Psychological Self-Help

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can have an influence on our performance of certain tasks; factors we
have no awareness of can influence our decision-making; procedures
that are at first conscious can be repeated often enough that they
become automatic and unconscious; in social interactions many people
deceive themselves in ways that build their self-esteem; children who
claim very high self-esteem are often hiding a profound sense of
inferiority, etc., etc. The researchers have often used different terms,
such as "scapegoating" instead of displacement, "self-presentation
ploys" instead reaction formation, "positive illusions" instead of denial,
"counterfactual thinking" instead of undoing, and so on (Cramer,
2000). But, a rose is a rose... 
Many benefits will come from the new experimental interests in
defensive cognitive processes. For one thing, there are clarifying
distinctions being made between coping processes and defense
mechanisms. Coping processes are conscious, intentional, learned,
and associated with normal adjustment. Defense mechanisms are
unconscious, unintentional, self-protective instincts or dispositions,
and associated with pathology (Cramer, 1998). This is a meaningful
difference, because different self-change techniques will surely be
needed for coping than for dealing with defenses. 
Another clarification emerging from the research is the distinction
between sometimes healthy or adaptive defense mechanisms and very
disturbed mental processes. Sublimation, suppression (sort of
conscious denial), altruism, humor, and even some denial in children
can be healthy and useful in certain circumstances. Also, some
defenses may temporarily help one adapt but in the long run interfere
with problem-solving: intellectualization, repression, undoing,
displacement, dissociation, idealization, misjudging one's power, and
others. Still other defenses alter our perception of reality and, thus,
interfere with solving our problems: denial, projection, rationalization,
and unrealistic fantasies. Some more hidden defenses are revealed by
certain maladaptive behaviors: acting out, severe withdrawal, passive-
aggressive acts, and so on. Lastly, extremely irrational defenses play a
central role in serious psychoses: delusional projection, serious
distortion of reality, complete denial of basic conditions, and so on.
The more maladaptive defenses that one uses, the more likely one has
a serious psychiatric disorder, many symptoms, and interpersonal
If you compare Freud's defense mechanisms with modern research
finding, the traditional defenses seem more intuitively understandable
and more applicable to a wider range of situations. Eventually, with
more and more research, new findings will show us more details about
when and how defenses are used in specific circumstances. Then, we
will develop better ways to cope than by using defenses that rely on
distortions of reality. 
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