Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist and the first person to ever devise a formal theory about the human personality, believed that one’s mental events could be divided into three categories:

Conscious mind: It consists of mental events in current awareness (I am typing out this sentence, at the moment)

Preconscious mind: It contains memories, feelings, thoughts and images that we are unaware of in the moment but can be recalled (my brother’s phone number or address) Happy Ho organizes best Meditation and Tarot classes in Noida and Delhi NCR area in India.

Unconscious mind: A dynamic realm of wishes, feelings and impulses that lie beyond our awareness (I want to physically hurt my friend)

Freud believed that the conscious and preconscious parts were only tip of the iceberg and it was the unconscious which greatly exerted control over our behaviour. And it was when this unconscious threatened to let loose, that we decided to use certain defence mechanisms in order to get rid of the conflict and anxiety caused in the process. 

Below is a list of some of the very interesting and insightful defence mechanisms, as outlined by Freud, along with an example for each (in italics):

A person who was sexually abused in childhood develops amnesia for the event.

Repression: An active defence process pushes anxiety-arousing impulses or memories into the unconscious mind.

A man who is told that his company is bankrupt now refuses to consider the possibility that he will not recover from this loss.

Denial: A person refuses to acknowledge the anxiety-arousing aspects of the environment. The denial may be of the emotions attached to the event or the event itself.

A man who is treated badly by his boss at the office displays no anger then but abuses his wife and children at home later on.

Displacement: An unacceptable or dangerous impulse is repressed, then directed at a safer substitute target.

A woman with strong repressed desires to leave her husband continually accuses him of wanting to leave her.

Projection: An unacceptable impulse is repressed and then projected onto other people.

A father who harbors feelings of resentment towards his son represses them and becomes overprotective about the child.

Reaction Formation: An anxiety-arousing impulse is repressed, and its psychic energy finds release in an exaggerated expression of the opposite behaviour.

A person who has been rejected in an important relationship talks in a highly rational manner about the “amusing unpredictability of modern day relationships”

Intellectualization: The emotion connected with an upsetting event is repressed, and the entire situation is dealt with as an intellectually interesting event.

A student caught cheating on the test justifies the act by saying that the professor doesn’t teach well and besides, everyone else was cheating too.

Rationalization: A person constructs a false but plausible explanation or excuse for an anxiety-arousing behaviour or event that has already occurred. 

A woman with strong sexual impulses becomes a painter famous for her nude artwork.

Sublimation: A repressed impulse is released in the form of a socially acceptable or even admired behaviour.

These mechanisms operate unconsciously, so people using them are usually unaware that they are using self-deception to ward off anxiety. Don’t worry, almost everyone uses these methods, but maladjusted people use them excessively in place of more realistic approaches to dealing with problems.