Psychology in Writing: The Persona – Therapeutic Presentation

Therapeutic Presentation

Masks

Masks (Photo credit: George)

The persona can be difficult to deal with, at least initially, in a therapeutic setting.  Depending on the quality of the mask, the therapist will have to start at a point of assuming that the client is presenting her/his true self.  It is through continued work with the client that the true nature of the persona is revealed as well as how the therapist needs to approach the persona to assist the client in tearing down, managing, or repairing it.

The client who has fully identified with her/his persona is easy to spot fairly quickly.  All roads that the client and therapist go down will lead back to the central aspect of the client’s personality that s/he identifies with and finds to be the core of her/his identity.  Any attempt to criticize or critique this aspect of the client’s self will be responded to with a defensive response such as hostility or withdrawing.  The identification with the persona is so close that the client cannot stand to hear that challenges to something outside of the core identity.

Through the therapeutic process, the therapist would begin to help the person see the cracks in her/his persona and identity other aspects of self that the person could hang onto.  The goal of separating the client from the over-identified with persona is to help the client understand how the persona is either harming the client by forcing her/him to be too rigid in her/his thoughts or by showing how it is keeping the client from growing by finding other aspects of self that are of value that are being masked by the persona.  By exploring these aspects of self the client may eventually experience a disintegration with her/his persona.

The disintegration (think loss of integration not crumbling away via a laser) with the persona can lead to chaos in the client’s life as s/he can lose a sense of self now that the persona is not available to cling to as an identity.  Some clients, in an attempt to return to a sense of normality will try to reintegrate the disintegrated persona; as the person is now aware of the flaws with the persona, s/he can never fully adopt it as s/he did prior to disintegration.  The use of the negative restoration will feel shallow and the client and will come off as superficial to others because of a lack of conviction to the disintegrated persona.

There is the possibility that having lost the persona and failed to utilize it again the client may completely get rid of her/his “mask.”  In the absence of a persona, the person may abandon any attempts to wear a social mask instead treating everything in the world as the same.  Without the persona the person no longer knows how to interact with others leading to a lack of internal filter between the ego and the real world, which may provide an opportunity for the anima/animus to take over the ego as we talked about here.

The ultimate goal for therapy is to help the client restore a persona, though not necessarily her/his original persona.  A well-adjusted client will recognize the benefits of having a flexible persona, but one that is genuine to her/himself.  This is in contrast to putting a mask that does not honestly represent the self, some of which were discussed in the blog on neurotic defense mechanisms.  To be well functioning the client needs to be able to read others and the situation in order to put on the mask that is required for the situation; the caveat is that the mask should not be so atypical to the self that it is the client is not recognized as being her/his “normal” self.

 

Psychology in Writing: Anima and Animus – Therapeutic Presentation

Therapeutic Presentation

Anima latina

Anima latina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As anima and animus belong to the unconscious they cannot be directly observed, but there are two ways in which these aspects of the unconscious may manifest in therapy.  One is by the demonstration of their developmental level; the client will show errors in their anima/animus or seek to advance the development of these archetypes towards a higher level of development. Two, the anima or animus may manifest through the invasion of consciousness, whereby the darker aspects of the anima or animus take over the client’s conscious mind.

As we discussed in the therapeutic process on the collective unconscious the unconscious archetypes can be both helpful and harmful; the same holds true for the individual unconscious archetypes.  If a client’s anima or animus does not develop, it can cause thinking errors that can be detrimental to a person.  Each subsequent developmental level adds a layer of richness and understanding to the client’s life and a failure to develop can cause issues, such an excessively rigid set of expectations.  An example would be a male whose feminine anima is stuck at Eve; there is permanence to the feminine object of desire at this level of anima development, any object that fails to confirm to the ideal perception of desire is rejected.  As the perfect object of desire frequently doesn’t exist it is difficult for the individual to sustain relationships at this developmental level. The goal in therapy would be to help the client develop a more nuanced sense of their feminine or masculine qualities.  For a mostly well-functioning individual with a well developed anima/animus the goal of therapy would be to help her/him attain the final level of anima/animus development, which would result in a deeper sense of meaning and a more nuanced view of the world around them.

