On the LP we think of the classic psychological defence mechanisms a little differently. While Freud thought of defence mechanisms as something that helped you repress your “disgusting” primitive instinctual urges, and while modern psychology thinks of them as ways to repress uncomfortable emotions, we think of defence mechanisms a little differently. We think of Defence Mechanisms in an evolutionary sense, as behavioural patterns that are selected and reinforced by evolutionary processes because of their contribution to the operation, defence, and survival of the Physical Unit, specifically through the strict avoidance of pain, which is a biological signal of a physical or psychological problem.

To be clear, when your body is in pain, something is wrong. Defence mechanisms were designed not only to alert you to the problem so you can use your brain to figure out a solution, but to react in cases where involvement of your neocortex isn’t required.

We can break defence mechanisms down into two broad groups, physical defence mechanisms and psychological defence mechanisms.

Physical Defence Mechanisms are defence mechanisms that operate through the somatosensory systems of the body. A physical defence mechanism might include a defence reflex1 designed to protect an individual from burns, or an emotion like fear designed to encourage a survival action (e.g., flight from a hungry tiger).

Psychological Defence Mechanisms are defence mechanisms that operate through the emotional and cognitive apparatus of the physical unit. Psychological defence mechanisms are psychological / behavioural patterns of thought and behaviour deployed by the Bodily Ego in an effort to

  1. reduce the likelihood of harm (e.g., the Fight, Flight, or Follow response), or
  2. reduce psychological pain, anxiety, anger, and sadness that might prevent optimal function or overwhelm the individual,2 what some call an Ego Threat (Newman, Duff, and Baumeister 1997), but would more appropriately be called, at least within the nomenclature of the LP, Bodily Ego Threat.

Most psychological defence mechanisms operate around the core or basic psychological defence which is repression. Repression is a sometimes conscious, often unconscious act of forgetting. One may forget a thought, an aspect of reality, the memory of an experience, or a physical act that one engaged in that causes the bodily ego pain. When something is too painful to recall, when the pain is so strong that recall threatens to undermine the normal functioning of the individual, repression may be invoked to prevent the emergence of the memory and permit normal function.

There are two basic reasons why recall may cause pain.

  1. There may be significant trauma attached to the thought, aspect of reality, memory, or action such that recall threatens to overwhelm the individual with negative emotions. For example, and individual forgets sexual assault because it is just too painful to remember. An abusive parent forgets that they abused their children when they were younger.
  2. The thought, aspect of reality, memory, or action may cause Disjuncture, thereby evoking painful intense guilt and shame. A corporate CEO may, for example, repress awareness of the pain and suffering caused by the use of child labour in sweatshop conditions in order to avoid feeling guilty. A corporate CEO may also suppress guilt and shame directly in the interests of “doing what needs to be done.”

On the LP, we call psychological defence mechanisms deployed to reduce awareness in order to mitigate pain the bodily ego’s experience of pain Awareness Reduction Mechanisms (ARMs).

Awareness Reduction Mechanisms (ARMs)

ARMs are psychological/behavioural patterns deployed by the bodily ego to help reduce emotional pain, anxiety, anger, sadness, and other strong emotions caused by the recall of trauma or the presence of disjuncture. The Primary ARM is repression. Repression is the basic awareness reduction mechanism your body uses to suppress awareness. Repression is simply the forced submersion of a thought, action, or event. Repression is a simple, neurologically based refusal to recall something that happened to you, something that you did, or some thoughts that you might think. Repression is initiated to avoid the stress, anxiety, and emotional pain (anguish, guilt, shame, sadness, etc.) that recall might bring. The more pain a remembering brings, the stronger the tendency and push to repress.

Individuals cannot usually rely on repression alone to prevent remembering. Life is full of triggers and associations that invoke painful memories and realities, and individuals are often challenged to remember things and be accountable. There are many instances, therefore, were primary repression fails. When that occurs, secondary and even tertiary ARMs may be invoked to reinforce repression, as for example when a memory is “triggered” or when an individual is challenged by an external source.

As noted above, there are two reasons why an individual may invoke primary and secondary ARMs to prevent recall, trauma and disjuncture.

Repression rooted in trauma: When one experiences a psychological trauma, like sexual assault for example, the event may, particularly if handled improperly, require repression in order to ensure ongoing functioning of the physical unit. Repression is not necessary if the event is treated properly and the individual is able to properly process in a supportive environment; however, in unsupportive conditions, for example, where the family or others (police, social services, etc.,) deny or blame the child/adolescent, repression may be necessary.

Note that it is not the individual’s inability to process and clear the emotions that is the root of repression. Studies demonstrate that when families believe the victim and are supportive, trauma is mitigated and victims are resilient. The root of the need to repress lies in the failure of the family and society to properly deal with the event, and especially when the victim is repeatedly victimized by family denial and censure, police insensitivity, and so on. When an individual learns that recall and discussion of the event, an already painful proposition, brings additional censure and pain, they learn to not remember—to repress.

