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A Psychological Perspective on the President of the United States

Introduction

Donald Trump is a Russian troll in the White House; he is also the worst president in U.S. History. And, he is unbelievably dangerous to the security of our nation. He represents a clear and present danger to us all.

As a result prosecutors are beginning to close in on President Donald Trump as a threat to the democracy of the United States. While all of this seems rather bizarre and unusual for a United States President to be accused of such serious crimes against the people of this country (namely treason and a host of other criminal acts), it is what it is and now must be dealt with.

The people (through their representatives) have no other option than to impeach the President and remove him from office. Whether some of his administration underlings should also be charged with treason and sent to prison remains to be seen. Only time will tell.

In addition, some members of Congress should be looked as well as to their personal relationship to a president who has strong ties to the Kremlin, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Devin Nunes of California come to mind. Directly or indirectly they are giving aid and comfort to a known enemy of the United States. Here are the federal laws dealing with treason: “Treason is a crime under federal and some state laws. Treason is made a high crime, punishable by death, under federal law by Article III, section 3 of the U.S. Constitution: “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” It is the latter part on giving aid and comfort that worries me the most.

This incredible strain and stain on America political democracy begs the question. Why? Why did this political nightmare ever come about? What I’m about to say is not to be construed as an apology for Trump’s behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth—far from it! But like all psychologists and sociologists will explain—all behavior has causes. It is these causes that need to be examined.

Context for a Psychological Explanation

Every human has strengths and weaknesses. This is no less true for Donald Trump than it is for anyone else. Whenever someone displays extreme lying and extremely illogical behavior (always contrary to the facts) the mental state of that individual may be called into question. This is what the American people are now slowly beginning to realize, that Donald Trump may be mentally ill, perhaps even a sociopath..

Specifically, where Donald Trump is concerned his paranoid egotistically driven personality raises questions about his mental fitness for the job of president of the United States. When combined with a history of predatory sexual behavior, vicious personal attacks on everyday citizens and racial groups, his unhealthy appetite for foreign dictators, and his uncontrollable constant need for excessive lying, lapses in memory (CRS—can’t remember what he says from one day to the next), then the question goes far beyond fitness for office. The question then becomes is he suffering from mental illness and/or dementia?

     So what all this means is that Donald Trump’s fitness and mental state needs to be addressed very soon, In a President with perhaps dementia and a psychologically damaged personality in the first place, you have a recipe for disaster of immense proportions, Besides these alarm bells going off, the real key to understanding why Donald Trump acts as he does—–is psychology. What is the psychology of Donald Trump?

Since one cannot depend on the White House Doctor to provide an explanation of the psychology of this President, then we must look to other sources.

There are many influences on a person throughout his or her life but one’s early life growing up remains to this day a very good reliable way to view one’s present behavior based on one’s early development in life. While space in this Blog does not permit one to give a thorough review of Donald Trump’s relationship with his mother, father, or siblings, there is psychological information on Donald Trump in the here and now.

In this regard a very interesting article appeared in a publication [Shrink Tank] titled as “A Psychological Analysis of Donald Trump” by Dr. Bilal Ghandour dated January 20, 2017.

The Psychology of Donald Trump

The following is the article:

“Love him or hate him, but can you feel sorry for him?

Ask anyone what they think of Donald Trump and you are almost guaranteed one of two instantaneous – almost reflexive – reactions: “He is great” (read: I admire his guts, love his strength and honesty) or “he is awful” (read: he is a disgusting, self-serving bigot and demagogue). Many a political figure has been controversial but none in recent history has polarized opinions as much as Mr. Trump.

One obvious question is to ask why he triggers such opposing emotional reactions from folks. A less obvious – but more interesting query – is to wonder: Is there any way one can take on a nuanced position and say something like, ‘This man repulses me but I also feel sorry for him.’ Is bizarre as it may initially appear, I would like to suggest it is perfectly tenable to hold such apparently contradicting positions about Mr. Trump. In order to do so, we must understand how personalities are formed and organized.

‘More specifically, we need to analyze how particular patterns of character development lead to a personality one can feel both compassion for and be deeply disturbed by.’

It all depends on which aspect of self that one chooses to focus on.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder

One of the words most commonly thrown around to define Donald Trump’s personality is that he is a narcissist.