A more threatening way that that clients’ anima/animus may manifest in a therapeutic setting is through the taking over of the conscious aspects of the individual.  Archetypes have both light and dark sides, and sometimes the shadow aspects of the anima/animus can overcome the ego.  As discussed in the blog on the Id, if the individual does not have methods for managing the shadow aspects of the anima/animus they can become manifest in outer world.  This breach leads to the anima/animus becoming the voice of the ego instead of as a moderator between the unconscious and the ego. The goal of therapy is to find the middle ground between the under and over identification with the anima/animus, instead helping the client regulate it into an intermediate position where it can serve a regulatory function in the unconscious.

Psychology in Writing: The Unconscious – Therapeutic Presentation

Therapeutic Presentation

the first of the blots of the Rorschach inkblo...

the first of the blots of the Rorschach inkblot test (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the unconscious is below a person’s conscious awareness how is the therapist aware of it and how can the person begin to address it?  The unconscious manifests itself in its effects.  As we covered in the defense mechanisms’ blogs, they are a product of the unconscious; when a person is unable to deal with the reality of her/his situation the unconscious mind protects the person by employing defense mechanisms.  So if the pathological, immature, or neurotic defense mechanisms are deployed below conscious awareness the therapist must get at what is going on underneath these defenses to help the client resolve underlying issues, which will help guide her/him to the use of higher level defense mechanisms.

One of the most frequently associated ways at getting at the unconscious in popular culture is through dream analysis.  I personally have a different take on dream analysis, but I’m going to review the psychodynamic understanding of dream analysis.  In psychoanalysis, the theory behind dream analysis is that the themes of dreams and the images in dreams provide insight into the unconscious.  By interpreting dreams, the psychotherapist to the client the therapist provides insight into the client’s unconscious mind.  After the dream analysis the unconscious becomes manifest in conscious awareness and the client can begin processing and resolving her/his underlying unconscious conflicts.  Here’s a quick review of some popular dream themes.

Another method a therapist may use to uncover the unconscious is through free association.  The client is presented words in isolation, such as “cat”, “shame”, “mother”, to which the client responds with the first word that comes to her/his mind.  The theory being is that if the client is not actively thinking about her/his response then the unconscious will be manifested in her/his word choice.  So if the therapist says “mother” after a string of neutral words, and the client spontaneously replies “anger”, then the therapist and client would explore the root of that anger, e.g., is the mother an angry person, is the client angry at the mother?

The last method revealing the unconscious that I will cover is projection.  Projection operates on the theory that the client will place her/his unconscious thoughts onto a ambiguous stimulus.  One of the most familiar ways for doing this is the Rorschach test where the client indicates what s/he sees in an inkblot.  The client’s responses are recorded and then interpreted depending on the nature of the description.  Another test the Thematic Apperception Test, where the client is presented a neutral scene and asked to write a story about what occurred before the picture was taken, during the picture, and after.  The theory is that unconscious themes will immerge based on the story the client writes.  There are other projective tests such as Draw-A-Person, Sentence Completion, and Animal Metaphor you can read about here, but all operate on the same principle of having the person project her/his unconscious on ambiguous stimuli.

 

Psychology in Writing: The Unconscious – Introduction

Introduction

Deutsch: Phrenologie

Deutsch: Phrenologie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the past two months we’ve covered the psychodynamic ideas of Id, Super Ego, Ego, and the Pathological, Immature, Neurotic, and Mature defense mechanisms, but we haven’t discussed where many of these processes originate from.  With the exception of Ego and some of the Mature defense mechanisms, a lot an individual’s psychological processes lie within the unconscious mind.

The unconscious mind is the aspect of self that a person is not consciously aware of it.  It consists of automatic processes that are not available for introspection, but cause an impact on behavior.  The Id and Super Ego both reside in the unconscious mind, and we’ve discussed how these aspects of self affect the manifestation of defense mechanisms.  As the genesis of these occur in the unconscious part of their mind individuals usually do not have insight into the why of their defenses.  These processes are below conscious awareness and just occur as repeating patterns of behavior.

