Tag Archives: Defense Mechanisms

Three Unconscious Psychological Defenses Against Inner Feelings Of Shame

According to psychodynamic theory, if, as babies, we are subjected to significant emotional abuse by the primary caregiver (usually the mother) such as constantly being subjected to her extreme anger, rage and hostility, we are at risk of developing a profound and pervasive sense of inner shame – the unshakeable inner conviction that we are bad beyond redemption and worthless to humanity.

This can have extremely long-lasting, even lifelong (in the absence of effective therapy) effects, including great difficulty developing meaningful and satisfying relationships with others  and the unconscious adaptation of three main psychological defense mechanisms, according to the psychodynamic psychoanalyst, Burgo PhD.

inner shame

Burgo identifies these three psychological defense mechanisms against the almost unbearable emotional pain our feelings of inner shame cause us as follows :

1) NARCISSISM

2) BLAMING OTHERS

3) TREATING OTHERS WITH CONTEMPT

1) Narcissism : Narcissists feel a desperate need to be admired by others and to feel superior to them. They may try to achieve this through their appearance (expensive clothes, jewelry, cosmetic ‘enhancements’ etc), occupational/professional success, social popularity and various other means, ‘Above all, they need to be the centre of attention (even notoriety is better than being ignored in their eyes). Their interest in others tends to be superficial at best (unless it involves exposing said others’ weaknesses and ‘inferiority, of course).

All these devices are a largely unconscious (usually) way of trying to keep hidden, concealed and buried a (from themselves and others) their profound inner sense of shame and unworthiness.

2) Blaming others : Because those afflicted by deep, internal feelings of shame cannot bear to be reminded of their own imperfections or to have them exposed, they deflect any blame that it might be their responsibility to accept onto others.

3) Treating others with contempt : This psychological defense works in a similar way to the psychological defense of blaming others (see above). Viewing and/or treating others in a contemptuous manner is very frequently a projection of one’s sense of one’s own inferiority onto others.

RESOURCES :

 

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

Shame Caused By Childhood Trauma And How We Try To Repress It.

Effects Of Repressed Shame :

We have seen in other articles published on this site that if we have experienced significant childhood trauma we may, as adults, develop profound feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, self-hatred, rock-bottom self-esteem, feelings of being ‘innately bad’ and irrational self-blame for what we experienced. This pernicious brew of feelings about the self can devastate every area of our lives and cause us to live with a deep, abiding sense of shame.

Because feelings of such shame are so psychologically painful to live with, some individuals may develop certain psychological defense mechanisms (the cause of which is generally unconscious) in order to banish them from conscious awareness into the dark recesses of the unconscious where they simmer and fester.

According to the psychoanalyst, Joseph Burgo, PhD., the three main types of defense mechanisms we may unconsciously be driven to employ in a desperate attempt to avoid feeling this shame are as follows:

narcissism

– blame

– contempt

Let’s look at each of these defense mechanisms in turn.

NARCISSISM:

Narcissists have a relentless and desperate need to prove to both themselves and others that they are superior. They crave admiration from others and aspire to make themselves the object of great envy.

They feel that they must perpetually be the centre of attention and may be driven to achieve, or attempt to achieve, high social status (including ‘social climbing’), earning a high salary, and seeking positions of power.

Or they may always try to appear cleverer, wittier or more interesting than those around them (although these attempts, especially if perceived as desperate, generally serve only to annoy, irritate and alienate others, as opposed to enthralling them).

narcissistic defense

They tend, too, to treat others as if they are beneath them. However, their view of themselves as superior beings is often strongly out of kilter with reality – in other words, they may suffer something approaching delusions of grandeur. Indeed, they may provoke comments from others such as the following (overused) one: Who does she think she is? The Queen of Sheeba?’ Or others may regard them as a prima donna.

To reiterate, this constant need to view themselves as superior is a desperate attempt to avoid coming face-to-face with who they (deep down) believe they really are, as fully experiencing such a deep sense of worthlessness and shame is psychologically intolerable to them.

BLAME:

Because acceptance of failure would cause the individual who feels worthless and inadequate in the core of his/her being, and who needs to keep these feelings repressed, s/he cannot tolerate criticism and will shift the blame onto others when things go wrong. Such individuals may also be perfectionists.

CONTEMPT:

Another defense mechanism an individual may utilize in an attempt to keep feelings of shame buried in the unconscious is to ‘look down’ on others and to see them as inferior beings to be mocked or pitied. Such individuals may relish the humiliation of others and delight in their failures. The more s/he can view others as beneath him/her, the more effectively s/he can keep his/her own profound feelings of inferiority and shame at bay.

The Role Of Therapy:

Psychoanalysis can help the individual realize that his/her core feelings of inadequacy and shame, hitherto largely unconscious, were caused by his/her childhood trauma that the trauma was not his/her fault and by absolutely no means means s/he is inferior, worthless, or, in any way whatsoever, needs to feel ashamed. Under the supervision of a skilled therapist, this can cause the individual’s dysfunctional defense mechanisms to start to melt away so that s/he may start to live an altogether more authentic life.

