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Reaction formation

Having dangerous ideas, emotions  or impulses

Prevent dangerous ideas and emotions from being expressed by expressing opposite behaviour

Sara lavishes praises on her younger sister when in reality she is jealous of her sister


Feeling anxious or threatened

Retreat to childlike behaviour and defences

Crying, throwing a tantrum, speaking in childish manner, yelling, bed-wetting are some examples of regression


Having uncomfortable, painful or dangerous thoughts

Prevent or exclude the thoughts from entering awareness or consciousness

We try to forget hostile feelings toward a family member, past failures and  embarrassments


Having unmet desires or unacceptable impulses

Redirecting or working out the energy in more socially acceptable activities.

People channel their high level of frustration, aggressive or sexual energy into sports, arts or politics.

   Figure 2.3: Psychological Defence Mechanisms as a Way of Coping with Stress

[source: Corey, G. (2005). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. (7th ed.). USA:


a) Defence Mechanism

When a person experiences anxiety, he or she will seek for a solution that is often times in the form of ineffective behaviour or embarrassing action. In order to reduce anxiety, the person may unconsciously react in a defensive way to reduce stress. Such defensive ways of coping with anxiety is called defence mechanism. A defence mechanism if used appropriately will reduce the tension for a temporary period. However, if it is used repeatedly, the person may become inefficient in handling problems since he or he has gotten used to finding excuses or explanation that give false solutions. Common defence mechanisms include denial, rationalization, intellectualization, projection, regression and displacement (see Figure 2.3).

b) Consciousness and Unconsciousness

Another contribution of Freud to the understanding of human behaviour is the concept of consciousness and unconsciousness. According to Freud, humans are unaware of much of their mental processes. The unconscious mind consists of all the instincts, wishes and experiences that are mainly unacceptable to be acknowledged, recognised or expressed. Though consciously unaware of these repressed motives, they influence and sometimes govern behaviours. Only about ten percent of the mind is above the surface of awareness. The main idea is that people often do not understand why they behave as they do due to unconscious motives, which need to be identified through counselling.

Figure 2.4:

The Iceberg Theory of Unconsciousness

10% consciousness



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