The question then is, if these thoughts, behaviors, emotions, motivations are outside of an individual’s awareness how does the individual change and how does the therapist work with the unseen?  The challenge for therapists and clients is that only aspect of clients’ minds that is readily acceptable is the conscious mind, that which they are aware of.  The conscious mind makes up only a small fraction of their self.  The analogy that is often used for the unconscious mind is that a person’s mind is like an iceberg; only the conscious tip is visible to client and therapist with the majority of the personality laying below the waves in the unconscious.

In tomorrow’s blog I will discuss how therapists help their clients get insight into the unconscious so that clients can begin to work at a conscious level on their unconscious process.

Psychology in Writing: Mature Defense Mechanisms – Therapeutic Presentation

Therapeutic Presentation

English: Managing emotions - Identifying feelings

English: Managing emotions – Identifying feelings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Individuals who are consistently using mature defense mechanisms would typically not show up in a therapist’s office because they usually have their stuff together; if we see these individuals it’s usually as part of a couple and they can’t understand why the rest of the world is crazy.  So, taking a different approach, I’ll just discuss what individuals using the different mature defense mechanisms would look like in day-to-day life instead of on the couch.

The defense mechanism of humility helps an individual stay in check, and keeps her/him from thinking either too highly about her/himself or being too harsh.  This allows the person to recognize what is realistically possible for her/him, not feeling overly guilty when she/he doesn’t succeed, or acting impulsively without regard for others to get needs met.

Mindfulness is the ability to be present in the moment, open, and accepting of experiences.  The individual who is mindful does not dwell excessively in the past nor worry about things in the future.  This person accepts reality as it as and appreciates it as it comes.

A person who is applying the defense of acceptance is able to acknowledge and be at with peace with things that are beyond her/his control.  This person does not become mired in regret when something doesn’t go her/his way, s/he accepts the situation and looks for the best in it or figures out how to cope with the situation.

Gratitude is the ability to appreciate what one has.  Similar to mindfulness and acceptance, a person using gratitude as a defense mechanism finds the good in what s/he has and appreciates what is real and available to her/him.  This person chooses to ignore what s/he does not have and does not wish for things that could be.

A person who uses altruism as a defense mechanism finds joy in providing services to others without expectation for anything in return.  When a person does something good and expects something in return this can lead to anger and frustration about the failure of the relationship to be reciprocal.  When an individual does good work without expecting anything in return s/he avoids frustration and gets intrinsic joy out of the work itself.

The defense mechanism of tolerance is allowing the existence of things that a person may not approve of.  Again, this eliminates the frustration of expectations of others; the individual allows others to have ideas, while understanding that the ideas of the other do not diminish or alter the person’s core sense of self.  Disapproving opinions are external to the person, so her/his psyche is not damaged by others when using tolerance as a defense.

Mercy as a defense is the recognition of an individual having a place of power, and being in that place of power can be compassionate to others.

An individual who is able to use forgiveness as a defense mechanism is able to release resentment or anger towards others for a perceived offense without need for retribution or restitution.  Forgiveness is part of mindfulness; it keeps an individual from dwelling in the past so s/he can move forward.  Forgiveness also does not necessarily mean a repair of the relationship, it means that for the person employing it a release of resentment that may hold her/him back.

Those who use anticipation can prepare for realistic future discomfort.  This person does not ignore an upcoming potentially painful event, s/he prepares for how s/he will deal with the consequences or outcome so that s/he can address it appropriately when the time comes.

Humor is a high level defense mechanism.  It allows the individual to express pain s/he may be feeling but in a socially appropriate way that amuses others; a common example is self-depreciating humor.  This defense is in contrast to something like projection, where the negative emotions are released as anger towards others.

The healthy use of defense mechanism of identification hinges on the individual modeling positive aspects of another that are realistic for her/him.  Identifying with positive behaviors can help an individual identify what are positive traits and internalize them to improve her/himself.  Introjection similarly is contingent on internalizing positive ideas.  This defense, instead of identifying with a person, identifies with an idea so deeply that an individual integrates the positive aspects into her/his self.  An example would be internalizing moral ideas that guide social functioning.