DEALING WITH GUILR AND SHAME : SELF HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS. CLICK HERE.

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

Childhood Trauma : Defense Mechanisms Resulting from Stress.

defense mechanisms and childhood trauma

Childhood Trauma And Defense Mechanisms

In our response to stress resulting from our childhood trauma and other factors we often develop psychological DEFENSE MECHANISMS in an attempt to protect ourselves (though, very often, we are not consciously aware that many behaviours/defense mechanisms we have developed have developed in order to try to reduce the adverse effects of stress (though not all, eg CONVERSION – see below).

Often, however, the behaviours we develop which serve as these defense mechanisms to protect ourselves against stress are, at best, unhelpful, and, at worst, extremely damaging. I list and give a brief description of the main defense mechanisms that may develop below:

1) COMPENSATION: this behaviour occurs to offset a weakness or failing in ourselves eg someone who has very low self-esteem becoming a workaholic in an attempt to gain social status.

2) CONVERSION : anxieties can be CONVERTED into physical symptoms eg racing heart, sweating, high blood pressure, psychosomatic illnesses.

3) DENIAL : this defense mechanism is well known and the term has entered into the realms of popular vocabulary. It refers to a situation in which someone will not acknowledge something is wrong (eg after being told by a doctor one has only 3 months to live).

4) DISPLACEMENT : this is when we transfer the emotions we feel caused by one person onto somebody else who has nothing to do with how we’re feeling eg a man badly treated by his boss at work coming home and taking his anger and frustration out on his children.

5) DISSOCIATION : this is when we avoid examining how our behaviours relate to our beliefs by avoiding looking, too closely, at this relationship eg seeing ourselves as caring and compassionate but doing little or nothing to help others

6) FIXATION : this is when we have behaviours which stay fixed at an earlier stage of development and are therefore not appropriate to the life stage the individual is at eg a middle-aged remaining highly emotionally dependent upon his parents

7) IDENTIFICATION : this is when we behave, dress etc in a way which duplicates the way the person we are modelling ourselves on would behave and dress etc (this can occur on both conscious and unconscious levels and is not considered abnormal in young people).

8) INTROJECTION : this is when we turn our feelings towards others onto ourselves. Freud, for example, believed someone who is clinically depressed has, unconsciously, turned his/her anger with another/others onto himself and is, therefore, in effect, punishing him/herself with his/her depressive feelings in a way he/she unconsciously wishes to inflict upon others.

9) INVERSION : this is where we REPRESS a desire which we are uncomfortable having and act in a way which expresses the opposite eg a repressed homosexual who acts in an obsessively homophobic manner. This often occurs on an unconscious level.

10) PROJECTION : this is really the opposite of introjection (see above). It is where we constantly see faults in others which we, ourselves, are ashamed of and feel guilty about having eg constantly pointing out selfishness in others when we ourselves are ashamed of our own selfishness. Again, this can occur on an unconscious level.

11) RATIONALIZATION : this is when we, in effect, deceive ourselves and tell ourselves that something we have, in fact, done due to bad motives we have really done for socially acceptable reasons eg a man who divorces his wife and leaves his young family may tell himself it’s in the best interests of everyone, when, really, deep down, he is doing it purely in his own interest

12) REGRESSION : this is when we go back to behaving in a way that is no longer appropriate and would usually only occur at a much younger age eg a middle-aged man having a child-like tantrum.

13) REPRESSION : this is when we, unconsciously, bury feelings and attitudes which are unacceptable to us, and contrary to our moral beliefs, deep in the mind away from conscious access eg an illicit sexual attraction. When we consciously bury feelings that we are not comfortable with (often referred to in popular language as ‘putting something to the back of our mind’) it is called SUPPRESSION.

14) RESISTANCE : this is where there is a barrier between what we have repressed/banished into the unconscious mind. In other words, what we have repressed is not allowed conscious access. Freud believed this process meant the psychological tension produced by keeping the feeling, memory etc repressed can’t be resolved and so perpetuates the emotional pain that the individual is feeling.

15) SUBLIMATION : this is where the energy associated with feelings that are unacceptable to us (usually sexual, according to Freud) and buried in the unconscious mind is channeled into something else that is socially acceptable. Unlike many of the other defence mechanisms that I have described, this can be very positive, and, even, Freud thought, produce great art.

16) TRANSFERENCE : this is where feelings and emotions we have about a particular individual are transferred onto somebody else who was not the original cause of them. For example, an individual in therapy who transfers the feelings of hatred he feels towards his mother onto the therapist.

17) WITHDRAWAL : this is when we just cut off from a stressful situation, give up, lose interest and become apathetic eg a man who stops trying to make conversation with his wife or take any interest in her after the relationship has been very difficult for a long period of time and he can no longer cope with it

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depression and anxiety

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