Sigmund Freud was mostly correct about the use of defense mechanisms, which we unconsciously use to protect our delicate self images: 1) Denial– believing that what is true is actually false 2) Displacement– taking out impulses on a less threatening target 3) Intellectualization– avoiding unacceptable emotions by focusing on the intellectual aspects 4) Projection– attributing uncomfortable feelings to others 5) Rationalization– creating false but believable justifications 6) Reaction Formation– taking the opposite belief because the true belief causes anxiety 7) Regression– going back to a previous stage of development 8) Repression– pushing uncomfortable thoughts out of conscious awareness 9) Suppression– consciously forcing unwanted thoughts out of our awareness 10) Sublimation– redirecting ‘wrong’ urges into socially acceptable actions. He believed that these defenses are not under our conscious control and our unconscious will use one or more to protect one’s self from stressful situations. He considered them natural and normal, and without these, neurosis develops such as anxiety states, phobias, obsessions, or hysteria.
Where I differ from, or modify (because I cannot interview him about what he really believed, I can only read what he and others wrote) Freud is: What is “unconscious” shows up in behavior as automatic responses, and are therefore predictable, based on our past experience with someone. I’m sure you have noticed these patterns of behavior in others. But what about in yourself? Freud was hostile to religious faith, so he failed to use the counsel of scripture: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.“-Luke 6:41-42.
“Natural or normal” such mechanisms might be, but does it follow that we can’t rise above them? If our self image is based on false premises, invented memories or uninformed opinions, what is better, to protect that facade, or to seek the truth and follow that road? “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”-Matthew 7:13-14.
Most of those defenses play out negatively, by attacking others (displacement, projection), false beliefs (rationalization, denial, reaction formation) or stunted emotional growth (regression, intellectualization, repression). Repression and suppression may sound the same, but they are not the same. The former is wholly unconscious and tends to lead to neurosis. However, in the most stressful situations, like war, suppression is necessary for functioning–like men suppressing their fear. Much charity comes from sublimation. Even there, scripture is superior to Freud. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4.