A person who is using sublimation as a defense mechanism is able to channel negative emotions or instincts into positive actions, behaviors, or emotions.  A person using this defense is able to be constructive with her/his negative emotions, such as channeling negative feelings into art or sport.

Thought suppression as a defense is a temporarily delaying of dealing with negative thoughts or experiences.  In contrast to repression, the individual will deal with the emotions/experience later; they are only temporarily suppressed to allow an individual to function in the current moment.  This person is able to put her/his feelings aside in order to deal rationally with a present issue.

The last mature defense mechanism is emotional self-regulation.  Much like mindfulness and thought suppression, the individual using this defense is aware of her/his emotions (not repressing them) and is not victim to their whims (able to put them aside to deal with issues in the moment).  This allows the person to be fully present in the moment and deal with others in a socially appropriate way.

Psychology in Writing: Neurotic Defense Mechanisms – Therapeutic Presentation

Therapeutic Presentation

The clear wings make this South-American butte...

The clear wings make this South-American butterfly hard to see in flight, a succesfull defense mechanism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The neurotic defense mechanisms are what a therapist would see when working with a mostly healthy population.  As noted in the introduction, most adults use neurotic defense mechanisms during their lives; these individuals tend to end up in the counselor’s office when they over use them or lack other means of coping with reality.

Displacement is a commonly used defense wherein individuals place their anger onto a safe object. A typical demonstration of this is a person who is angry or frustrated at work who cannot take the frustration directly out on her/his supervisor, who instead comes home and yells at a spouse, kid, or animal.  This allows the anger to be released on a “safe” object.  When it occurs occasionally, it is not too disruptive, e.g., having a bad day at work that results in a fight at home; but when it is consistent or persistent, it begins to cause deeper issues.  The therapist would work with this person on either removing her/his self from the situation (i.e., is the situation so bad and uncorrectable that only by leaving can the issue be resolved), finding ways to manage the conflict in the situation (e.g., assertiveness skills to talk to the supervisor about issues), or sublimation (e.g., finding an alternative healthy outlet, to improve coping in the situation).

Dissociation can be more pathological, but low-level dissociation can be functional.  In using this defense, the person modifies her/his identity to avoid distress.  This can be appearing cheerful/social to avoid isolation or to prevent individuals from asking about a particular emotion (e.g., acting happy to avoid people asking why a person is sad).  It can also be manifested in engaging in an alternative activity or behavior to postpone emotions that would typically accompany a situation or thought.  An example would be someone who is out at a carnival and sees an ex, then proceeds to act silly and foolish to distract her/his self from the feelings of grief that accompany thoughts of the ex.  In therapy, the counselor would work on getting at the underlying thoughts and feelings to help the person process and deal with them in a safe setting.

Hypochondriasis is excessive worry about being ill or having a major medical condition.  There are many reasons for the manifestation of this behavior, but in my experience, it is typically a help seeking/attention seeking behavior.  The person presents the worry about illness so that others can “prove” that they care about her/him by asking about the illness and worrying about her/him.  In working with this person, a therapist would help the individual identify positive and proactive ways to get attention and care from others, which would both lower her/his anxiety about illness and build positive social relationships.

In the post on love styles, I talked briefly about a person who intellectualizes relationships.  This defense mechanism is an extension of that; a person employing this defense focuses on logical aspects of a situation to distance her/himself from it.  By avoiding the emotional experience of situations, the person avoids both the pains and joys of experiencing things in the moments.  It can also lock a person into a thought loop where s/he never engages in desirable behavior because s/he thinks her/his self out of it.  The therapist would work on helping the individual recognize her/his emotions and to experience and trust them.  The goal in therapy would also be helping the individual understand that failure and pain are part of life, and that it is okay, paired with ways on how to cope when they are experienced.

The defense of isolation involves a person separating emotion from events.  This is a person who is not able to wed the subjective with the objective (e.g., “That is a sun rise” versus “”I think that is a beautiful sunrise).  This defense mechanism preserves the self by walling the self off from the experiences of others and life.  As with the intellectualizing individual, the therapist would work to help the individual integrate emotions with observations, with the goal of recognizing that full participation in life and contact with others is dependent on some level of emotional vulnerability.

