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Schafer, R. (1968). The Mechanisms of Defence. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 49:49-62.

(1968). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 49:49-62

The Mechanisms of Defence

Roy Schafer


The utility of the term defence mechanism depends on the observer's viewing clinical phenomena from a distance and the theoretician's commitment to developing the structuralfunctional language and propositions of psychoanalysis. As the observer moves closer to the clinical phenomena, and as the theoretician concerns himself with dynamic language and propositions, especially with regard to the ego system, he is in a position to view all defences as wishful activity that inherently provides libidinal and aggressive gratification or leads to it, or both, at the same time as it serves counterdynamic purposes. On these grounds, one is better able to understand the dynamically unconscious status of the so-called defence mechanisms and the patient's tenacious, libidinal as well as aggressive, resistance to the analysis of his defences. By fully applying the principles of multiple function and of hierarchic layering of the psychic apparatus, and by maintaining a view of the ego as a dynamic, wishful organization, one may transcend, without being oblivious to, the existing descriptive, theoretical and technical categories of psychoanalysis concerned with defence. The fact that this approach blurs the distinction between defence and symptom (and also character traits) indicates that there are further conceptual problems to be worked out in this regard. I have tried to show that that distinction is already blurred in the close-up work of clinical analysis.

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