Psychology in Writing: Pathological Defense Mechanisms – Writing Process

Writing Process

E.J. Martin, Paranoia Stroll, 2003

E.J. Martin, Paranoia Stroll, 2003 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In our writing we’re not usually going to see our protagonists using pathological defense mechanisms unless the focus of our writing is on the madness (an excellent example of this would be the protagonist in Fight Club who split off his unacceptable behaviors into Tyler).  An exception would be mild levels of denial, distortion, or an inferiority complex that the protagonist would need to overcome, but the protagonist use of these defenses wouldn’t rise to the level of being a pathological defense.  Generally, in our writing the use of pathological defenses is going to be used to set up our antagonists.

The paranoia that comes with delusional projection can be seen in antagonists who surround themselves with a close group of friends, or guards, due to the fear of being found out or that that because of their diabolic ways everyone is usually out to get them.  While many people may not like them, only one person/group is usually out to get them in the form of our protagonists, ergo it is not a true fear of persecution (which wouldn’t be a defense, it would be the reality of the situation).  This close gathering of likeminded individuals can also help our antagonists strengthen and protect their defense mechanisms of denial and distortion.  The antagonist will surround her/his self with people who confirm her/his perception of reality, and if a person does not confirm it s/he is at best dismissed and at worst executed for trying to ground the antagonist in the reality of the situation.

Extreme projection, the rejection of an internal aspect of self and putting of it onto others, and a superiority complex can also frequently go hand in hand for our antagonists.  A corrupt leader may oppress their people for things that s/he cannot accept within herself, such as imposing a harsh religious organization on society because of the leader’s own desire for corrupt/impure things.  The recognition of this desire within the antagonist’s self, fuels her/his sense of inadequacy and personal failure, s/he may compensate for by developing a superiority complex.  The leader may present her/his self as above reproach and completely pure, which is why s/he should lead, for rejecting the rest of societies impurity (and for the time that s/he does not indulge it gives credence in her/his own mind that s/he is superior).

If tested by reality, as pathological defense mechanisms ultimately are, they cannot maintain their façade between the antagonists and the world.  Those who would use pathological defense mechanisms often suffer two defeats, not only do they lose their power/position/possessions, but they also lose their defenses and have to confront the raw reality that they ignored for so long.  If our antagonists are truly using pathological defense mechanisms, we can set them up to be tragic characters giving our reader something else to emotionally hang onto in our writing and make our writing more close match reality, in that there are rarely ever clean endings.


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