A narcissist is someone who is intensely focused on themselves – often to the point of self-adoration – and belittles others. They spend an inordinate amount of time listing their accomplishments (as proof of their greatness) and it is impossible to have a balanced conversation with them as they invariably pay cursory or no attention to what you say. On the rare occasions, they actually listen; it is because they are planning a strategy to redirect conversations back to them.

There is no doubt about it: Mr. Trump is a textbook example of a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and psychologists will have no trouble diagnosing him with that condition.

But saying someone has a personality disorder (narcissism or otherwise) tells us nothing about the cause for such development and the mechanism people use to maintain such traits. And this where it gets interesting.

It has been widely accepted that many psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia are conditions with a strong biological component. This means the genetic makeup of such individuals plays a critical role in the development of the disorder.

This contrasts with personality disorders, characterized by traits that have been learned.

In other words, personality disorders develop as a result of life experiences, not because of genetic vulnerability. It is of course very difficult to claim with certitude where those (negative) experiences originate from but we do know the nature of the relationship we have with important people in our lives dramatically shape our perception of the world and ourselves.

If we have felt deep pain from improper or insufficient parenting, despair from romantic breakups or friendship betrayals, bitter disappointment from various life outcomes, there is little doubt that personality development will be significantly affected. Some of us may address issues successfully, adjust well, and be psychologically healthy. Others may have more trouble handling such pains and develop, as a result, a personality that goes around difficulties rather than face them.

In other words, some personalities are structured and organized to avoid remembering – at all costs – troublesome feelings and emotional pain. If a person uses this strategy consistently and across the board, they are using a defense mechanism strategy. Let me explain further.

Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are the mind’s powerful ability to protect itself by avoiding feelings of discomfort and anxiety and negative perceptions of self. You may recognize at least one of them: repression. This defense tactic is used to banish from conscious memory something too painful to remember. We hide uncomfortable and hurtful feelings from awareness; they still exist…but we can’t ‘see’ them. Think of it as clothes and belongings (memories, experiences) accumulated over years of life in a large suitcase.

At the bottom of the suitcase lies old memories and experiences. If you keep accumulating stuff and pile them up in that suitcase, what lies at the top will begin hiding what is underneath. If you don’t shake the suitcase (i.e., discuss and address difficult memories) they can be forgotten. It is this motivation to bar from conscious awareness that is the defense mechanism.

Sigmund Freud may have had some outlandish ideas about sexuality but his genius was his ability to notice defense mechanisms. He identified many, including repression, which he considered most fundamental. There is also regression (going back to an infantile or younger stage in life to feel safer) and projection (blaming others for our own faults).

With regards to Mr. Trump, there is one defense mechanism that fits him like a glove: reaction formation.

His comments, behaviors, and reactions are remarkably consistent with folks who use this strategy to defend themselves from uncomfortable feelings. So what is reaction formation and what is The Donald trying to defend himself from?

Reaction Formation

Reaction formation is a fascinating strategy because it flies in the face of logic. It is the expression of feelings towards an event, a situation or something about ourselves that is the opposite of what we truly feel.

It is the person who condemns the drama on a reality TV shows when they secretly revel in it, it is the person who thinks drug addicts should face the harshest punishment when they are addicted themselves, it is the person vehemently defending heterosexual values because they are afraid of their own homosexuality (think Chris Cooper playing Colonel Frank Fitts in American Beauty and the many priests who used religion as a cover for sexually abusing children).

While it is hard to know for certain if one is defending a position sincerely or because of anxiety from expressing the opposite view, there is one characteristic of reaction formation that often gives it away: the excessive need to prove one’s point and the inflexibility of the position. In Mr. Trump’s case, any attack on him results in an immediate reaction from his part to remind everyone how great he is. He is quick to deny his failures, never admits wrongdoings and attacks anyone who criticizes his business record and his….hands.

Yes, his hands.

And if someone says he has small hands (as presidential candidate Marco Rubio commented and insinuating he has a small ‘something else’) then you are attacking his physical greatness or prowess. Now think about it: what political candidate, what person who runs for the highest office in the US feels the need to justify the size of his hands at the very beginning of a political debate? Donald Trump.

What person needs to exhibit his steaks, water, magazines and discuss how great they all are at a press conference following a primary win? Donald Trump. What man denies having been bankrupt four times and say ‘he just used what the law allowed him to do?”

