The concept of a defence-mechanism can seem complex and baffling when first learnt, yet it’s a simple idea that is sometimes explained in a cryptic fashion. At its core is the notion that we have a subconscious and a conscious awareness, and that our conscious awareness develops rationality rules according to our family and culture. Those rules may conflict with the reality of our experience or lead us to believe we are experiencing things which are fundamentally wrong.
For example, if we believe we are good people and in an ideology that states sexual attraction outside marriage is a sin, when we experience sexual attraction towards someone whom we find intensely desirable while not married, it will cause us anxiety on an ideological level. A conflict between seeing ourselves as good people and a perceived experience of sin will start a cascade of corrective emotions (such as guilt and shame) to motivate behaviours which will resolve the situation successfully so that we can continue to believe in ourselves a good people.
A defence-mechanism is when the subconscious recognises that the bundle of corrective emotions caused by the anxiety will create unnecessary reactions which are too stressful for the conscious mind to process and will negatively affect homeostatic regulation – perhaps leading to intense psychological conditions – so it blocks the conscious mind from perceiving the sexual attraction. As the conscious mind does not experience any sexual attraction out of marriage, there is no ideological conflict, so we continue with our day as normal thinking of ourselves as good people with no added stress.
That’s it. That’s the whole concept.
The subconscious blocks the conscious mind from experiencing an impulse, thought or emotion so that it (the conscious mind) can continue its day unimpeded by a burst of massive anxiety.
Defence-mechanism are particular problems for ideological people, for emotions have evolved to serve veridical perceptions of reality which have evolved over millions of years, and not a shallow ideological representation of it that has been concocted over a few decades. Our homeostatic nature is kept in balance by reacting to the environment/reality we perceive. Ideologies are not accurate representation of reality – indeed many suggest reality should be different than it is today – thus our emotions are not evolved to serve them, yet as they are perceptions which are believed, we react to them as if they are the reality of the situation. Therefore maladaptive emotions and behaviours are born. The subconscious recognises this and blocks the conscious mind from experiencing the impulse, thought or emotion which will lead to the maladaptive cascade.
It’s not a perfect solution at all, for if there are many ideological conflicts, the subconscious will be blocking many experiences of reality from being perceived – thus creating a personality which seems increasingly naive or even delusional.
1. An automatic reaction of the body against disease-causing organisms.
2. A mental process initiated unconsciously to avoid experiencing conflict or anxiety.