The ego, or sense of self, is remarkably fragile and requires protection. This is so regularly observed that it has become an undeniable truism in psychology. This protection is provided by the so-called "defense mechanisms," the aim of which is to shield the ego against any truths or facts which might threaten to overwhelm it—in other words, the defense mechanisms serve to protect the integrity of the ego. They are adaptive.
I would like to inquire what happens if a defense mechanism isn't used, or if it fails to protect the integrity of the ego?
What are potential outcomes of ineffective defense mechanisms?
Is the Ego shattered? And what would be the symptoms of this process? And if this did occur, how does the ego recover, if at all?
Thanks for those intelligent insights Dr Robert. The only issue that perplexes me is your view that no-one can help their defence mechanisms.
Is this really true when at their extremes, some are shifting blame, distorting and deflecting inescapable evidence of their behaviours, denying accountability and manipulating situations for their advantage to the detriment of other people's well being?
At the very least when someone is presented with clear proof that they are in denial, is it really true that they still do not have any insight into their behaviour? Some experiences I have had in this regard seem to show that confronted by such things some people either remain silent, having run out of excuses, or after a pregnant pause renew their denials after frantically searching their minds for yet further excuses or explanations.
Doesn't that indicate that they are consciously producing devious behaviour in order to head off the truth about themselves? If that is the case then are at least some defence mechanisms more conscious and calculating than we might have assumed?
The exposed ego cannot survive, so a defense mechanism is always needed and always used. The only possible exception might be the theoretical state of perfect enlightenment in which, it is said, the ego is "transcended," whatever that means. The question is not whether or if a defense mechaism is used, but how mature or archaic the particular mechanism is. For example, laughing at a joke about dying is on the mature side, while maintaining that I will never die because I am special and not, like other humans, subject to death, is archaic, meaning that it is a mechanism that normally would be used early in psychological development. If one mechanism fails to provide sufficient protection, another will take its place, even if that means that the person, for example, falls into a completely delusional state.
For example, if I habitually protect my weak ego by pretending superiority to others, and that fails because a number of people point out that I am not superior, I might have to fall back on the delusion that I have a special mission in the world which my critics simply cannot understand. We saw this kind of thing recently, as you remember.
You are most welcome. And welcome to the forum.
A person might consciously play around with facts by denying evidence of something, but that denial will not be a defense mechanism but rather an attempt to control or manipulate. Deviousness is not a psychological defense mechanism, but an attempt to fool someone else or gain some kind of advantage. A defense mechanism is an unconscious operation, not aimed at anyone else, but aimed internally at protecting the ego against disintegration in the face of an unacceptable truth. Although a defense mechanism is normally unconsciously employed, an aware and mature person could become aware of having used one—probably after the fact. I gave an example of this earlier in this thread:
When I asked everyone to stop flaming Adam, I probably, without realizing at the time, was employing a neurotic defense mechanism called "reaction formation," which means to replace an unacceptable impulse (I'm really enjoying seeing this guy who attacked me coming under some heavy fire himself. I hope they take off the gloves, and really sock it to him) with its exact opposite (Let's all be nice).
Here is one more example of a defense mechanism: I fail an exam and then tell myself that my failure was not due to my lack of preparation, but due to unfairness of the exam.
I hope this answers the questions you both posed.
Dr. Robert Saltzman,
Is it possible for one to erase from memory something he/she has said or done within seconds of saying or doing it, or it it more likely that person is lying?
This does not sound like idle curiosity. Why do you want to know this?
I want to know the answer because my husband has frequently denied saying or doing what I know he said/did when talking or otherwise interacting with me.
Maybe your husband is just a freaking liar like mine. It comes naturally to my guy. He lies to me about everything. Including that he has had several girlfriends since we got married. He denies it, but I know better. He even lies when he has no reason to lie. He just likes to lie.
When I read this, I was reminded of instances where I have heard something different from what was actually said.
Did they lie? Did I misunderstand? Did they forget what they said? I don't know. I just know that it wasn't clear to me.
Can you give more details? This questions begs for specifics. Otherwise, I just refer to my experiences, which are probably nothing like yours.
Very well put.