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Freudian Defense Mechanism

by Gabby

Could someone please explain in simple terms what a Freudian defense mechanism is and provide a good example.

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by: Sofia

In psychology, defense mechanisms are ways that our mind uses to protect itself from uncomfortable or distressing thoughts, feelings, or memories. Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst, proposed several defense mechanisms as a part of his theory of the mind.

These mechanisms work at an unconscious level, meaning we are not usually aware that we're using them. They help us cope with anxiety and protect our self-esteem, but they can also distort reality to some extent.


One of the most straightforward defense mechanisms is denial. When someone is in denial, they refuse to accept the reality of a situation because facing it would be too uncomfortable. They may ignore or reject evidence that contradicts their belief.

Example: Imagine someone who smokes heavily and knows that it's harmful to their health. They may constantly tell themselves and others that smoking doesn't really cause any health problems, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. They might avoid going to the doctor for check-ups to prevent hearing bad news about their health.

In this case, the person is using denial as a defense mechanism to protect themselves from the anxiety and guilt associated with the knowledge that their behavior is harmful. It allows them to maintain a sense of comfort and avoid the distressing reality that they should quit smoking for their well-being.

It's important to note that while defense mechanisms can be adaptive in certain situations, they can also be maladaptive if overused. They can prevent individuals from dealing with problems effectively and may lead to psychological distress. In psychoanalysis, part of the therapeutic process involves helping individuals become more aware of and manage these defense mechanisms to promote healthier psychological functioning.

Related Information on The All About Psychology Website

Sigmund Freud Learn all about the profoundly influential life, work and legacy of Sigmund Freud..

Psychoanalysis Learn all about psychoanalysis.

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