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In Freudian psychoanalytic theory, defence mechanisms or defense mechanisms are psychological strategies brought into play by various entities to cope with reality and to maintain self-image. Healthy persons normally use different defences throughout life. An ego defence mechanism becomes pathological only when its persistent use leads to maladaptive behavior such that the physical and/or mental health of the individual is adversely affected. The purpose of the Ego Defence Mechanisms is to protect the mind/self/ego from anxiety, social sanctions or to provide a refuge from a situation with which one cannot currently cope.
They are more accurately referred to as ego defence mechanisms, and can thus be categorized as occurring when the id impulses are in conflict with each other, when the id impulses conflict with super-ego values and beliefs, and when an external threat is posed to the ego.
The term “defence mechanism” is often thought to refer to a definitive singular term for personality traits which arise due to loss or traumatic experiences, but more accurately refers to several types of reactions which were identified during and after daughter Anna Freud’s time.
Structural model: The id, ego, and superego
The concept of id impulses comes from Sigmund Freud’s structural model. According to this theory, id impulses are based on the pleasure principle: instant gratification of one’s own desires and needs. Sigmund Freud believed that the id represents biological instinctual impulses in ourselves, such as aggression (Thanatos or the Death instinct) and sexuality (Eros or the Life instinct). For example, when the id impulses (e.g. desire to have sexual relations with a stranger) conflict with the superego (e.g. belief in societal conventions of not having sex with unknown persons), the feelings of anxiety come to the surface. To reduce these negative feelings, the ego might use defence mechanisms.
Freud also believed that conflicts between these two structures resulted in conflicts associated with psychosexual stages.
Definitions of individual psyche structures
Freud proposed three structures of the psyche or personality:
* Id: a selfish, primitive, childish, pleasure-oriented part of the personality with no ability to delay gratification.
* Superego: internalized societal and parental standards of “good” and “bad”, “right” and “wrong” behavior.
* Ego: the moderator between the id and superego which seeks compromises to pacify both. It can be viewed as our “Sense of Self.”