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Concepts Explained

Defence Mechanism

A defence-mechanism is the name of the psychological process that our unconscious employs to protect us from unacceptable thoughts, feelings and impulses. We can be aware of the activity on the edge of our awareness, so the process is not entirely unconscious. Yet the prompts stem from an 'unconscious fear' of information that will cause conscious anxiety.

Ignorance is probably the most commonly employed defence-mechanism and it's called denial when its prompt is from our unconscious. Our conscious minds have psychological architectures which are as individual and complex as our personalities. If information would weaken, cause disturbance to or break a part of that structure, then on an unconscious level we fear letting that information into conscious awareness.

This is the essence of all defence-mechanisms. We 'unconsciously fear' admitting an impulse, feeling or thought into conscious awareness. This includes the 'unconscious fear' of admitting we're wrong. We can feel frightened about looking at ourselves in particular ways. Defence-mechanisms protect our subjective view of the world and psychological makeup from conflicting information.

On a perceptual level, it is about keeping things at bay that we may not consciously be able to handle or ignoring information that is unnecessary to incorporate. If the situation is temporary, we may not have to develop a way to deal with the information that is making us anxious, especially if the situation doesn't occur again. From an evolutionary perspective, there is no point spending time and energy introducing information into our psychological architecture if it is not going to be of value. Yet if the thoughts, feelings or impulses we are susceptible to are present on an ongoing basis, then we will need to develop a way to deal with them effectively and consciously.

We all use defence-mechanisms. They are part of a healthy filtering process that enables each of us to deal, more comfortably, with the vast amount of information that we encounter in our everyday lives. However, when defence-mechanisms such as denial are over-used, our internal-frame-of-reference becomes overly sheltered from reality. This means that we are more at risk from breakdowns of our mental structures from seemingly everyday information. If we have not adapted to all the information we have ignored, we do not know what to do when faced with that information. Increasingly defensive reactions can develop in regard to an increasingly fragile and sheltered subjective view.

Cognitive-avoidance is a newer term that describes the same process, whilst generally having more emphasis on consciously avoiding information that leads to detrimental situations. Research has proven that people who cognitively-avoid an uncomfortable issue are then vulnerable to crisis when the issue is encountered. Therefore 'bad' situations can unfold and we are helpless and fearful when the situations are unavoidable, because we have ignored their progression. These are possibilities to consider when ignoring uncomfortable truths, as prevention is better than cure. We should not deceive ourselves that ignorance is always bliss.

It is not that thoughts, feelings and impulses are acceptable or unacceptable for everyone, but rather that the information does not fit comfortably into our psychological structure. Defence-mechanisms always relate to information that will take effort, energy and time to integrate.

Defence Mechanism

Freud = Unconscious psychological strategies bought into play to cope with reality.

1. An unconscious filtering of information to protect our view of ourselves and our view of the world from seriously conflicting information.

2. A subconsciously motivated denial of information to keep anxieties out of conscious awareness.

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