Donald Trump.

‘His painstaking and excessive need to justify he is an amazing man leads us to wonder: does he really think he is or is he hiding deep insecurities about his competence?”

To answer this question, we get to the most interesting part of Trump’s personality. It is one thing to explain why you think you are ‘the greatest’ and it is another to lie to prove it. Faking reality, unconsciously or otherwise, is the glue of a defense mechanism. Lying is a powerful method to deny personal feelings of weakness, fraudulence or incompetence. In two separate public appearances (once following a primary victory and another at a recent debate) Trump lied.

  • Lie #1: He displayed steaks he claimed were his – as you would display a product for an infomercial – to prove his business was thriving. In reality, the steaks he displayed were not his (they belonged to another meat company – Bush Brothers) as Trump Steaks are no longer produced. And when reporters tried to verify the packaging brand Trump’s team quickly put them away.
  • Lie #2: He states never having heard anyone say anything negative about the size of his hands. Quoting him: “I never heard this one before…everyone says ‘Donald, you have beautiful hands’.” In reality, Donald’s hands have been ridiculed before. In fact, they have been ridiculed for decades. Here is the story behind lie # 2 and how his attempts to prove he has ‘beautiful hands’ lies at the heart of Mr. Trump’s personality insecurities.

In 1988, a New York-based satirical magazine began publishing a series of articles to poke fun at Mr. Trump. The authors of the articles called him the ‘short-fingered vulgarian.’ Over the course of eight years, they published a dozen articles on the short-fingered vulgarian. How do we know Trump knew of them? Over and over again, he sent them pictures of his hands as evidence they were not small. In other words, he was excessive and relentless in proving they were not short – behavior in line with reaction formation. What is remarkable is he has not stopped trying to prove his point, almost 30 years later.

The founder of the Magazine Spy, Graydon Carter, is quoted from the website vox.com, commenting on how he continues, to this day, to receive correspondence from Trump: “There is always a photo of him – generally a tear sheet from a magazine. On all of them, he has circled his hand in gold Sharpie in a valiant effort to highlight the length of his fingers.”

Power and Dominance

Nothing disturbs Mr. Trump more than someone questioning his power and dominance. This is because there is a deeply hidden part of Trump that doesn’t think he is great. And if we were to imagine, just for the sake of the argument, that he agrees to therapy and receives psychological treatment then we may be able to reach into to the bottom of that suitcase. And based on the arguments set forth in this article, I argue we will find a very insecure child hiding somewhere.

“It is that Trump you can feel sorry for.”

But that part is so hidden from his own and anyone’s awareness that it is almost impossible for anyone to see. And when his comments continue to be demeaning, have a disturbing flavor of cruelty, racism, and misogyny; it is no surprise that many despise the man. After all, that is the part he has chosen to expose to the world and himself.”

Final Comments

A reasonable question arises when looking at the psychology of Donald Trump. That is, if Donald Trump is lost in a maze of defense mechanisms that have mentally crippled him for many decades, then what explains the existence of a hard core Trump supporter?

Why would any potential Trump voter not be able to recognize the obvious deficit in the moral character of Donald Trump? Even a modicum amount of research will demonstrate Donald Trump’s disqualification for public office. This would include as a minimum his degenerate misogyny, excessive lying, his evil intent to separate immigrant children from their parents, later putting immigrant children into cages, and criminal behavior; he is his alleged to have raped and beat a 13-year old prostitute in 1994 with his buddy, a New York wealthy registered sex offender named Epstein.

If this wasn’t enough to consider Trump as a wrong choice for the highest office in the land, just consider his false accusations of the Central Park Five or his failure to condemn KKK, Nazi and Alt Right rioters in the 2017 attacks on Jews and racial minorities in Charlottesville, North Carolina.

Could it be that defense mechanisms also play a serious role in why hard core Trump supporters prefer to bury their heads in the sand? What defense mechanisms are these hard core Trump supporters using? In this authors opinion I see three predominant defense mechanisms always present in the Trump supporter. They include rationalization, denial and idealization. So what are these mechanisms?

Rationalization

Rationalization occurs when a person attempts to explain or create excuses for an event or action in rational terms. In doing so, they are able to avoid accepting the true cause or reason resulting in the present situation.

