Defense Mechanism of The Week: Sublimination

The “Good” Defense

Sublimination is often seen as the “good” defense in psychological and popular thinking. By definition, sublimination represents a creative, healthy, and socially acceptable way of expressing internal conflicts. Originally, Freud stated that sublimination was the expression of more primitive impulses into a socially acceptable form. For example, homicidal impulses can be acted out symbolically by becoming a lawyer and “slaying” his or her enemies in the courtroom. Another example would be the dentist subliminating sadistic impulses through working on others’ teeth and gums.

Psychologically Healthy and Socially Beneficial

Sublimation has been considered the “healthiest” of the defenses for resolving internal conflict, as it discharges energy instead of changing it into something different. For example, the dentist is discharging the sadistic impulses through sublimination whereas if he or she were to have to deny the feeling, a lot of wasted energy would be put into this process. Sublimination is also considered a creative or useful way of expressing problematic impulses or conflicts; in fact, they are considered socially useful and perhaps most importantly, artistically meaningful. For these reasons, Freud considered this defense mechanism to be more elevated and productive than introjection, denial, projection, or repression.

A darker way of looking at sublimination, however, is that we do not divest ourselves of infantile strivings, but rather learn to manage them in better or worse ways.

Jennifer De Francisco, MPA, MSW, LCSW is a Newport Beach marriage counselor who also serves the Irvine and Orange County areas, specializing in relationships, anxiety, and depression.

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