Sigmund had an accomplished daughter, Anna Freud. A psychoanalyst in her own right she clarified some of the more peculiar mechanisms of the mind; how we cope and lie to ourselves and how the energy of our thoughts are misplaced or misdirected. For someone that is undeservedly forgotten outside of academia or the minds of knowledgeable feminists, it is remarkable how she changed our language.
When we speak of someone ‘projecting’ their values onto someone, or of the stages of ‘denial’ we are invoking the words of Anna Freud. Such words and the acceptance of their concepts have become common currency because of her minting. Yet other as insightful Psychological defence mechanisms of hers, detailed in The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence have not caught on quite as much, which is a shame. Such include:
Describes taking negative thoughts, fantasy, unsatisfied desires, trauma and sublimating them – that is reallocating them – into works of art or better habits. That the mad genius is not a myth seems to indicate how this happens. Unrequited love is soothed by poems and songs about it, the horrors of depression put into the most resonant literature. Loneliness provides the solitude to master. A high libido sublimates into athleticism.
A rationalisation is actually irrational but inevitable. We give a rationale to what goes wrong as ‘not meant to be’. A rejection for a job is followed by how you never wanted it; a rebuff followed by how little you wanted to speak with them; a failed meal is the result of your not wanting to cook (rather than just making mistakes).
Denial is lying to ourselves about the reality and problems because by denying their existence we save ourselves – erroneously since it can only be the shorter term – pain. ‘We are not in debt, it’s just temporary till a windfall comes in’ is a perfect example.
Displacement is a bad experience changing the mind and finding an outlet elsewhere. Getting bullied at school will make a child angry at home with their parents whom they have more control over. The anger is uncaused by the parents yet they are subject to its displaced need to react.
By putting issues into an over-thought and euphemistic scheme it becomes easier to deal with. Abandonment because of the decline of love chemicals can be used to intellectually justify someone leaving you–instead of the more simple factor of you being, say, disagreeable or stupid. It creates an objective ergo blameless reason. Intellectualisation can relate to sublimation too: where we withdraw into thinking or work to evade or overcome psychological damage.
Is an overextension or our self and values, where we assume the same tastes, experiences, feelings and therefore responses from others. Someone ignoring a Facebook message if you’re very conscientious and sociable enough to reply will perhaps be construed as rejection; when in fact they do not care at all about messages; it’s not not caring about you. That your partner does not want to have sex as much as you is probably not that they want someone else (though, they may) but because their mind is preoccupied with what your mind cannot know unless you ask, like a troubling colleague or a nightmare or relationship doubts. Your would-be reason is seldom theirs.
What Anna Freud names Reaction Formation, we call overcompensation. We overcompensate for our perceived weaknesses or initial response. Because we feel too much attraction to someone and are wary of that, we may overcompensate by being aloof. One can go from ‘exercising doesn’t matter’ to ‘exercise matter most’, from too little to too much. Selfish to annoyingly charitable and vice-versa, etcetera. These cycles occur again and again.
This is not science but intuitive analysis, that has caught on in the public imagination and even in spoken language. When a rom-com jokes that a man is ‘compensating for something’ by buying a Porsche it is, in so many words, saying penis anxiety results in an overcompensation: a showy car. In doing so, Hollywood too uses (and misuses) Austrian psychoanalysis.
We all defend our minds despite being unaware, and Anna Freud is on hand to remind us our mind is not always – if, at all – who we are or will ourselves to be.