Examples of rationalization include a shoplifter blaming the high price of sweets to justify their theft of a chocolate bar, when in reality they simply enjoyed the act of shoplifting. If a person fails an exam, they may excuse themselves from blame by rationalizing that they were too busy to revise during the revision period.

Denial

The self-denial of one’s feelings or previous actions is one defense mechanism to avoid damage to the ego caused by the anxiety or guilt of accepting them. A married woman might deny to herself that she hold affections for her husband’s friend, rather than accepting her true feelings. A person might also deny to their physical behavior, such as theft, preferring to think that someone forced them into committing the crime; in order to avoid dealing with the guilt should they accept their actions. Denial is an undesirable defense mechanism as it contravenes the reality principle that the id adheres to, delving into an imaginary world that is separate from our actual environment.

Idealization

Idealization involves creating an ideal impression of a person, place or object by emphasizing their positive qualities and neglecting those that are negative. Idealization adjusts the way in which we perceive the world around us and can lead us to make judgement that supports our idealized concepts. People often idealize their recollections of being on holiday or memories from childhood, seeing them as ‘happier times’, but fail to recollect arguments or stresses during those periods. We often idealize the image we hold of people we admire – relatives, partners or celebrities, making excuses for their failures and emphasizing their more admirable qualities.

When the president is eventually charged by Mueller with criminal acts and violations of the United States Constitution, it will be interesting to see how many Trump supporters finally come back to their senses and realize the painful reality they created and the shame that they had elected and supported the worst President this country has ever known. Above all, Donald Trump has dishonored this country and all it stands for by taking all of us on a 20 month political journey through Dante’s nine concentric circles of hell!

To the Trump supporters I make this prediction: Your impact in supporting Donald Trump as a president is about to come to an end following the mid-term election in November, 2018. Why? Because the vast majority of Americans already knows what it really takes to make America great!!!

 

 

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A Psychoanalytic Understanding of Your Life Cycle Stages

The Pioneer Work of Sigmund Freud

Part II

Freud’s Theory of the Conscious and Unconscious Mind

Psychoanalytic theory of the conscious and unconscious mind is often explained using an iceberg metaphor. Conscious awareness is the tip of the iceberg, while the unconscious is represented by the ice hidden below the surface of the water. Many of us have experienced what is commonly referred to as a Freudian slip. These misstatements are believed to reveal underlying, unconscious thoughts or feelings. Freudian slips can also apply to conscious thoughts and feelings as well. Quite often these feelings, whether conscious or unconscious, are ambivalent feelings. Consider the following example:

James has just started a new relationship with a woman he met at school. While talking to her one afternoon, he accidentally calls her by his ex-girlfriend’s name.

If you were in this situation, how would you explain this mistake? Many of us might blame the slip on distraction or describe it as a simple accident. However, a psychoanalytic theorist might tell you that this is much more than a random accident. The psychoanalytic view holds that there are inner forces outside of your awareness that are directing your behavior. For example, a psychoanalyst might say that James misspoke due to unresolved feelings for his ex or perhaps because of misgivings about his new relationship.

The founder of psychoanalytic theory was Sigmund Freud. While his theories were considered shocking at the time and continue to create debate and controversy, his work had a profound influence on a number of disciplines, including psychology, sociology, anthropology, literature, and art.

The term psychoanalysis is used to refer to many aspects of Freud’s work and research, including Freudian therapy and the research methodology he used to develop his theories. Freud relied heavily upon his observations and case studies of his patients when he formed his theory of personality development.

Before we can understand Freud’s theory of personality, we must first understand his view of how the mind is organized.

According to Freud, the mind can be divided into two main parts:

  1. The conscious mind includes everything that we are aware of. This is the aspect of our mental processing that we can think and talk about rationally. A part of this includes our memory, which is not always part of consciousness but can be retrieved easily at any time and brought into our awareness. Freud called this ordinary memory the preconscious.
  2. The unconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges [including fantasies], and memories that are outside of our conscious awareness. Most of the contents of the unconscious are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict that is yet to be revealed to those around us. According to Freud, the unconscious continues to influence our behavior and experience, even though we are unaware of these underlying influences. Parenthetically, we may be consciously aware of our fantasies; however, many of these consciously circulating thoughts and feelings may not necessarily generate conflict that would create anxiety. Fantasies in the conscious reahlm can indeed be very pleasant experiences. However, the superego [see concept below] still keeps a close check on those who want to act out their fantasies.

