healthy.

Actually, these defenses are the bedrock of healthy, normal grieving.

And it is the absence of these defenses in narcissism that creates the prolonged grief syndrome, aka narcissistic personality disorder, same when it comes to borderline.

Akhtar continues and says that another defense or set of defenses against mental pain is extrusion of pain and its induction into others.

To a limited extent, self-protective indignation and even rage in the face of mental pain can serve adaptive purposes.

But of course, if they go too far, they become pathological. They endanger the individual. They place the individual at risk.

So these defenses can actually end up contravening or confronting the ego.

Number four, changing the form or function of pain. Such alterations can yield both pathological and healthy outcomes as usual.

Among the pathological outcomes are concretization. I refer you to work by Bergman in 1982.

Concretization is another name for acting out. Acting out is a way of changing the form or the function of the pain.

Physicalization, that is turning the mental pain into physical pain via somatization or somatopharm disorders.

Libiditization, Fennell in 1934 was the first to describe it.

And at the same time, there's also some change of function vis-a-vis mental pain, and it prepares the ground for the creative sublimation of mental pain.

These are all examples of how pain provokes defenses, envy provokes defenses, and even the inability to get an intimate partner. The inability to end up with a desired intimate partner creates defenses.

Now, Kohut, Heinz Kohut in 1977 wrote extensively about defensive and compensatory structures. He described psychological structures built in early childhood to deal with a primary defect in the self.

I will quote Kohut, although I profoundly disagree with him and with you about the existence of the self. But I will quote him all the same.

Of course, he's a very influential figure.

Kohut wrote, "I call a structure defensive when its sole or predominant function is the covering over of the primary defect in the self. I call a structure compensatory when rather than merely covering a defect in the self, it compensates for this defect."

So what does he mean? How can we tell the difference? They sound very much the same.

So let's consider, for example, the bipolar self.

Bipolar self is, and Kohut was great at coining phrases.

Narcissistic personality disorder is a phrase coined by Kohut.

Bipolar self was coined by Kohut.

Kohut said that in the bipolar self, there is a weakness of one pole of the self, example, exhibitions.

And it is made up for by the strengthening of the other pole, for example, the pursuit of ideals.

So this is his example of the difference between defense and compensation.

Compensation is when we find a way to not experience the defect, the pain, the guilt, the shame, the fear, the social dysfunction, the social anxiety, the social shame, et cetera. We find a way to do this.

And his idea of compensation is very reminiscent of the idea of sublimation in Fennicke's work.


Lacan, when he does discuss defenses, opposes defenses to resistances.

He says correctly, by the way, that many, many psychoanalysts confuse resistance with defense. Resistances are transit, according to Lacan, resistances are transitory imaginary responses to intrusions of the symbolic, and they are on the side of the object.

Defenses are more permanent symbolic structures of subjectivity.

But Lacan doesn't call them defenses, by the way. As I said earlier, he calls them fantasies.

Ok, just to confuse everyone.

Lacan was great at confusing everyone, first and foremost himself.

The amount of nonsense this man spewed is defiled logic.

However, you know, like in every garbage heap, you do find pearls and diamonds here and there.

Now, Lacan's way of distinguishing between resistance and defense is the total antithesis, total opposite of all other psychoanalysts, because Lacan liked to be the total opposite of everything moving. He thought it made him special.

Am I hinting that he was a narcissist?

Go online, find a photograph of Lacan in his later years, and you will see my spitting image. My identical twin, I swear. I, myself, was misled into thinking that these were my photos. Amazing.

Ok, so I'm implying that he's a narcissist, yes.

Lacan's way of distinguishing resistance from defense is exactly the opposite of all other psychoanalysts, because in all other schools of psychoanalysis, they distinguish between resistance and defense rarely, and when they do, they regard defenses as transitory phenomena and resistances as more stable.

I will not go into it right now, because I think resistance, I'm in this sense Lacanian, actually.

I think resistances are temporary and transitory, and defenses are permanent structures of the personality.

I will not go into all this.

The ego psychology movement, starting in the 1950s in the United States, people like Heinz Hartmann, for example, they developed a theory of the ego in connection with the problem of adaptation, and he described personal development in terms of a conflict-free ego sphere, an autonomous ego that is not in conflict with anything and anyone internally or externally.

This was quite a departure from Freud and Anna Freud and so on.

In this movement of ego psychology, the psychic functioning in general is considered in terms of defense and the quest for equilibrium.

So in ego psychology, defenses are very critical, much more critical than in psychoanalysis.

Rene Spitz located the first defense in the emergence of what he called the second organizer, the eight-month or stranger anxiety.

He explained that these defenses serve, and I'm quoting him, "serve primarily adaptation rather than defense,"

in the strict sense of the term.

When the object is established and ideation starts, the function of these defenses change, and functions change.

And with the fusion of the aggressive and debidental drives, some defense mechanisms, particularly identification, acquire the functions that they serve later in adulthood.

When Anna Freud was publishing her first psychoanalytic works, Melanie Klein, who by the way is not a psychologist, broke with Freudian orthodoxy because she claimed that the psyche and the ego are primordial, that they are archaic functions, they don't form, you're born with them, etc.

