An Animated Introduction to Anna Freud: The Psychoanalyst (and Daughter of Sigmund) Who Theorized Denial, Projection & Other Defense Mechanisms for Our Egos

Being in denial, engag­ing in pro­jec­tion, ratio­nal­iz­ing or intel­lec­tu­al­iz­ing events, regress­ing into child­hood, dis­plac­ing your anger, retreat­ing into fan­ta­sy: who among us has­n’t been sub­ject to accu­sa­tions of doing these things at one time or anoth­er? And even if you haven’t, all of those terms sure­ly sound famil­iar. They owe their place in the cul­ture in large part to the psy­cho­an­a­lyst Anna Freud, who cat­a­logued these and oth­er “defense mech­a­nisms” in her 1934 book The Ego and Mech­a­nisms of Defense. In her analy­sis, we engage in these some­times unpleas­ant and even embar­rass­ing behav­iors to pro­tect our ego — anoth­er now-com­mon term that, in Freudi­an usage, refers to our pre­ferred image of our­selves.

As the daugh­ter of Sig­mund Freud, the “father of psy­cho­analy­sis,” Anna Freud’s name car­ried a con­sid­er­able weight in the psy­cho­an­a­lyt­i­cal world. We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured an ani­mat­ed intro­duc­tion to the work of Freud père from Alain de Bot­ton’s The School of Life here on Open Cul­ture, and today we have one from the same source on that of Freud fille.

Togeth­er they reveal that, though both Sig­mund and Anna Freud worked in the same field, and indeed each did more than their part to devel­op that field, each of their bod­ies of work on the human mind stands on its own. And though many terms coined by Sig­mund Freud — “Oedi­pus com­plex,” the “sub­con­scious,” and even “id, ego, and super­ego” — remain in our lex­i­con, the names Anna Freud gave the defense mech­a­nisms may well see even more every­day use.

You can hear all those mech­a­nisms explained in the video above or read about them in the accom­pa­ny­ing arti­cle at The Book of Life. “Anna Freud start­ed from a posi­tion of deep gen­eros­i­ty towards defense mech­a­nisms,” it says. “We turn to them because we feel immense­ly threat­ened. They are our instinc­tive ways of ward­ing off dan­ger and lim­it­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal pain.” Ulti­mate­ly, her work teach­es “a les­son in mod­esty. For she reveals the extreme prob­a­bil­i­ty that defense mech­a­nisms are play­ing a marked and pow­er­ful role in one’s own life – though with­out it being obvi­ous to one­self that this is so.” In oth­er words, you can’t, for the most part, help it. That expla­na­tion may not get you off the hook the next time some­one tells you to stop pro­ject­ing, intel­lec­tu­al­iz­ing, or dis­plac­ing, but bear in mind that when it comes to defend­ing the ego, no one else can help it either.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sig­mund Freud, Father of Psy­cho­analy­sis, Intro­duced in a Mon­ty Python-Style Ani­ma­tion

Sig­mund Freud’s Home Movies: A Rare Glimpse of His Pri­vate Life

Watch Lucian Freud’s Very Last Day of Paint­ing (2011)

An Ani­mat­ed Intro to the Ideas of Jacques Lacan, “the Great­est French Psy­cho­an­a­lyst of the 20th Cen­tu­ry”

The Psy­cho­log­i­cal & Neu­ro­log­i­cal Dis­or­ders Expe­ri­enced by Char­ac­ters in Alice in Won­der­land: A Neu­ro­science Read­ing of Lewis Carroll’s Clas­sic Tale

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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