Personality Development

According to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality, personality is composed of three elements. These three elements of personality are known as the id, the ego and the superego. They work together to create complex human behaviors.

The Id

The id is the only component of personality that is present from birth. This aspect of personality is entirely unconscious and includes all of the instinctive and primitive behaviors. According to Freud, the id is the source of all psychic energy, making it the primary component of personality.

The id is driven by the pleasure principle, which strives for immediate gratification of all desires, wants, and needs. If these needs are not satisfied immediately, the result is a state of anxiety or tension. The Id doesn’t necessarily try to resolve the tension.

For example, an increase in hunger or thirst should produce an immediate attempt to eat or drink. The id is very important early in life, because it ensures that an infant’s needs are met. If the infant is hungry or uncomfortable, he or she will cry until the demands of the id are met. By age 3 or 4 a child will begin to delay gratification, i.e., the demands are seen as not having to achieve immediate satisfaction. Immediately satisfying these needs is not always realistic or even possible. If we were ruled entirely by the pleasure principle, we might find ourselves grabbing things we want out of other people’s hands to satisfy our own cravings. This sort of behavior would be both disruptive and socially unacceptable. According to Freud, the id tries to resolve the tension created by the pleasure principle through the primary process which involves forming a mental image of the desired object as a way of satisfying the need.

The Ego

The ego is the component of personality that is responsible for dealing with reality. According to Freud, the ego develops from the id and ensures that the impulses of the id can be expressed in a manner acceptable in the real world. The ego functions in all aspects of the mind: the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious mind.

The ego operates based on the reality principle, which strives to satisfy the id’s desires in realistic and socially appropriate ways. The reality principle weighs the costs and benefits of an action before deciding to act upon or abandon impulses. In many cases, the id’s impulses can be satisfied through a process of delayed gratification–the ego will eventually allow the behavior, but only in the appropriate time and place. Or, the ego allows for the behavior of the id in a disguised or sublimated form in addition to delay.

The ego also discharges tension created by unmet impulses through the secondary process, in which the ego tries to find an object in the real world that matches the mental image created by the id’s primary process.

The Superego

The last component of personality to develop is the superego. The superego is the aspect of personality that holds all of our internalized moral standards and ideals that we acquire from parent(s) as well as society–our sense of right and wrong. The superego provides guidelines for making judgments. According to Freud, the superego begins to emerge at around age five.

There are two parts of the superego:

  1. The ego ideal includes the rules and standards for good behaviors. These behaviors include those which are approved of by parental and other authority figures. Obeying these rules leads to feelings of pride, value and accomplishment.
  2. The conscience includes information about things that are viewed as bad by parents and society. These behaviors are often forbidden and lead to bad consequences, punishments or feelings of guilt and remorse.

The superego acts to perfect and civilize our behavior. It works to suppress all unacceptable urges of the id and struggles to make the ego act upon idealistic standards rather that upon realistic principles. The superego is present at many levels of the mind including the conscious, preconscious and unconscious.

The Interaction of the Id, Ego and Superego

With so many competing forces, it is easy to see how conflict might arise between the id, ego and superego. Freud used the term ego strength to refer to the ego’s ability to function despite these dueling forces. A person with good ego strength is able to effectively manage these pressures, while those with too much or too little ego strength can become too unyielding or too disrupting.

According to Freud, the key to a healthy personality is a balance between the id, the ego, and the superego.

Freud’s Concept of Defense Mechanisms

The concept of defense mechanisms can be attributed to Sigmund Freud. Later, Anna Freud also made great use of these concepts in her work in child psychiatry and child psychology. What is a defense mechanism? A defense mechanism is a strategy used to cover up or change unconscious desires and wishes that may be inappropriate or difficult to express.

In psychodynamic psychotherapy for PTSD, bringing about change in symptoms or behavior requires getting in touch with and “working through” those painful unconscious feelings. To do this, a therapist will assist the patient in recognizing the defense mechanisms being used, what they are being used for (to avoid painful feelings in the unconscious mind often stemming from a traumatic experience) and connecting with and appropriately releasing those feelings and thoughts that were previously being avoided.