The individual who uses rationalization as a defense uses logical arguments to convince her/himself that a behavior has had no negative consequences.  This person can come up with a hundred different reasons on why a behavior was justified and have no perspective on how the behavior may have been harmful to others.  An example would be a problem gambler, this person would state that it’s okay to spend a whole paycheck gambling, because they’re going to win any way; or going back the next week using the explanation of needing to play in order to win back what was lost.  In a therapeutic setting, the counselor would work on this person on taking responsibility for her/his behavior, and help the person develop some empathy on how her/his behavior affects others around them.

I covered reaction formation in its own blog post here.

When individuals use regression as a defense, they tend to demonstrate behaviors associated with an earlier stage of development as opposed to as an adult when confronted with a distressful situation.  This may be a person who uses baby talk, whines, or pouts to try and get her/his way, instead of talking as an adult, with the hope that acting younger will defuse a conflict or have the person react to her/him like a parent instead of a peer.  In therapy, this person’s goal would be to learn how to engage in conflict appropriately, and to gain some insight into how s/he appears to others when demonstrating regressive behavior.

Repression is the suppression of desirable ends due to fear that attainment of those desires will not end well.  This is a defense mechanism rooted in the super ego.  The fear is that by acknowledging and engaging in the pleasurable activity will result in disapproval by the moral voice or social reality and damage the ego.  The challenge for the person is that s/he experiences the emotions behind the repressed the idea, but are unable to access what the need is.  An example would be feeling frustrated and angry with a sexual desirable peer, but not able to recognize that the frustration is due to the sexual desire; the person has repressed the idea of desiring her/his peer, but still feels the frustration linked to the idea.  The person’s goal in therapy would be to identify the repressed ideas and find a socially appropriate way to get the needs met or to find an alternative outlet for the need.

Undoing is, as it sounds, reversing course of a negative behavior through a symbolic atonement.  This would be a person who is an alcoholic and goes into a rage, then attempts to apologize by swearing off drink and/or pouring out any leftover liquor.  This method would be appropriate the first time the behavior was manifested, but individuals using this defense mechanism tend to repeat the ritual every time they mess up, with the expectation that the symbolic atonement will be enough and that s/he does not need to change the behavior.  This individual’s work in therapy would be actually to correct the unhealthy, destructive, or inappropriate behavior through strategies to avoid engaging in the behavior requiring atonement in the first place.

An individual who withdrawals as a defense mechanism will isolates her/his self to avoid chance exposure to negative situations, emotions, ideas, etc.  As with intellectualization and isolation, the goal in therapy is to help the person work through the negative events and to develop the coping skills to deal with them when they do occur.

In the upward and downward social comparison defense mechanism, a person makes her/himself feel better by drawing a comparison between her/himself and someone s/he believes is worse off.  This serves a two-fold function, it rationalizes behavior because the person can say, at least I’m not them, and it helps her/him disassociate from similarities of the worse off person (e.g., we both may be drug users, but at least I only do cocaine and not heroine like that junky).  In therapy, this person would identify behaviors that are keeping her/him stuck by examining rationalizations and then setting growth goals instead of staying rooted in the mindset of “I don’t need to change, because I’m not like him.”

 

Psychology in Writing: Immature Defense Mechanisms – Therapeutic Presentation

Therapeutic Presentation

Yeah, I know...

Yeah, I know… (Photo credit: Gramody)

In therapy, those using immature defense mechanism feel, well, immature at times. Individuals using them can act like children, and make a therapist want to tell them to grow up.  Once a therapist is able to move past her/his own frustration with these individuals the real work can begin.

A person who is using acting out as a defense mechanism may present differently than we would expect given the colloquial term of acting out.  This isn’t when people throw a tantrum or pout in a corner because they didn’t get their way.  Acting out as an immature defense mechanism frequently manifests in impulsive behavior, such as sexual acting out or aggressive acting out.  An individual demonstrating this defense either represses her/his own Id impulses or responds as an act of rebellion against an outside other.  The individual may act out against the Super Ego voice (remember, this is frequently the voice of parents) as a counter response to her/his moral instinct.  As discussed in the Id blog, the goal is to help the person identify these impulses and manage them before it results in acting out behavior.

