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Lichtenberg, J.D. Slap, J.W. (1971). On the Defensive Organization. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 52:451-457.

(1971). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 52:451-457

On the Defensive Organization

Joseph D. Lichtenberg and Joseph William Slap


We wish to summarize our proposal in the form of a definition of the defensive organization.

The defensive organization is that part of the total ego organization which explores the possibilities for adaptation to the disequilibria of intrapsychic conflict and attempts to find the best solution in the given circumstance. As a general regulatory organization, the defensive organization uses not only those methods we referred to as the defence mechchanisms, to distort or impede, but also processes of cognitive controls to order, channel, modulate or modify the ideational, affective and motor content aroused, and the timing and mode of their discharge. Affects are the intrapsychic signals which guide the activity of the defensive organization; the anticipation of positive affects orientate the activity of the defensive organization towards objects and goals; that of unpleasurable affects towards inhibition, withdrawl, gross distortion or impedence. When a motivational urge produces a disequilibrium, the affect signals of a possible danger situation will set in motion the scanning for solutions.

Pathological solutions result when the function of the ego which designates a situation as dangerous reverts to primary-process thinking and automatic alarm responses. Associative links establish a misidentity of the contemporary stress to a past danger situation, related in memory to prior unresolved conflicts and fixation points. Both the instinctual urge and the means of coping with it, the defences, reappear in a stereotypic fashion, the traumatic event being organized as a memory along with the regulatory means the defensive organization used at the time. The means employed range from relatively specific definable mechanisms used singly or in combination to involved characterological defensive operations. In the course of the recrudescence of unresolved conflicts, the defences employed acquire complex layering.

The defensive organization is a functional unit, or cohesive set of motives, which crystallizes from the inborn genetically determined tendency to order (regulate) psychic experience. In its most primitive form the defensive organization consists of a readiness to regulate and a readiness to make use of whatever cognitive apparatuses are available. A major developmental step forward is achieved once anticipatory cognition provides signals for the activation of regulatory processes. Then the patterns of facilitation and inhibition can be further refined to a complex hierarchical gradation. Self and object relationships provide the experience of the environment which enables anticipation of consequences of action. The consolidation of the superego after the oedipal period has a stabilizing effect on the defensive organization. It then settles to its principal function: to be the major ego resource working to achieve a smooth functioning relative autonomy from the drives, external environment and superego.

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