And the agencies of the psyche begin to function much earlier, and so on and so forth.

But Klein introduced a perspective that restored to anxiety and psychic conflict a fundamental role in the theory of drives.

That's her main contribution, I think.

She reintroduced or reminded us how critical the issue of conflict is, and how we do everything we can to avoid or evade anxiety.

She drew on Freud's second theory of drives, and she attributed the central role to the death drive and the conflicts between love and hatred.

We don't have to accept this, but she had amazing insight into the very fact that we are in a constant state of impending dissonance.

We're all the time on the verge of anxiety, all the time we conflict with reality and internally.

And so she developed her ideas on early defense mechanisms that were already present in her view in the earliest months of life during what she called the paranoid schizoid position.

The concept of defense since Freud become today common in clinical psychology and in psychoanalysis.

It is one of the one of the heritages of psychoanalysis together with, let's say, the unconscious.

Defense refers to either a relatively conscious behavior that rejects psychic reality, and it's more akin to resistance in this sense, or to a psychic impulse that seeks to avoid anxiety and unpleasant in the quest to adopt and achieve a state of equilibrium.

So in modern clinical psychology, some defenses can actually be conscious and they are more behavioral. It's the behavior itself that is defensive. But I don't think I don't think it's right. I don't think that's a psychological defense mechanism.

I think sometimes we are defined and sometimes we self deceive via behavior and sometimes we resist.

So things might be God, God often confusion here.

And it is because of this that in modern clinical psychology, the function of the defense of defenses as mechanisms necessary for psychic growth is either overlooked or negated.

It's catastrophic mistake. It's not true. It's wrong.

So a lot of what we teach at university nowadays is wrong.

We teach defense mechanisms and defenses as forms of pathology or at least pathogenic.

The ego protects itself against the tendency towards conflict by means of something called counter-cathaxis. And the counter-cathaxis represents the supreme essence of the defense mechanisms.

So Hartman in 1950 picked up this idea and he had a theory of autonomous functions of the ego. He argued that once the energy of counter-catharsis has been withdrawn from the tendency that caused the conflict, the conflict was neutralized.

According to Hartman, the autonomous processes, organization, cathect, delay, can be the precursors of defense mechanisms.

In general, neurotic defense mechanisms constitute an exaggeration or distortion of regulating and adaptive mechanisms.

So the ego psychology movement actually ended up supporting anaphroids views, only embedding these views in a global theory of the ego is an autonomous entity borrowing in a way from Melanik line. It's an autonomous entity on the one hand and a self-regulating one.

And at the disposal of the ego, there are the defense mechanisms which can go awry, be exaggerated and distorted.

And then we have the pathologies. And this is in line with anaphroids view.

Anaphroids said that every vicissitude to which the instincts are liable has its origin in some ego activity, where it not for the intervention of the ego or of those external forces which the ego represents, every instinct would know only one fate, that of gratification.

And she wrote this in 1937. She identified at the time nine defense mechanisms.

And she suggested that we must add a tense defense which pertains rather to the study of the normal, rather than to the study of neurosis, sublimation or displacement of instinctual aims.

Today, as I told you, we have a list of 101 defenses.

Back to Melanik line, the adherence of the Kleine School, they believed the defense mechanisms take a different form in a structured ego from the one that they had assumed in a primitive unstructured ego or what she called the undifferentiated ego.

In short, what she was saying, defenses evolve, defenses mature, new defenses are created, defenses transmute and transform from one shape to another, the shape shift.

And all this has to do with the formation of the ego, the integration and the differentiation of the ego, the breaking down of the ego, if you wish.

So the ego initially is unstructured, it is protean, and then you have very primitive defenses.

The ego matures, the ego gets differentiated, and then you have mature adult defenses, defenses that become modes of mental functioning.

Susan Isaacs in 1948 said that all mental mechanisms are linked to fantasies, such as devouring, absorbing or rejecting.

And in this sense, she's a proto-laconian.

Melanie Kleine herself in 1952, again in 1958, she identified several primitive defenses, and she used defense and defense mechanisms interchangeably.

And so in a way, she contributed to the confusion that we have today between the concept of defense and the concept of psychic adaptation, or defensive psychic adaptation, or enhancing psychic adaptation in the process of normal healthy maturation.

OK, I gave you a brief, uneven view of defenses.

The latter part, as you've noticed, was geared more at mental health professionals and practitioners.

The first part was, I hope, more for laymen.

It's not easy to tread the line between laymen and professionals to maintain this balance.

I'm doing my best, and I apologize to those of you who drifted off because of the language.

I hope that the main takeaways from this video are clear.

Defenses are healthy, like everything else, they can go awry. They protect against the bad object, because they believe in the existence of a bad object. They have an internal working model of a bad object.

Consequently, they are unconscious, because if you get in touch with the bad object, you would want to commit suicide.

So the defenses are unconscious.

They support the reality principle, or reality testing. In short, they support the functioning of the ego, partly by actually distorting reality in order to suppress the instincts, urges, wishes and drives.

Ironically, the ego strikes a compromise with the defenses. I give you the right to impair reality testing, which is an ego function. On condition that you keep at bay, under lock and key, the crazy, instinctual drives, urges and wishes of this maniac whose ego I am.

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