Defense mechanisms


As per Sigmund Freud the human mind is divided into 3 components, that is, unconscious, subconscious/preconscious and concious. Ego defense mechanism is a manifestation of the subconcious mind of humans. Let us first understand what are these three types of minds or conciousness level

Unconscious mind

It is considered to be the largest part of the mind. This part consists of memories or beliefs which the person is not aware about or has completely forgotten about it. This is not an active part of the mind. 

Subconscious mind

This is that part of the mind which has past memories stored in it. The person has forgotten about those memories  but can recall it with effort and external help like hypnosis. This part of the mind is smaller than unconscious but larger than the conscious mind. Subconscious mind is most active during sleep or in a meditative state.

Conscious mind

This is the active part of the mind of which a person is aware all the time. This part is the smallest of all three and keeps the individual going in their daily lives. The functioning of an individual is largely carried out by the conscious mind.

Human personality is built by the interplay of the conscious,  subconscious and the unconscious. Sigmund Freud also gave three components which build the personality of an individual, that is, Id, Ego, Superego. 


These are the natural impulses present in human beings like, feeling of thirst, hunger, anger etc. These are present since the time of the birth of an individual and works on pleasure principle as the sole motive of Id impulse is to derive pleasure.


These thoughts and feelings are the result of the moral teachings given to the individual as he/she grows up as part of the socialization process. This works on the morality principle as the sole aim is to prevent a person from exhibiting socially unacceptable behaviours.


It is that part of personality which tries to balance the Id and the superego. It works on the  reality principle, as it  aims to make an individual a normal functional human being. It is also called the rational part of the mind.  

Ego Defense mechanisms

Defence mechanisms are the manifestation of the subconscious mind of an individual. These are strategies used by an individual unconsciously to prevent oneself from any feeling of anxiety or guilt, hence the name defense mechanism. When the superego or the Id becomes too dominant, the ego comes to defense in a subconscious state. Some of the commonly used defense mechanisms are:


This is a mechanism to suppress any undesirable feeling which may be of grief or guilt. The person does not express or let out the emotions arising out of such a situation and suppresses it. The feeling does not exist in the conscious mind but remains in the subconscious or unconscious mind and may manifest later in some type of abnormal behaviour or physical pain.


A child may lose its parents in a civil war but does not cry or express grief at that time but the feeling remains in the subconscious and may result in hatred towards a particular group.


When an individual starts showing behaviours which are not appropriate to his or her age but of an earlier stage of life, it is regression meaning going back.


When an adolescent starts to cry like a baby on small incidents, or starts to   play with toys, this is a sign of regression.


In this case if the person has  any negative feelings towards another person and is not able to vent out his feelings in front of that person then he vents it out in front of someone who is less powerful than him.


If a child gets scolded by his parents then the child may go and vent out his frustration in front of his younger sibling. Similarly, if a  person gets scolding from his boss, then he may vent out his anger on his wife.

Reaction formation

In this case if a person has such  feelings towards another person which is considered inappropriate then the person starts to behave with the person in exactly the opposite way. This happens usually in a group setting.


If a person hates his colleague and fears that his hatred might be discovered by others , then he starts to behave in the most polite and affectionate manner with his colleague. By doing this he is covering his hatred towards him.


If a person does something which is considered as wrong then he gives a rationale or justification for the act. By doing this he saves himself from the feeling of guilt. 


A person steals money from someone’s wallet  and rationalises it by thinking that his need was urgent and that person already had a lot of money and this small amount won’t make a difference to his life.


In this case an individual may have negative feelings towards a person but as per his moral values it is not appropriate to have this feeling. Therefore, the person in order to get rid of the guilt of having this negative feeling uses defense mechanism and makes himself believe that the other person has negative feeling towards him. 


A woman might be jealous of other women but through her behaviour shows that the other woman is jealous of her.


In this case a person does not accept a situation in his life as reality. Since accepting that situation might be a cause of pain and anxiety therefore the person completely denies the fact.


A person might lack a skill for a particular job. In spite of it being conveyed to him he completely denies it. 


If a person suppresses a natural desire since expression of it is considered inappropriate then some people express those natural desires in a higher order which is considered intellectual or constructive as per societal standards. They are said to be in a sublime state.


Artists expressing their sexual desires in the form of paintings. Poets expressing their feelings through their poetry.


After reading this article you might have got an understanding about the human mind and the defense mechanisms of the ego mind. These are very powerful and if unchecked may lead to abnormality.

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