One of the most important processes in psychoanalytic theory is repression, the act of containingunacceptable psychic material in, or pushing it to, the unconscious. The process of repression is unconscious and is always involved in symptom formation, although not all repression results in symptoms. Repression uses psychic energy and can result in the person becoming developmentally “stuck” at the psychological stage of a traumatic event, a mechanism called fixation. Although some would characterize repression as one of the most important defense mechanisms (discussed later), Freud also wrote of it as a more general psychic process.



Identification is operating when the qualities of another person are taken into the individual’spersonality (Hall, 1954). For males, this process is the key to resolving the Oedipal complex (discussed later), but it is also seen in other situations in which individuals are threatened by another person. For this reason, this defense is sometimes referred to as identification with the aggressor, although identification through positive emotions is also possible.




Displacement occurs when an unwelcome impulse is deflected onto another person,

presumably someone who is less dangerous than the original target. The classic example

of displacement is the man who gets angry with his boss, but instead of aggressing against the boss, he comes home and yells at his wife, his kids, the dog, and the goldfish.




Projection is the externalization of an unacceptable wish. People who are paranoid, for

example, externalize their instinctual rage by perceiving others as out to get them. This

strategy reduces the anxiety associated with the aggressive drives by placing the aggression in the external world. In some cases, the projection of one’s aggression allows the angry individual to act on these urges and thereby achieve some degree of instinctual gratification.


Reaction Formation

Reaction formation occurs when an unacceptable urge is transformed into its opposite. Rage is transformed to love and sexual desire to hate. For example, a man’s rage against his younger sister that stemmed from sibling rivalry could be transformed into an overly solicitous love.



Sublimation, thought to be one of the healthiest of the defense mechanisms, is the funneling of the unacceptable impulse into a socially acceptable activity. For instance, Freud thought artists sublimated their libidos into creative products. Football players are likely sublimating aggressive drives. According to Maddi (1996), the expression of love toward a socially approved other is a form of sublimation because it represents the disguised expression of incestuous wishes (p. 39).



Regression is seen when a threatened individual retreats to an earlier stage of development, typically to one in which she is fixated. When the demands of a current situation are overwhelming and the person’s current defenses and ego operations are unable to handle the stress, she reverts to earlier ways of dealing with life. A school-aged child chastised forlying to a parent may resort to sucking her thumb or curling up in a fetal position to deal with the attack on the ego.


Source: Murdock, N. (2013). . In Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy (3 ed.).