Psychological defense mechanisms are maneuvers employed by the subconscious mind to protect and serve our various ego states -- These become the dynamics of our relationship with self.
Subconscious conflicts between neural networks are mediated by psychological defense mechanisms reduce the anxiety created by these conflicts:Subconscious Defense Mechanisms and Neural Networks
Since the human brain has complexity there are "multiple minds" known in Transactional Analysis as Ego States.
It follows that each of these Ego States... or neural networks... have their own preferred set of psychological defense mechanisms.
In order to look at how these Ego States interact and influence each other we need to define these two terms...
Many of us have heard this statement before -- "In order to have a good relationship with others we must first have a good relationship with our self".
The first time I heard this statement it intuitively made sense to me but I didn't know why -- Now I do...
2. However the various parts of myself interact or "get along with" each other... Intrapersonally... will influence and affect how I interact with others... Interpersonally.
Psychological Defense Mechanisms & Ego States -- Various Configurations
Adult Ego State - In a healthy adult, the Adult is the primary ego state for making decisions, solving problems, getting the job done and other executive functioning. In healthy adult relationships it's also the primary ego state for interpersonal functioning.
Adapted Child Ego State - The "Parent-in-the-Child" is the neural network that "adapted" to the dysfunction of the family... A child is born into the world with all the Natural Child qualities and psychological defense mechanisms.
The child in a less-than-nurturing family must use psychological defense mechanisms to adapt because it's not okay to ask directly for what you need, express certain feelings, or break certain unspoken rules.
Being necessary for survival, these defensive maneuvers were appropriately termed survival skills. While useful and necessary during childhood, survival skills do not make good substitutions for the coping skills of a healthy adult human being.
Many of the messages were assimilated (accepted as part of self)... "look both ways before you cross the street". Others were "taken in" but not assimilated (introjects) because they created limitations and barriers to intimacy..."don't talk, don't trust, don't feel".
These are also known as Injunctions in TA language.
Internalizers tend to turn their critical parent messages inward to create (Introjection) and perpetuate what we know as low self-esteem and negative self-talk.
Externalizers turn their CP messages outward (Projection) to create and perpetuate what we know as grandiosity or narcissism. These characteristics of self-centeredness (aka "Big Ego") are created by the psychological defense mechanism of reaction formation.
If we grew up in a family where expressions of anger or defiance were strictly prohibited, it was important to repress our Angry/Defiant Child ego state. Another term for this psychological defense mechanism of disowning a part of ourself.
Repressing our Angry Child frequently results in the polarizing effect of strengthening our Vulnerable Child -- another reaction formation.
With a Pronounced Vulnerable Child and a Repressed Angry/Defiant Child it becomes difficult, it not almost impossible, to set healthy boundaries and protect ourselves -- our anger helps us set our boundaries so we can maintain our separateness or autonomy.
Repressing our Vulnerable Child frequently results in the polarizing effect of strengthening our Angry/Defiant Child -- again, a reaction formation.
With a Pronounced Angry/Defiant Child and a Repressed Vulnerable Child it becomes difficult to feel compassion and empathy for others -- Our ability to be vulnerable allows us to let the walls down so we can connect emotionally to others in a healthy way.
When we grow up in a less-than-nurturing family the Little Professor is the neural network that works behind the scenes to gather and store data about what works and what doesn't work.
If you've ever seen Candid Camera or any other show where they interview little kids about life...then you have seen the Little Professor in action. The kids can be hilarious because there is usually quite a bit of accuracy to their intuitive but far out answers.
The Little Professor is the network that later branches out and expands into the Adult... They are both "computers", but the Adult has data in the form of experience and wisdom on the hard-drive -- All the Little Professor has to go on is instinct and intuition.
The Adult and Little Professor make a good team when creativity is needed - such as designing new amusement park or roller coaster ride.
It's the Little Professor, with feedback from the environment, that configures the above childhood ego states...survival is its prime directive so whatever it takes to survive will become habits that follow us into adulthood.
When a trigger comes along, the appropriate ego state is activated. The program for that situation runs automatically and right on cue...with all the feelings, beliefs, attitudes, defenses and experiences of that part of self.
Psychological Defense Mechanisms - A Scenario
Okay...Now that we've laid a foundation we can play around with how these defense mechanisms work in regards to Ego States -- Lets say a little boy or girl was not allowed by his/her parents to express anger in any way without serious risk of abuse...
Intra-personally - S/he would have to repress those emotions which would eventually lead to a wholesale disowning of his or her Angry/Defiant Child Ego State.
The lack of connection with his or her Angry/Defiant Child is likely to result in an inability to be assertive or speak-up for him/her self -- it's our anger that gives us the power to do that.
Inter-personally - S/he is prone to finding a mate who is "stuck" in his or her Angry/Child Ego State so s/he can consciously experience his/her subconscious anger through projection ...this may be the only way someone stuck in Second Position can experience certain parts of themselves.
Their angry/critical mate knows how to "dance the dance" of the Drama Triangle taught to them by their angry/critical parents.
Go to Marriage Help to learn how to overcome these dynamics in your relationship.