Because of anxiety provoking demands created by the id, superego and reality, the ego has developed a number of defense mechanisms to cope with anxiety. Although we may knowingly use these mechanisms, in many cases these defenses work unconsciously to distort reality.

While all defense mechanisms can be unhealthy, they can also be adaptive and allow us to function normally. The greatest problems arise when defense mechanisms are overused in order to avoid dealing with problems. In psychoanalytic therapy, the goal may be to help the client uncover these unconscious defense mechanisms and find better, more healthy ways of coping with anxiety and distress.

Researchers have described a wide variety of different defense mechanisms. Sigmund Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud described ten different defense mechanisms used by the ego.

Defense Mechanisms and Ego Anxiety

Most notably used by Sigmund Freud in his psychoanalytic theory, a defense mechanism is a tactic developed by the ego to protect against anxiety. Defense mechanisms are thought to safeguard the mind against feelings and thoughts that are too difficult for the conscious mind to cope with. In some instances, defense mechanisms are thought to keep inappropriate or unwanted thoughts and impulses from entering the conscious mind.

In this blogger’s opinion, the concept of defense mechanisms demonstrated the absolute creative insights of Sigmund Freud. Why do I feel this way? Because I see them operate on a daily basis in myself and everyone I come in contact with. Where people with low or non-existent ego strength is concerned [unable at all to deal with ego anxiety], they often become victims of suicide, or have a complete mental breakdown where they must be institutionalized.

For example, at a less extreme level, if you are faced with a particularly unpleasant task, your mind may choose to forget your responsibility in order to avoid the dreaded assignment. In addition to forgetting, some other defense mechanisms include rationalization, denial, repression, projection, rejection and reaction formation.

The term “defense mechanisms,” or ways that we protect ourselves from things that we don’t want to think about or deal with, got its start in psychoanalytic therapy, but it has slowly worked its way into everyday language. Think of the last time you referred to someone as being “in denial” or accused someone of “rationalizing.” Both of these examples refer to a type of defense mechanism.

In Sigmund Freud’s topographical model of personality [if you recall earlier], the ego is the aspect of personality that deals with reality. While doing this, the ego also has to cope with the conflicting demands of the id and the superego The id seeks to fulfill all wants, needs and impulses while the superego tries to get the ego to act in an idealistic and moral manner.

What happens when the ego cannot deal with the demands of our desires, the constraints of reality and our own moral standards? According to Freud, anxiety is an unpleasant inner state that people seek to avoid. Anxiety acts as a signal to the ego that things are not going right.

Freud identified three types of anxiety:

  1. Neurotic anxiety is the unconscious worry that we will lose control of the id’s urges, resulting in punishment for inappropriate behavior.
  2. Reality anxiety is fear of real-world events. The cause of this anxiety is usually easily identified. For example, a person might fear receiving a dog bite when they are near a menacing dog. The most common way of reducing this anxiety is to avoid the threatening object.
  3. Moral anxiety involves a fear of violating our own moral principles.

In order to deal with this anxiety, Freud believed that defense mechanisms helped shield the ego from the conflicts created by the id, superego and reality.

Defense Mechanisms in General

Denial

Denial is probably one of the best known defense mechanisms, used often to avoid conscious fears and describe situations in which people seem unable to face reality or admit an obvious truth (i.e. “He’s in denial.”). Denial is an outright refusal to admit or recognize that something has occurred or is currently occurring. Drug addicts or alcoholics often deny that they have a problem, while victims of traumatic events may deny that the event ever occurred.

Denial functions to protect the ego from things that the individual cannot cope with. While this may save us from anxiety or pain, denial also requires a substantial investment of energy. Because of this, other defenses are also used to keep these unacceptable feelings from consciousness.

Repression

Repression is another well-known defense mechanism. Repression acts to keep information out of conscious awareness. However, these memories don’t just disappear; they continue to influence our behavior. For example, a person who has repressed memories of abuse suffered as a child may later have difficulty forming relationships.

Sometimes we do this consciously by forcing the unwanted information out of our awareness, which is known as suppression. In most cases, however, this removal of anxiety-provoking memories from our awareness is believed to occur unconsciously.

