BY: T. Franklin Murphy | July 23, 2022
Ego defense is a term in psychoanalytic theory. According to the theory, we use defense mechanisms to protect the ego against anxiety. Ego defense is achieved through behavioral and cognitive protections against threats.
Early theorist believed that ego defenses were a developmental process, particularly important during adolescents. Anna Freud explained that the ego of the adolescent "represses, displaces, denies, and reverses the instincts and turns them against the self..." (1936).
Ego defenses are not 'bad.' They have a purpose and may aide development settling intense emotions while our lives are in chaos. Defenses under normal conditions and supportive environments mature and can be a part of a healthy life. "With relatively healthy development, defenses evolve from the normative chaos and primitiveness of early adolescence into more orderly patterns in later adolescence" (Levit, 2005).
Healthy and maladaptive (immature) defenses may be expressed in either (or both) psychological or behavioral reactions to threats that are real or just perceived.
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Freud, Anna (1936). The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense. International University Press, New York
Levit, David. (2005). The development of ego defenses in adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 22(5), 493-512.