The external imposition of suffering on an individual trying to remember something is important. Freud, the man who originally observed the mechanisms of repression in operation in Victorian society, suggested that people repressed because of unacceptable and shameful urges from the ID. In fact, people repressed because they were afraid to talk about their sexuality and sexual assault experiences because of censure from a prudish, repressed society, or because of censure from the many perpetrators that may have existed, both within the general population and within the psychological establishment itself (Masson 2003).

Repression rooted in disjuncture: When one engages in an unaligned action, one experiences disjuncture. When one engages in an act of disjuncture, Steering Emotions (e.g., guilt and shame) are deployed by the Spiritual Ego in an effort to “right the ship’s course,” so to speak, and realign the physical unit.

For example, a parent may psychologically abuse their child. They will know that this act is wrong at a deep level and they will experience guilt and shame as a result. If they choose to ignore the guilt and shame instead of acting to align their actions, guilt and shame will grow. In order to avoid being overwhelmed by guilt and shame, they can correct their behaviour. If they choose not to correct their behaviour, they may deploy various ARMs in an effort to reduce awareness of their disjunctive acts, and mitigate painful emotions. They may repress their memory of their abuse past or present. If challenged or triggered, they may utilize secondary ARMS. They may deny that the acts ever occurred. They may rationalize and intellectualize (what doesn’t kill ya makes you stronger) to add weight to their repression. They may compartmentalize (they never think about home while with friends, or at work). In order to “make up” for their abuse, they may become the “it” mom or the “dude” dad. They may also rationalize (it wasn’t so bad) to reduce awareness of negative consequences of their abuse, and so on and so forth. There are lot of different ARMs people can use to repress disjunctive actions or traumatic memories.

ARMs are complicated and interactive. The following table summarizes their functional characteristics as well as the general situations where they may be deployed. Note, repression is the primary ARMs. Other secondary arms are deployed to reinforce repressive efforts.

1https://dictionary.apa.org/defense-reflex

2For a possibly over comprehensive list, https://www.psychologistworld.com/freud/defence-mechanisms-list.

Summary of ARMs

Primary ARM

Mechanism

Description

Trauma

Disjuncture

Repression

Reduces awareness through a wilful act of forgetting…

We forget sexual assault and abuse from childhood

An abusive parent may repress awareness that their actions is abusive, or repress awareness of the consequences of abuse (i.e., they pretend the abuse is not damaging their children..

Secondary ARMs

Mechanism

Description

Trauma

Disjuncture

Denial

Related to gaslighting. An attempt to reinforce repression by verbal denial. Deployed when challenged.

That never happened to me.

I never hit my kids. There’s no evidence that spanking is harmful.

Rationalization
(making excuses)

A form of informational positioning: An attempt to reduce pain and disjuncture of an event or action by justifying the actions in a rational and logically plausible fashion.

Telling yourself that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. My childhood abuse made me what I am today.

Telling yourself that beating your children builds character.

Denying the true nature of your actions. Gossiping and undermining another person while pretending your actions are in their best interests.

Diversion/Distraction

Redirecting attention from trauma or disjunctive acts towards something different.

Children are talking about child abuse but a parent redirects their attention with treats or trips to Disney World.

Isolation
(a.k.a. Informational Positioning)1

A cognitive process involving the creation of a gap between an unpleasant or threatening cognition, and other thoughts and feelings. We remember “less often” by minimizing associative connections.

A person who begins a train of thought but switches because it brings them “Close” to remembering sexual assault. Conscious or unconscious Avoidance of triggers.

A person who begins a train of thought but switches because it brings them “Close” to remembering they are a perpetrator of sexual assault. Conscious or unconscious Avoidance of triggers.

Intellectualization

A form of informational positioning. Concentrating on the intellectual components of a situation so as to distance oneself emotionally.

An individual who has experienced sexual assault seeks information on other cases and the psychology of rapists and victims. The individual takes self-defence classes in order to feel safer rather directly addressing the psychological and emotional issues.

A pedophile having sex with 12-year-old intellectualizes by showing statistics that children legally marry adult men in some cultures..

Compartmentalization

A form of informational positioning. Involves breaking up your life into discrete, disconnected pieces.

When you come home at night, you block out exploitation and abuse you perpetrate at work. When you go to work in the morning, you block out awareness of the violence in the home. When you go to Church, you do not think about the hypocrisies in your daily life

Social Comparison

Comparing oneself to those worse off

My trauma was bad, but others had it much worse than I.

Parents suggest their abuse wasn’t as as bad as what other parents did. “Sure we spanked you, but at least we didn’t use belts like Jimmy’s dad.”

Avoidance/Withdrawal

Removing oneself from events, situations, and social interactions because to participate means being reminded of painful events

Tertiary ARMs

Mechanism

Description

Trauma

Disjuncture

Distortion

The deliberate and deceptive reshaping of self image and reality in order to make self or reality appear as something that it is not.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.This trope basically sends the message that abuse and trauma are good for you because they build strength and character, and make you a better person.

Reaction Formation

An attempt to reduce/redirect awareness by fixation on the opposite.