Individuals using fantasy as a defense walk the fine line between immature and pathological defenses.  The individual using fantasy does not disassociate, but likes to entertain thoughts about the world that are not grounded in reality.  This then fuels wishful thinking.  An individual who is using the defense of wishful thinking makes decisions based on what is pleasing to imagine is true instead of what is real.  This is a person who buys expensive things s/he can’t afford; the wishful thinking is that s/he will pay them off, where the reality is, that there is no chance that the person will ever be able to afford the purchases and it will probably have other deleterious effects.  These defenses are hard to overcome, because the therapist is trying to ground the person in a reality that the individual refuses to acknowledge.

Idealization as a defense mechanism is probably one most people who have been in a failed relationship are familiar with.  A person using idealization as a defense mechanism attributes more positive traits to a person than s/he may actually have.  Most people do this at the beginning of a relationship, but as time goes on they are more able to see a person realistically.  A person using idealization refuses to acknowledge negative traits and presents the person better than they are.  This defense is particularly devastating in abusive relationships, both family oriented (putting parents up on a pedestal) and intimate relationships, because a person will maintain a relationship with the abuser despite the abuse.  It can also set individuals up to have a faulty Super Ego; a person who idealizes a parent who s/he views as flawless, may try to live up to this idealized version of the person, which is ultimately unattainable or unrealistic, because the person has flaws and faced challenges that the person using the defense cannot acknowledge.  In therapy, the clinician would most likely avoid trying to confront tearing down the idealized individual head on (e.g., pointing out why they should not be idealized to the client), and instead try to help the client strengthen her/his sense of self, so that they could either identify what about themselves is worth valuing (that the idealized person does not) or what they are actually capable of/reality of striving for achievement (that they are blind to in the experience of the idealized other).

The passive aggression defense mechanism is exactly what it sounds like.  This is the individual who cannot confront another person directly so manifests the aggression indirectly, through things like procrastination or attempting to sabotage the other through means such as rumors.  In therapy, the counselor may focus on either conflict resolution skills or assertiveness.

Projection was covered in a previous blog post here.

Projective identification as a defense mechanism is, like idealization, an over identification with an other.  The individual thinks that the other thinks, feels, behaves exactly as the person imagines them to.  This can be seen in hero or idol worship, where an individual over identifies with the target person and believes that the person is exactly like how the person imagined.  More locally, a person can do this with a parent or significant other.  The individual using this defense projects thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that s/he believes the person should have, and when the person violates that fantasy the individual may actually get mad at the other for not “acting like they should.”  In a therapeutic setting an individual using this defense would work on the recognition of the self of others, meaning the appreciation that others have their own thoughts and feelings that the individual may not be privy.

The last immature defense mechanism is somatization.  Another defense mechanism we discussed briefly.  Somatization is the manifestation of inward turned negative feelings that then manifest in physical pain or illness.  In therapy a counselor would work with the person on alleviating or dealing with the negative feelings in order to resolve the physical symptomology.

Psychology in Writing: Pathological Defense Mechanisms – Introduction

English: . Français : Drummond castle, en Écos...

English: . Français : Drummond castle, en Écosse {| cellspacing=”0″ style=”min-width:40em; color:#000; background:#ddd; border:1px solid #bbb; margin:.1em;” class=”layouttemplate” | style=”width:1.2em;height:1.2em;padding:.2em” | 20px |link=|center | style=”font-size:.85em; padding:.2em; vertical-align:middle” |This panoramic image was created with Autostitch. Stitched images may differ from reality. |} Drummond castle – pano.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Introduction

 

As we discussed in the blog posts on the Ego, the Ego gravitates more towards the voice of the Id and getting its needs met.  In order to suppress the voices of reality and the Super Ego, the Ego employs a multitude of defense mechanisms that help the Ego justify its behavior.  Vaillant categorized the defense mechanisms into three levels:

 

 

In this week’s blog I’ll be reviewing the pathological defense mechanisms.  These defense mechanisms serve to alter reality in order to help the person cope with an unpleasant situation or completely ignore reality to get needs met; taken to their far end, these defense mechanisms allow a person to completely disconnect from reality.  Individuals who frequently employ these techniques may appear irrational (e.g., what they are perceiving/saying has no grounds in reality that an objective observer can see/understand) or insane (e.g., the person’s responses are so disconnected from reality that that the person appears to be operating outside of it).