Displacement

Have you ever had a really bad day at work and then gone home and taken out your frustration on family and friends? Then you have experienced the ego defense mechanism of displacement. Displacement involves taking out our frustrations, feelings and impulses on people or objects that are less threatening. Displaced aggression is a common example of this defense mechanism. Rather than express our anger in ways that could lead to negative consequences (like arguing with our boss), we instead express our anger towards a person or object that poses no threat (such as our spouse, children or pets).

Sublimation

 

Sublimation is a defense mechanism that allows us to act out unacceptable impulses by converting these behaviors into a more acceptable form. For example, a person experiencing extreme anger might take up kick-boxing as a means of venting frustration. Freud believed that sublimation was a sign of maturity that allows people to function normally in socially acceptable ways.

 

Projection

 

Projection is a defense mechanism that involves taking our own unacceptable qualities or feelings and ascribing them to other people. For example, if you have a strong dislike for someone, you might instead believe that he or she does not like you. Projection works by allowing the expression of the desire or impulse, but in a way that the ego cannot recognize, therefore reducing anxiety.

Intellectualization

Intellectualization works to reduce anxiety by thinking about events in a cold, clinical way. This defense mechanism allows us to avoid thinking about the stressful, emotional aspect of the situation and instead focus only on the intellectual component. For example, a person who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness might focus on learning everything about the disease in order to avoid distress and remain distant from the reality of the situation.

Rationalization

Rationalization is a defense mechanism that involves explaining an unacceptable behavior or feeling in a rational or logical manner, avoiding the true reasons for the behavior. For example, a person who is turned down for a date might rationalize the situation by saying they were not attracted to the other person anyway, or a student might blame a poor exam score on the instructor rather than his or her lack of preparation.

Rationalization not only prevents anxiety, it may also protect self-esteem and self-concept. When confronted by success or failure, people tend to attribute achievement to their own qualities and skills while failures are blamed on other people or outside forces.

Regression

When confronted by stressful events, people sometimes abandon coping strategies and revert to patterns of behavior used earlier in development. Anna Freud called this defense mechanism regression, suggesting that people act out behaviors from the stage of psychosexual development in which they are fixated. For example, an individual fixated at an earlier developmental stage might cry or sulk upon hearing unpleasant news.

Behaviors associated with regression can vary greatly depending upon which stage the person is fixated at:

  1. An individual fixated at the oral might begin      eating or smoking excessively, or might become very verbally aggressive.
  2. A fixation at the anal stage might      result in excessive tidiness or messiness.

 

Reaction formation

Reaction formation reduces anxiety by taking up the opposite feeling, impulse or behavior. An example of reaction formation would be treating someone you strongly dislike in an excessively friendly manner in order to hide your true feelings. Why do people behave this way? According to Freud, they are using reaction formation as a defense mechanism to hide their true feelings by behaving in the exact opposite manner.

Other Defense Mechanisms

Since Freud first described the original defense mechanisms, other researchers have continued to describe other methods of reducing anxiety. Some of these defense mechanisms include:

  • Acting out – The individual copes with stress by engaging in actions rather than reflecting upon internal feelings.
  • Affiliation – Involves turning to other people for support.
  • Aim inhibition – The individual accepts a modified form of their original goal (i.e. becoming a high school basketball coach rather than a professional athlete.)
  • Altruism – Satisfying internal needs through helping others.
  • Avoidance – Refusing to deal with or encounter unpleasant objects or situations.
  • Compensation – Overachieving in one area to compensate for failures or inadequacy in another. Control freak.
  • Humor – Pointing out the funny or ironic aspects of a situation.
  • Passive-aggression – Indirectly expressing anger or just opposition.

While defense mechanisms are often thought of as negative reactions, some of these defenses can be helpful. For example, utilizing humor to overcome a stressful, anxiety-provoking situation can actually be an adaptive defense mechanism.

 

CONCLUSIONS

I spent a great deal of time in one of my undergraduate psychology classes several decades ago studying Sigmund Freud. Freud was a practitioner of psychoanalysis, theoretical scientist, and an author producing many books. I suggested before that Sigmund Freud was one of the greatest theoretical minds of the 20th Century; it’s absolutely true.

