Defense Mechanisms

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Key Terms

Anal Stage

The anal stage, lasting from 18 months to 3 years, shifts the source of gratification to bladder and bowel retention, elimination, and control.

Defense Mechanisms

In Freud's theory, defense mechanisms are the Ego's methods of unconsciously protecting itself against anxiety by distorting or denying reality.


Displacement is the defense mechanism in which a sexual or aggressive impulse is shifted to a less threatening or powerless object or person.


In psychoanalytic theory, the Ego is the conscious division of personality that attempts to mediate between the demands of the Id, the Superego, and reality.

External Locus of Control

External locus of control is the belief that one's fate is determined by forces not under personal control.


In Freud's theory, fixation occurs when development becomes arrested in an immature psychosexual stage.

Free Association

Free association is the Freudian technique in which the person is encouraged to say whatever comes to mind as a means of exploring the unconscious.

Gender Identity

Gender identity is a person's sense of being male or female.

Genital Stage

At puberty the repressed sexual feelings of the latency stage give way to the genital stage and the maturation of sexual interests.


In Freud's theory, the Id is the system of personality consisting of basic sexual and aggressive drives that supplies psychic energy to personality.


In Freud's theory, identification is the process by which the child's superego develops and incorporates the parents' values. Freud saw identification as crucial, not only to resolution of the Oedipus complex, but also to the development of gender identity.

Internal Locus of Control

Internal locus of control is the belief that to a great extent one controls one's own destiny.

Latency Stage

At puberty the repressed sexual feelings of the latency stage give way to the genital stage and the maturation of sexual interests.

Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness is the passive resignation and perceived lack of control that a person or animal develops from repeated exposure to inescapable aversive events.

Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory


Consisting of ten clinical scales, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2) is the most widely used personality inventory.

Oedipus Complex

According to Freud, boys in the phallic stage develop sexual feelings, known as the Oedipus complex, that center on sexual attraction to the mother and resentment of the father. Some psychoanalysts believe that girls have a parallel Electra complex.

Oral Stage

During the oral stage, which lasts throughout the first 18 months of life, pleasure centers on activities of the mouth.

Personality Inventories

Personality inventories, associated with the trait perspective, are questionnaires used to assess personality traits. (MMPI-2, 16PF, CPI)


Personality is an individual's relatively consistent pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting.

Phallic Stage

During the phallic stage, from 3 to 6 years, the genitals become the pleasure zone.

Pleasure Principle

In Freud's theory, the pleasure principle refers to the Id's demands for immediate gratification.


In psychoanalytic theory, projection is the unconscious attribution of one's own threatening impulses to others.

Projective Tests

Projective tests, such as the TAT and Rorschach, present ambiguous stimuli onto which people supposedly project their own inner feelings. Often used as a tool to assess unconscious factors not conscious to the client.


In Freud's theory, psychoanalysis refers to the treatment of psychological disorders by seeking to provide insight about the clients unconscious, using methods such as free association.

Psychosexual Stages

Freud's psychosexual stages are developmental periods children pass through during which the Id's pleasure-seeking energies are focused on different erogenous zones.


Rationalization is the defense mechanism in which one devises self-justifying but incorrect reasons for one's behavior.

Reaction Formation

Reaction formation is the defense mechanism in which the ego converts unacceptable impulses into their opposites.

Reality Principle

The reality principle refers to the ego's tendency to gratify the desires of the Id in ways that are realistic.

Reciprocal Determinism

According to the social-cognitive perspective, personality is shaped through reciprocal determinism, or the interaction between personality and environmental factors.


Regression is the defense mechanism in which the person reverts to a less mature pattern of behavior, often related to an earlier age or stage.


The basis of all defense mechanisms, repression is the unconscious exclusion of painful impulses from the conscious mind. Repression is an example of motivated forgetting: One "forgets" what one really does not wish to remember.

Rorschach Inkblot Test

The Rorschach Inkblot Test, the most widely used projective test, consists of ten inkblots that people are asked to interpret.


Self-concept refers to one's personal awareness of "who I am." In the humanistic perspective, self-concept is a central feature of personality; life happiness is significantly affected by whether self-concept is positive or negative.


In Maslow's theory, self-actualization describes the process of fulfilling one's potential and becoming spontaneous, loving, creative, and self-accepting. Self-actualization is at the very top of Maslow's need hierarchy and therefore becomes active only after the more basic physical and psychological needs have been met.


In humanistic psychology, self-esteem refers to an individual's sense of self-worth.

Social-cognitive Perspective

Derived from principles of learning, cognition, and social behavior, the social-cognitive perspective focuses on how our schemas, memories, and expectations interact with external events to shape our personalities.


Sublimation is the defense mechanism in which an instinctual impulse is modified in a socially acceptable manner. Sublimate and sublime derive from the same Latin root, meaning "to raise, uplift, or ennoble; of high spiritual, moral, or intellectual value."


In Freud's theory, the superego is the division of personality that contains the conscience and develops by incorporating the perceived moral standards of society.

Thematic Apperception Test (TAT)

The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) is a projective test that consists of ambiguous pictures about which people are asked to make up stories.


Traits are people's characteristic patterns of behavior.

Unconditional Positive Regard

Unconditional positive regard is, according to Rogers, an attitude of total acceptance and one of the three conditions essential to a "growth-promoting" climate.


In Freud's theory, the unconscious is the repository of unacceptable thoughts, wishes, feelings, and memories. According to contemporary psychologists, it is a level of information processing of which we are unaware.

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