 

The pathological mechanisms include:

 

 

Tomorrow I will go into depth about how each of these mechanisms manifests in therapy.

 

Psychology in Writing: The Ego – Therapeutic Presentation

Therapeutic Presentation

 

In therapy the client often presents with a repressed or unmitigated Id or an over functioning or non-function Super Ego.  In therapy, as the Id and Super Ego are unconscious, we look at Ego functioning/Ego strength to evaluate a client.  A well-functioning individual will have a high level of Ego strength; this means that the individual is a rational player.  The individual is able to weigh both the options from the Super Ego, the

 

Level of consciousness

Level of consciousness (Photo credit: Celestine Chua)

 

needs of the Id, and the reality of her/his situation to make the best decision possible to her/him at the time.  These individuals usually do not make it into therapy because they are doing okay in their lives, or at least think they are.

 

The clients who make their way into therapy tend to be those with low Ego strength.  These individuals can be easily influenced by outside forces because they do not like to make choices on their own, and may actively try to avoid making choices.  They often find themselves stuck  because they do not have the personal insight to determine what they want, e.g., they cannot decipher what the Id is pushing them to do/what the Super Ego thinks they should do, or they are unable to make a choice either way often due to the perceived constraints of the outside world (in therapy we call these clients but-ers; for every solution that they or the therapist comes up with, they follow it with, that could be true, but.. and a reason why a solution won’t work).  The goal in therapy for clients with low Ego strength is to first help them recognize what their needs/desires are, and then help them recognize their power in making a choice, which is often coupled with awareness of the fact that they cannot please everyone in the external world (or their internal parent).  The ultimate goal is for clients is to recognize the forces that are weighing on them, assess the reality of the situation, and make the best possible choice even if it may have some negative consequences, with the objective for the positive consequences to outweigh the negative.

 

 

 

Psychology in Writing: The Ego – Introduction

Introduction

Modell of the human psyche according to Sigmun...

Modell of the human psyche according to Sigmund Freud. The properties of the cental elements id, ego and superego are shown. Today Freuds model is at least disputed if not even deprecated. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Ego is the final part of the tripartite structural model consisting of three components, the Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego.  The well-functioning Ego works on the reality principle, meaning that it attempts to please the Id’s drive while balancing it with the Super Ego’s expectations.  The Ego helps delay gratification until a time when it is appropriate to get the individual’s needs met.  The Super Ego and Id function primarily in the unconscious, the Ego is where the organized and conscious awareness resides.  The Ego is where the following resides:

  • Judgment
  • Tolerance,
  • Reality Testing
  • Control
  • Planning
  • Defense
  • Synthesis of Information
  • Intellectual Functioning
  • Memory

The Ego helps the individual evaluate what is real and is where the individual makes sense of the world around them.

The Ego also serves to moderate between the instinctual drives of the Id, the chastising voice of the Super Ego, and the realities of the external world.  The disconnect between these three forces and having to moderate between them can raise anxiety in the individual, manifested in realistic anxiety from the external world (e.g., I can’t afford food for this week), moralistic anxiety from the Super Ego (e.g., I can’t steal so that I can eat because that would be wrong/someone else would suffer), and passion/emotional based anxiety of the Id (Freud called in neurotic anxiety) (e.g., who cares if it harms others, I need to eat and this is all that matters).

To help resolve all of these conflicts, the Ego is identified as being more loyal to the Id.  The Ego is more willing to listen to a person’s passions and needs than the external pressures of reality or the moral imperatives of the Super Ego.  To manage this the Ego employees defense mechanisms, two of which I’ve talked about in the blog, here and here.  The defense mechanisms allow the Ego to tune out reality and the Super Ego to indulge the Id.