Criticizing Freud for lack of hypothesis testing is a mistake and it misses what science as a concept is really all about. Science is composed of four major components, although they may differ somewhat as to their relative importance to the scientific process of discovery. These components include: theory development (explanations with or without confirmation by testing) formal hypothesis testing, and the most important aspect of all science—observation. Observation is the cornerstone of all science. Part of observation is a fourth component, i.e. accidental or fortuitous findings (Think of Flemming’s discovery of penicillin, or Alexander Graham Bell’s experiments). All four components comprise the enterprise of science. All four components contribute to scientific discovery.

As most people know, Albert Einstein is regarded as the greatest scientist of the 20th century with his theories of special and general relativity. Yet, he left mostly to others to confirm his theories. Steven Hawking has never experimentally tested his ideas (except conceptually through mathematics) about Black Holes. Yet, some think he is the greatest living scientist alive today. Earlier in this blog I reported on an important quote from Freud himself on these notions of accepting tested probability statements as “truth.” Probability statements are not truth. What they consist of are stepping stones necessary for reaching agreement in theory development. Truth is what we agree it is—nothing more and nothing less. Once the testing is done someone must still put together the findings within a theoretical framework, meaning the scientific process is never ending. All science is conditional and all theories are subject to revision.

The greatest scientists however have never been those who simply test other’s hypotheses, but rather those who invent explanations for the behavior in question before the confirmations. The exception to what I’ve just said is Edward Hubble who used the telescope to confirm his own hypothesis that the universe is not static, but has been expanding since the “Big Bang.”

All I’m saying is that for an activity to be scientific it will involve one or more of these major components described above. Once again, there is hypothesis development (theories) and hypothesis testing (like in a laboratory or with statistics) or observation of raw data before theories or testing, and there are also accidental, serendipitous, or fortuitous discoveries as part of observation.

For example, digging up a brand new ancestor in the evolutionary line would require re-evaluation of existing theories on human evolution. That is, how does the new information fit with existing knowledge or theories on evolution? This might be followed by laboratory testing of the human remains. Presumably new theories would need to be generated that might alter our current understanding of human evolution based on the new find.

Often times those who develop explanations of human behavior (or the cosmos) leave such testing to others. Freud approached his work without statistical testing of large groups. He did conduct case studies and came away, through astute observation and insight, development and refinement of original concepts (or hypotheses to be tested) about human behavior.

Not everything Freud proposed (his later ideas about the death drive or instinct) has curried favor with the public or those in the scientific community. Freud believed very strongly in man’s contradictory tendency toward self-destruction as well as self-preservation. For Freud, it manifested itself outwardly at society in terms of aggression. There is great complexity in many of Freud’s concepts.

Given society’s collective aggression toward others (international conflict and the potential for human annihilation with a nuclear war) there is pause to wonder if man might not harbor a self-destructive instinct. Perhaps one day someone will find a way to empirically find such an instinct, or perhaps not. Perhaps the drive toward self-destruction doesn’t arise in the human psyche, but is the sociological nature or consequence of group interaction, cultural values, and sometimes unpredictable historical events. Only time will tell if Freud was on to something few of us really understand.

In this author’s opinion there are other reasons Freud’s work had obstacles to acceptance besides lack of extensive empirical research. I believe people often hated or despised Freud because his ideas conflicted with their puritanical social ideas of what is appropriate or moral behavior, for example the Oedipus complex or childhood sexuality. Our Victorian roots as a society are still with us, although often disguised as something else.

I think that Freud’s work is also rejected because it might have gotten close to the truth of why collectivities, such as groups, behave, particularly with reference to use of defense mechanisms. That is, groups use defense mechanisms as well as individuals [denial, rationalization, etc]. For example, some groups collectively use the sugar-coated notions of religion to deal with their internalized fear of the finality of death.  And governments engage in defense mechanisms, all the time, by denying their own culpability in generating armed conflict with other nations.

Final Thoughts

 

Ironically, as said before in Connections, it was a movie about Freud I saw in 1962 (with Montgomery Cliff as Freud) that motivated me to consider psychology as a major in college. In many ways I have Sigmund Freud to thank for my career. From my standpoint, his legacy is definitely assured in the scientific literature on human behavior.

Next time in Part III—I will describe eleven written works of Sigmund Freud including: Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Civilization and Its Discontents, The Ego and the Id, The Future of an Illusion, The Interpretation of Dreams, Introduction to Psychoanalysis, On Narcissism, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Studies of Hysteria, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, and Totem and Taboo.

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