Tag Archives: Defence Mechanism

Idealization Of Others : A Defense Mechanism Stemming From Childhood Trauma

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Within the discipline of psychology there exists a concept known as ‘splitting’.Splitting refers to a false perception of seeing others as either ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’. During childhood, this is normal. However, it can persist into adulthood, operating as a psychological defense mechanism, which prevents us from taking a more realistic, considered and complex view of others (ie seeing them as possessing a blend of positive and negative characteristics).

A main reason why we may continue to ‘split’ others when we become adults is that we suffered early childhood trauma which caused as to become psychologically arrested, or ‘stuck’ at the splitting stage.

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Above: Shakespeare’s Othello and Desdemona.

 

What is meant by idealizing another person?

When we idealise another person (often a person we would like to have a romantic relationship with) we see them through a distorting lenses so that they seem to us perfect in every way, or, as the name of the defense suggests, the ideal person.

However, because it is obviously impossible for someone to be perfect, s/he will, as surely as night follows day, inevitably fall sadly short of our stratospherically, over-exacting and unforgiving standards. In short, we have created an image of the person in our minds which may, in fact, have little in common with the person this image misguidedly represents.

Inexorably, then, initial intense infatuation, even worship, will be eroded away to leave us feeling bitterly disappointed, disillusioned, and betrayed.

 

How does this work as a defense mechanism?

When we idealise someone, it acts as a defense mechanism against acute feelings of inner pain and despair.

Our initial profound infatuation with the person creates a feeling similar to a drug-induced ‘high’ which temporarily elevates us out of our depression.

Unfortunately, however, our depression will return with redoubled severity when the idealised person fails to live up to our impossible standards.

Indeed, the very intensity of our feelings may themselves make the recipient of them feel uncomfortable and suffocated, thus being, in the final analysis, deeply counterproductive. That we are unable to see this at the time is part of the general irrationality of our feelings and concomitant behaviour (although it is worth pointing out that it could, conceivably, be argued that, for want of a better phrase, ‘normal love’ could not exist without its irrational aspects; my parents’ marriage to each other is a case in point here, I think).

Fantasy

Our idealised image of the person is, essentially, a fantasy we have created, existing only in our minds. In a sense, then, it is our imaginative process and its results that we are ‘in love’ with.

Similarity to hypomania

Hypomania is a state of excitement and heightened energy which is not as extreme as mania which occurs in people who are suffering from bipolar disorder. It is a way of escaping painful inner feelings and some experts believe that when we idealise another person it produces a similar feeling to hypomania.

Devaluation

Sadly for all concerned, when the idealised person fails to live up to expectations, the person who had idealised him/her and seen him/her as all- good may now suddenly switch to seeing him/her as all-bad (as splitting is still operating). Psychologists describe this as moving from idealising the person to devaluing him/her.

Needless to say, this leaves the originally idealized individual in a state of confusion and bewilderment.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

Intellectualization as a Defense Mechanism Following Childhood Trauma

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Intellectualization is a psychological defense mechanism which serves as an escape route from interacting on an emotional level with others, and the outside world in general, into the refuge of ‘the life of the mind’. People who employ this defence mechanism, then, prefer to ‘live in their heads’, finding participating overly in the harsh and unforgiving reality of the outside world somewhat distasteful and, therefore, best, as far as feasible, avoided.

Research shows that people who rely upon this defense mechanism tend to have had disrupted early relationships with their primary carer, especially the mother. Indeed, the psychologist, Winnicott, stated that a compulsive need to gain knowledge could be regarded as a kind of self-mothering – knowledge standing in as a substitute for the mother’s love/care/attention/interest (of which the individual was deprived).

Intellectualization can also be viewed as a type of dissociation, leading the individual to suppress/repress his/her emotions. This can be problematic as it is usually necessary to feel, and process, emotions connected to one’s childhood trauma in order to fully resolve one’s psychological difficulties that have arisen as a result of it. (Click here to read my article about childhood trauma and its link with dissociation).

The early traumatic experience of not forming a secure attachment to their primary caregiver disrupts affected individuals’ ability to self-sooth in response to stress and this inability can persist into adulthood.

As a result, such persons’ sympathetic nervous systems can become ‘stuck’ in a permanent and highly debilitating state of overarousal (I, myself, suffered from this for many years – it can be quite agonising).

Alongside this tormenting state of hyperarousal can often exist an unrelenting and merciless sense of profound dread (even though one is often unable to pinpoint why this should be so

The overarousal will inevitably manifest itself somatically and physiologically ( ie in the body) leading the individual with the need to dissociate, and disconnect, from his/her body and escape into a ‘life of the mind.’ Interacting with others also leads to extreme psychological discomfort.

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Therefore, those who suffer in this way will often choose careers involving solitary academic work, computer programming etc which minimises the need to mix with other people. Or they may become philosophers, possibly becoming great thinkers.

These individuals also tend to be exquisitely vulnerable to the effects of further stress in their lives and can feel like a frightened child forced to masquerade as a functional adult.

They tend, furthermore, to have a weak and hazy sense of their own identity and, as a result, their work can become very important to them as a way of bolstering this poorly formed sense of  who they are.

Most distressingly, too, such people often suffer from a deep inner conflict involving, on the one hand, being very frightened of interacting with others, yet, on the other, feeling a profound need to do so. So, they find themselves in the no-win situation of needing intimacy but being unable to tolerate it due to the level of psychological discomfort which it affords them.

As a result, those affected in such a way tend to feel utterly ’empty’. They will usually be aware that their compulsion to follow intellectual activities does not solve this problem, yet be too scared to change their focus in life.

My next post will examine possible ways to resolve this condition.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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