Ego defence mechanisms

Element Descriptor

When people’s egos are ‘under attack’ , from, er, reality, they use one or more ego defence mechanisms (regression, projection, splitting).  Failing to understand the ways people (and groups) defend their views of themselves in the face of setbacks/criticism/attacks etc means that you will constantly be surprised and wrong footed, unable to offer helpful suggestions and prone to living Groundhog Day over and over again.

Level descriptors

NovicePractitionerExpertNinja
Has a basic understanding of the 10 most common ego-defence mechanisms, and can spot them in other people and take (compassionate) action in response, to stop those mechanisms messing with the group’s day.You have – and can communicate – a basic understanding of how party cultures and work demands constrain  behaviour and reward conformity/obedience/secrecy.You understand and can explain the processes by which candidates are vetted and selected, manifestos written etc.You understand the difference between executive members and backbenchers and the processes by which decision-making and scrutiny is alleged to take place, and how it actually does. You understand the different kinds of motivations people have for becoming and remaining local politiciansCan see how various ego-defence mechanisms, from the most common to the most outlandish, interact in groups which are familiar and less familiar to them, and suggest possible ways that might help those groups to manage/overcome the entrenched patterns on display(Would need to be at least practitioner on group dynamics)The Freudians have become passive-aggressive  sulksters because you have developed significant new insights into how ego-defence mechanisms work in the ‘real world’ beyond the couch, in society and activism, and ways of coping with them/helping individuals and groups overcome them without taking out a second mortgage to pay off some overpriced therapist.

Element Overview Essay

This is a draft. If something doesn’t make sense, or you see typos, or if you have further ideas, please email us on contact@activecitizenshiptoolkit.net

The reasons people don’t see these or use these are pretty straightforward. Most people think that all Freud did was talking about how people want to fuck their mothers. And so unless you’ve had some psychology, either in high school, university, or unless you’ve read, self-help, popular Science, Science in quote marks with Freud books, you’re probably just not going to be very familiar with these terms, or maybe if you’ve undergone some therapy, anyway, most people are not gonna be familiar. 

And anyway, they’ll be applying to themselves and maybe to their spouses and friends, not to those within and beyond the active citizenship group, whether it’s a campaigning group or a club or a political party or whatever. And that’s a pity because even though I can make some jibes about Freud, and we all should, there is, in my opinion, merit in his notion of ego defence mechanisms, and of course, the overlapping concept of cognitive biases, let’s stick with ego defence mechanisms. 

So also, if you start spouting this stuff, people just laugh at you and go, “Oh, gibberish, non scientific, touchy, feely, hippie, bollocks, etc.” Maybe, because that’s what they sincerely believe. Also, maybe they’re afraid of being seen. 

So consequences Well, if you don’t understand that, as individuals and groups, we have egos, and that we have mechanisms to defend them, then you’ll be constantly surprised, disappointed, frustrated, that the same old patterns play out. And you won’t have because of the disappointment and the fatigue and the resentment of it curdles into, you won’t have the capacity to endure or to even try changing things. In which case, you know, your group could well go under. 

So, what is to be done? Well, you know, there are lots of basic explainers of ego defence mechanisms and we’ll all spot one or two that we like to use, and that we see other people using my favourite is projection. Where you can spot in other people, things that you don’t like about yourself. And the lovely expression is when you point one finger at someone else, you point three others back at yourself. 

So if your group has an understanding of ego defence mechanisms, it doesn’t mean they go away. It doesn’t mean that people don’t use them. But as they become more self aware of them, they can become more compassionate to themselves and others and start to stop using these particular ego defence mechanisms at the drop of a hat. 

Because ultimately, an ego defence mechanism is that thing we learned as a young child that helped us retain or regain a sense of control in the universe. In the big scary universe. Now most of us stop having tantrums by the time we have it in our 30s later with some Because that gets frowned upon.  The other stuff is more subtle and is seen as kind of almost normal. Well, it is normal, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay. Or that it’s adaptive.

Development Resources

Assessment Resources