Includes things like self-serving bias, undoing, etc.

A gay man traumatized by homophobic parents and unable to express, expresses and lives and marries heterosexual in order to prove they are not gay.

A child with low self esteem because of negative interactions with parents, teachers, goes on to become a “rocket scientist” just to prove them all wrong.

A gay man taught to feel shame by homophobic parents and unable to express, expresses and lives and marries heterosexual in order to prove they are not gay.

A toxic family works hard to present an image of the perfect nuclear home.

The owner of a sweatshop dresses nice and inflates his “good deeds” in order to deflect attention from his bad ones. Donating a small portion of your great wealth to good causes because it makes you feel better about yourself.

A parent who abused their child becomes a Girl Scout Group leader to make up for it.

Sublimation

The transformation of unwanted ideas, emotions, and urges onto an alternative target.

An individual angry over sexual assault and unable to properly express/resolve that anger becomes a professional boxer in order to gain release.

An individual shamed about their sexual urges represses these urges and devotes their attention to artistic pursuits.

You have a desire to cheat in your marriage. In order to avoid the disjuncture, guilt, and shame this would cause, you focus your attention on other pursuits, like your car.

Projection

Projection of misaligned acts onto another.

An individual angry over sexual assault and unable to properly express, and feeling guilty about feeling angry, projects that anger onto others, seeing others as angry and hateful.

A CEO who is embezzling money from the company projects these disjunctive acts onto others and accuses employees of stealing.

Displacement

Redirecting anger, hatred, and other sequelea of trauma or disjuncture to an external target.

A male child who has been psychologically or emotionally abused by his mother grows up to consciously or unconsciously hate women.

A corporate CEO who feels intense guilt and shame because of the way they treat vulnerable workers seeks out “punishment” from safer sources, sources that do not raise awareness or invoke guilt and shame.

Gaslighting

Related to denial. A form of psychological manipulation in which a person covertly sows seeds of doubt in an individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or sanity,.

Gaslighting is a defence mechanism used when an individual

I didn’t scream at you and call you names when you are a child. You’re crazy.

I’m not being abusive, you’re being abusive.

Well what about the time you did that?

 

 

 

Functioning

ARMs work in three basic ways, by straight forward Awareness Reduction, by Awareness Redirection, and also by Sublimation. Note that ARMs are not mutually exclusive. An ARM like compartmentalization may help reduce awareness, redirect awareness, and sublimate negativity, all in one go.

Awareness reduction is pure repression, as well as ARMs deployed to reinforce that repression. Examples of ARMs deployed to reinforce repression include denial, distortion, regression, and compartmentalization.

Awareness redirection basically distraction. When we redirect awareness, we redirect awareness from a trauma or action we do not want to think about onto something that is less threatening. Examples of ARMs that help us redirect awareness include projection, informational positioning, gaslighting, displacement , reaction formation, sublimation

Finally we have sublimation. Sublimation occurs when we obscure our disjunctive thoughts and actions by superimposing acceptable thoughts and actions on them. For example, reaction formation, self-serving bias, and social comparison.

The Social Character of ARMs

It is is important to understand that beyond simple repression, most secondary and tertiary ARMs have a social component. An individual denies and gaslights, for example, not because they are spontaneously remembering but because someone in their social or family space is challenging their repression or triggering their memoirs.

Endnotes

1Undoing may serve as atonement if a) the individual first attempts to undo damage to the original victims and b) the undoing does not serve to repress awareness of one’s own disjunctive actions and realities.

2Isolation (a.k.a. Informational Positioning?) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isolation_(psychology)

3Compare against fixation which is getting stuck in an immature stage of development because of severe psychological trauma.

ARMs work in three basic ways.

References and Further Reading

Kinzl, J.F., Ch. Traweger, W. Biebl, and C Traweger. 1995. “Family Background and Sexual Abuse Associated with Somatization.” Psychotherapy & Psychosomatics 64 (2): 82.

Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff. 2003. “The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory.” 2003.

Modestin, Jiri, Roman Furrer, and Tina Malti. 2005. “Different Traumatic Experiences Are Associated with Different Pathologies.” Psychiatric Quarterly 76 (1): 19. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11089-005-5578-y.

Newman, Leonard S., Kimberley J. Duff, and Roy F. Baumeister. 1997. “A New Look at Defensive Projection: Thought Suppression, Accessibility, and Biased Person Perception.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, no. n5.

Book List

The Assault on Truth.- a fascinating and eye-opening read detailing how Freud caved to a bunch of pedophiles and child abusers.

Endnotes

3For a possibly overly comprehensive list, https://www.psychologistworld.com/freud/defence-mechanisms-list.

4Undoing may serve as atonement if a) the individual first attempts to undo damage to the original victims and b) the undoing does not serve to repress awareness of one’s own disjunctive actions and realities.

5Isolation (a.k.a. Informational Positioning?) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isolation_(psychology)

6Compare against fixation which is getting stuck in an immature stage of development because of severe psychological trauma.

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