intellectualization defense mechanism

Defense Mechanism of the Week: Intellectualization

Intellectualization occurs when reasoning and logic are used unconsciously to control internal conflict and emotional anxiety. People who rely on the intellectualization defense mechanism talk about feelings in a way that strikes the listener as emotionless or may focus on tasks or logic rather than dealing with or showing their emotions. Both of these reactions can make a person seem emotionless or cold to those around them, especially partners who may be going through a difficult time with them. 

What are Defense Mechanisms?

The concept of defense mechanisms was first developed by Anna Freud, Sigmund Freud’s daughter. She explained them as “unconscious resources used by the ego to decrease internal stress.”

She explained that when people experience conflict between their superego and id, they may use defense mechanisms to reduce this conflict. This process typically happens unconsciously and may result in either healthy or unhealthy consequences, depending on the defense mechanism. In the case of intellectualization, there can be both good and bad consequences.

What is Intellectualization?

When a person uses the intellectualization defense mechanism, they use reason to avoid uncomfortable or overwhelming emotions. For example, a person might focus on funeral arrangements rather than dealing with their own grief or spending all their time researching an illness they’ve been diagnosed with rather than talking about how they feel about the diagnosis.

While it can be practical to intellectualize in some situations, this often becomes a way for people to avoid their emotions, which stops them from being able to heal or move past the situation. By focusing on a logical task or abstract discussion, individuals relying on the intellectualization defense mechanism avoid painful emotions or a situation that may challenge them.

There are advantages to intellectualization-it shows considerable ego strength to be able to think rationally about a situation fraught with emotional meaning. For those that tend to over-depend on intellectualization, psychotherapy can help these individuals process their personal experiences with more emotional affect and acknowledgment of their feelings. For those that cannot leave this defense mechanism behind, they tend to have limited enjoyment of playful conversations, artistic expression, sex, and adult play, limiting their full enjoyment of the human experience.

Couples Counseling in Orange County From Jennifer De Francisco

It can be productive to focus on tasks rather than becoming overwhelmed by your emotions in some situations, but at a certain point, you’ll need to deal with your emotions. Refusal or inability to do so could potentially create a rift between you and your partner if you’re both dealing with an issue or difficult time. If the intellectualization defense mechanism is becoming an issue in your relationship, couples counseling may be able to help.

Jennifer De Francisco, MPA, MSW, LCSW, offers couples counseling in Orange County, CA for couples at any stage in their relationship. Her approach provides a safe environment to open and honestly share thoughts and emotions. Through developing a positive, therapeutic relationship, you and your partner can interpret what is going on, both in your life and in the session, creating a better awareness within your relationship. Contact Jennifer De Francisco by calling (949) 251-8787 or make an appointment online.

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