Psychological Defense Mechanisms
Psychological defense mechanisms are maneuvers employed by the subconscious mind to protect and serve our various ego states — These become the dynamics of our relationship with self. Subconscious conflicts between neural networks are mediated by psychological defense mechanisms reduce the anxiety created by these conflicts: Subconscious conflicts between neural networks are mediated by psychological defense mechanisms to reduce the anxiety created by these conflicts:
Subconscious Defense Mechanisms and Neural Networks
Since the human brain has complexity, there are “multiple minds” known in Transactional Analysis as Ego-States. It follows that each of these Ego States… or neural networks… have their own preferred set of psychological defense mechanisms. In order to look at how these Ego States interact and influence each other, we need to define these two terms…
Interpersonal – concerning relationships between people.
Intrapersonal – concerning relationships between aspects (parts) of self… a relationship with the self requires more than one player!
Many of us have heard this statement before — “In order to have a good relationship with others we must first have a good relationship with our self”.
The first time I heard this statement it intuitively made sense to me but I didn’t know why — Now I do…
- I must develop enough self-awareness to understand how all my parts are “configured” — how they get along with each other — in order to create a good relationship between my parts. And…
- How the various parts of myself interact or “get along with” each other… Intrapersonally… will influence and affect how I interact with others… Interpersonally. In other words, how my parts get along with each other and your parts get along with each other will determine how well our parts play together.
Psychological Defense Mechanisms & Ego States — Various Configurations
Adult Ego State – In a healthy adult, the Adult is the primary ego state for making decisions, solving problems, getting the job done and other executive functioning. In healthy adult relationships, it’s also the primary ego state for interpersonal functioning. Occasionally, in intimate relationships, it’s healthy and important to use the psychological defense mechanism of regressing into the Natural Child ego state so they can play together. At other times it’s healthy to move into Parent ego state to provide nurturing and support to a friend or partner who is in a Child — for example, during times of grief and loss.
Adapted Child Ego State – The “Parent-in-the-Child” is the neural network that “adapted” to the dysfunction of the family… A child is born into the world with all the Natural Child qualities and psychological defense mechanisms. The child in a less-than-nurturing family must use psychological defense mechanisms to adapt because it’s not okay to ask directly for what you need, express certain feelings, or break certain unspoken rules.
The Adapted Child learns, by way of the Little Professor, how to “configure” or arrange the following ego states and psychological defense mechanisms to get its needs met. Being necessary for survival, these defensive maneuvers were appropriately termed survival skills. While useful and necessary during childhood, survival skills do not make good substitutions for the coping skills of a healthy adult human being.
- Critical Parent Ego State – The Critical Parent ES is that network that has recorded on it all of the childhood messages of parents and other authority figures — in other words, an Introject Many of the messages were assimilated (accepted as part of self)… “look both ways before you cross the street”. Others were “taken in” but not assimilated (introjects)because they created limitations and barriers to intimacy…“don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel”.These are also known as Injunctions in TA language. Most of us alternate between being an Internalizer and an Externalizer but we tend to fall closer to one end of the continuum than the other. Internalizers tend to turn their critical parent messages inward to create (Introjection) and perpetuate what we know as low self-esteem and negative self-talk. Externalizers turn their CP messages outward (Projection) to create and perpetuate what we know as grandiosity or narcissism. These characteristics of self-centeredness (aka “Big Ego”) are created by the psychological defense mechanism of reaction formation.
- Angry/Defiant Child Ego State – The Angry/Defiant Child is the network that developed somewhere in the modeling period between 9 and 13 years old…usually closer to 12 or 13. It’s the part of us that learns to resist and endure abusive, hurtful behavior from others. If we grew up in a family where expressions of anger or defiance were strictly prohibited, it was important to repress our Angry/Defiant Child ego state. Another term for this psychological defense mechanism of disowning a part of yourself. Repressing our Angry Child frequently results in the polarizing effect of strengthening our Vulnerable Child — another reaction formation. With a Pronounced Vulnerable Child and a Repressed Angry/Defiant Child, it becomes difficult, if not almost impossible, to set healthy boundaries and protect ourselves — our anger helps us set our boundaries so we can maintain our separateness or autonomy.
- Vulnerable Child Ego State – The Vulnerable Child is the network that developed during the imprint period — 1 to 7 years old…usually between 3 and 6 years old. If we grew up in a family where tears, crying, and other expressions of vulnerability were prohibited then we had to learn to repress or disown, our Vulnerable Child ego state. Repressing our Vulnerable Child frequently results in the polarizing effect of strengthening our Angry/Defiant Child — again, a reaction formation. With a Pronounced Angry/Defiant Child and a Repressed Vulnerable Child, it becomes difficult to feel compassion and empathy for others — Our ability to be vulnerable allows us to let the walls down so we can connect emotionally to others in a healthy way.
Little Professor Ego State – The “Adult-in-the-Child”, aka the Little Professor, is that smart, intuitive, creative and manipulative part of us that helps the Adapted Child learn how to get what it needs. When we grow up in a less-than-nurturing family the Little Professor is the neural network that works behind the scenes to gather and store data about what works and what doesn’t work.
If you’ve ever seen Candid Camera or any other show where they interview little kids about life…then you have seen the Little Professor in action. The kids can be hilarious because there is usually quite a bit of accuracy to their intuitive but far out answers. The Little Professor is the network that later branches out and expands into the Adult… They are both “computers”, but the Adult has data in the form of experience and wisdom on the hard-drive — All the Little Professor has to go on is instinct and intuition.
The Adult and Little Professor make a good team when creativity is needed – such as designing a new amusement park or roller coaster ride. It’s the Little Professor, with feedback from the environment, that configures the above childhood ego states…survival is its prime directive so whatever it takes to survive will become habits that follow us into adulthood.
When a trigger comes along, the appropriate ego state is activated. The program for that situation runs automatically and right on cue…with all the feelings, beliefs, attitudes, defenses and experiences of that part of self.
Psychological Defense Mechanisms – A Scenario
Okay…Now that we’ve laid a foundation we can play around with how these defense mechanisms work in regards to Ego-States — let’s say a little boy or girl was not allowed by his/her parents to express anger in any way without serious risk of abuse…
Intra-personally – S/he would have to repress those emotions which would eventually lead to a wholesale disowning of his or her Angry/Defiant Child Ego State. The lack of connection with his or her Angry/Defiant Child is likely to result in an inability to be assertive or speak-up for him/her self — it’s our anger that gives us the power to do that.
It’s likely to result in this person frequently regressing into their Vulnerable Child who is scared, timid, and unable to set boundaries. S/he may even compound his/her sense of powerlessness with moderate-to-severe introjected Critical Parent messages by way of self-talk.
Inter-personally – S/he is prone to finding a mate who is “stuck” in his or her Angry/Child Ego State so s/he can consciously experience his/her subconscious anger through projection …this may be the only way someone stuck in Second Position can experience certain parts of themselves. Their angry/critical mate knows how to “dance the dance” of the Drama Triangle taught to them by their angry/critical parents.
Go to Marriage Help to learn how to overcome these dynamics in your relationship.