Theories of Personality 9th Edition

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Chapter 2 Freud: Psychoanalysis 39

fearful object. We would experience fear, for example, if our motor vehicle sud-
denly began sliding out of control on an icy highway.
These three types of anxiety are seldom clear-cut or easily separated. They often
exist in combination, as when fear of water, a real danger, becomes disproportionate
to the situation and hence precipitates neurotic anxiety as well as realistic anxiety.
This situation indicates that an unknown danger is connected with the external one.
Anxiety serves as an ego-preserving mechanism because it signals us that
some danger is at hand (Freud, 1933/1964). For example, an anxiety dream signals
our censor of an impending danger, which allows us to better disguise the dream
images. Anxiety allows the constantly vigilant ego to be alert for signs of threat
and danger. The signal of impending danger stimulates us to mobilize for either
flight or defense.
Anxiety is also self-regulating because it precipitates repression, which in
turn reduces the pain of anxiety (Freud, 1933/1964). If the ego had no recourse to
defensive behavior, the anxiety would become intolerable. Defensive behaviors,
therefore, serve a useful function by protecting the ego against the pain of anxiety.

Defense Mechanisms

Freud first elaborated on the idea of defense mechanisms in 1926 (Freud,
1926/1959a), and his daughter Anna further refined and organized the concept
(A. Freud, 1946). Although defense mechanisms are normal and universally used,
when carried to an extreme they lead to compulsive, repetitive, and neurotic behavior.
Because we must expend psychic energy to establish and maintain defense mecha-
nisms, the more defensive we are, the less psychic energy we have left to satisfy id
impulses. This, of course, is precisely the ego’s purpose in establishing defense
mechanisms—to avoid dealing directly with sexual and aggressive implosives and
to defend itself against the anxiety that accompanies them (Freud, 1926/1959a).
The principal defense mechanisms identified by Freud include repression,
reaction formation, displacement, fixation, regression, projection, introjection, and


The most basic defense mechanism, because it is involved in each of the others,
is repression. Whenever the ego is threatened by undesirable id impulses, it pro-
tects itself by repressing those impulses; that is, it forces threatening feelings into
the unconscious (Freud, 1926/1959a). In many cases the repression is then per-
petuated for a lifetime. For example, a young girl may permanently repress her
hostility for a younger sister because her hateful feelings create too much anxiety.
No society permits a complete and uninhibited expression of sex and aggres-
sion. When children have their hostile or sexual behaviors punished or otherwise
suppressed, they learn to be anxious whenever they experience these impulses.
Although this anxiety seldom leads to a complete repression of aggressive and
sexual drives, it often results in their partial repression.
What happens to these impulses after they have become unconscious? Freud
(1933/1964) believed that several possibilities exist. First, the impulses may remain

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