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Let’s Learn About Defense Mechanisms (Reposted because I’m a Bad Person)

Posted Feb 16 2012 12:22pm

A little over a year ago I entered a comedy writing contest. The required material needed to be previously unpublished, but I was so focused on finishing ‘Crazy’ that I couldn’t generate any new ideas. So in accordance with what bad people do, I removed my post on defense mechanisms from the internet and submitted that instead. Of course, as Karma would have it, my piece wasn’t selected, and I was left with nothing but a guilty conscience.

Fortunately, last week my mother forgot my birthday yet again, making this piece now relevant for a second time. It’s interesting how someone else’s transgressions can make you forget about your own. So I’ve forgiven myself for my error and am reposting it here. Enjoy and perhaps you’ll learn something about our unconscious.

When mothers forget their sons’ birthday for the 3rd time in four years they engage in numerous defense mechanisms to deal with the inevitable guilt that follows. Defense mechanisms are psychological maneuvers that allow us to distort reality which in turn protect us from emotional pain. Although we should generally steer clear of overanalyzing others , let’s learn some common defense mechanisms through the use of a recent telephone call transcript.

Mother: Robert, I was calling to tell you that my therapist says I’m just about ready to stop therapy, that I’m quite emotionally healthy.

Robert: You forgot my birthday again.

Mother: What? I did no such thing. (Denial: rejecting a fact despite evidence to the contrary)

Robert: Yes you did.

Mother: When was it?

Robert: Yesterday.

Mother: But yesterday was the Super Bowl.

Robert: I know, every seven years the Super Bowl and my birthday are the same day.

Mother: Did you enjoy the game? (Suppression: intentionally avoiding thoughts that are uncomfortable)

Robert: Are you going to apologize?

Mother: It’s not like it was a landmark birthday like your 21st or 30th. (Intellectualization: focusing on objective details in an emotional situation).

Robert: You forgot both of those too. It really hurts my feelings when you do this. The mother and son bond is one that is too precious to be…

Mother: Don’t be so dramatic. I didn’t break your arm in an act of child abuse, I just forgot your birthday. What do you want me to do, say I’m the worst mother in the world? Shout it from the tree tops? “I’m the worst mother in the world!!!!!” Like that? (Regression: returning to a younger or more immature stage of life).

Robert: Just an apology would be fine.

Mother: Did anyone else forget?

Robert: No, just you. Everyone else remembered.

Mother: If anyone should feel guilty it’s you, giving me such a hard time about this. (Projection: attributing your own emotion to another person)

Robert: I think you are the one who feels guilty.

Mother: Alright, maybe a little.

Robert: Well I accept your apology if there is one.

Mother: Is there anything I can do to make it up to you? (Compensation: working harder to overcome real or imagined weaknesses).

Robert: Other than an apology? How about a Wii?

Mother: I don’t know what that is but it sounds expensive so how about a gift card? Your cousin gave me one for some store. Best Buy I think.

Robert: That’s how you’re making this up to me? Re-gifting?

Mother: I’ll mail it out whenever I get around to it. Oh and Happy Belated. Bye.

I assumed that the apology would never come. I got an email the next day, however:

‘Robert, you are a bright, special boy, and I will get that Wee [sic] game for your birthday because good children deserve good things like fudge and games and Pokemon. Please don’t be mad at me. Someday you will be successful.’

Her verbal skills have always surpassed her writing abilities. If I were eleven years old that email would have made my day. At 36 I think I’ll still take it, as I’m pretty sure I know what she means.

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