One of the best books I was assigned in graduate school was Anna Freud’s, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense. Here is a quick review:
When The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense was first published in German in 1936 it was at once recognized as a major contribution to psychoanalytic psychology, and its translation into English quickly followed. More than half a century later it enjoys the status of a classic. Written by a pioneer of child analysis, and illustrated by fascinating clinical pictures drawn from childhood and adolescence, it discusses those adaptive measures by which painful and unwanted feeling-states are kept at bay or made more bearable.
Anna Freud’s arguments have a clarity and cogency reminiscent of her father’s and the work is remarkably undated. Nothing stands still, but The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense has unmistakably passed the test of time.
The take away message from this book that stuck with me is that ego defenses such as denial, repression, identification and rationalization work to protect ourselves from painful anxiety. The defenses themselves are a gift from nature, just as anxiety is when we need it to warn us there is something in our environment that could harm us. It’s just that both anxiety and the accompanying defenses can get stuck in overdrive, causing us to over-react, over-compensate and generally over-mess up our lives.
So how can we tell when our defenses are good and when are they getting in the way? That’s a tough one. My first answer is the fall back, “I don’t know how to define it but I know it when I see it.” That’s lame and not helpful. Sorry.
What I can say with confidence is that most of the people I work with, people with thin skins, (and most people with depression or anxiety have thin skins) need to boost their ego defenses, not lower them. They need permission to put up that force field so that the nasty people or the difficult situations can’t hit them so hard.
By the way, I mention half chaps in the video and forget to show you what they are. You can click here to see a photo. Half chaps are these cool gator-like leg coverings that slip over your paddock boots. They protect your lower legs which work hard applying aides to your horse. The times I rode hard, like during a lesson, without half chaps or full riding boots, my inner legs felt bruised and tender. Ouch!
This video was shot in the Spring of 2011. (I have no idea why it took so long for me to publish it.) I compare the gear I put on to protect myself when I ride Annie to allowing myself to have good protection for my self-esteem. Please let me know what you think in the comments! Your input is very much appreciated.