Psychology in Writing: Neurotic Defense Mechanisms – Writing Process

The Protagonist is always right.

The Protagonist is always right. (Photo credit: tsuihin – TimoStudios)

Writing Process

The neurotic defense mechanisms are probably going to be better served as challenges to our protagonists more than our antagonists.  As we covered previous, the pathological and immature defenses blog posts these defenses tend to be more in the wheelhouse for our antagonists (though that’s not to say that a couple of the neurotic defense mechanisms couldn’t liven up an antagonist).  As I’ve said throughout the posts this week, the neurotic defense mechanisms are used to some extent by most adults and can provide a solid internal conflict for our protagonists to resolve.  I won’t go through each of the neurotic defense mechanisms in detail since I did that in the previous post, instead I’ll hit some highlights on how we can incorporate these mechanisms into our writing.

Many of the neurotic defenses are responses to social situations so they can provide external conflict that causes an internal conflict through our protagonist’s self-reflection.  Displacement is a common defense that can cause issues within a team; our protagonist, not able to stand up to a dissenting member of the team, may bully another team member, or feeling helpless and unable to confront the antagonist may lash out at others around her/him that are trying to help.  Another common defense mechanism is the heroic protagonist’s struggle with intellectualization.  In order to suppress the costs of a quest, which may include a lost home, lost dreams, and loss of life of friends and family, a hero may intellectualize the quest, distancing her/him from the actual emotional cost.  This can cause two conflicts, it can distance the protagonist from others as s/he will appear as if s/he is lacking in humanity, and second, it internalizes the burden that can heighten the potential for the protagonist to use other defense mechanisms such as displacement or withdrawing thereby exacerbating the protagonist’s issues internally and externally.  Lastly, repression is always an interesting defense mechanism for our protagonists to use.  By not acknowledging her/his wants and needs, the hero still shoulders the burden of the emotions of the need.  Repression is another demonstration of the protagonist not knowing her/him self, and as I discussed in the Exploring Origins blog post this blindness to self can lead to unfortunate consequences.  Without a clear direction to direct the emotions in, it can lead to chaos, poor choices, and exhaustion.

The importance of giving our protagonists flaws cannot be understated.  It’s what makes them real and human, which our readers can connect with.  Having a familiarity with the neurotic defenses, which are a common experience of most people, will make our protagonists that much easier to empathize with and to have the appropriate level of sympathy for.  As a bonus, if we’re really lucky, by helping our protagonists resolve their own defense mechanisms, we may help our readers work through some of their own.

As always, from my couch to your pen happy writing!

And keep sending in your questions!


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