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Rendon, M. (1974). The Family and Defense Mechanisms. Am. J. Psychoanal., 34(4):347-350.

(1974). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 34(4):347-350

The Family and Defense Mechanisms

Mario Rendon, M.D.

Many principles and practices in psychiatry have moved from the abstract to the concrete, from the obscure to the obvious. Freud moved in a centrifugal fashion from the unconscious and dreams of the individual to the analysis of social institutions and social phenomena such as culture, religion, and war. Post-Freudians directed their attention to the ego, and the neo-Freudians to the social. Harry Stack Sullivan focused on the concept of interpersonal factors, akin in certain respects to the Kleinian school in England; Horney and other “culturalists” studied the influences of society in the determination of mental illness. Family therapy has been a necessary and almost unavoidable outcome of this process.

Psychiatry has not remained detached from politics, and thus we hear about self-, family, and group therapy and other psychiatric phraseologies in political terms. Politics has to do with government and control and with the use of power. In this sense it applies to all levels of existence, from the intrapsychic to the international. Freud's so-called defense mechanisms may be considered in political terms as strategies or operations that aim at maintaining the self's homeostasis (or order) by using power (Freud's libido, Horney's growth forces) through channeling, converting, suppressing, repressing, denying, and so on. Used optimally, freely, and under one's control, these operations would lead to health and growth. But when used arbitrarily, blindly, indiscriminately, and compulsively, they lead to illness.

Why do individuals use their power in such arbitrary and blind (unconscious) ways? It is at this point that we enter into the arena of the family, and of a broader society as well. The answer is obvious to those who recognize that the individual has to maintain the homeostasis of larger groups, and not just his own personal homeostasis. In other words, today we must think not only in terms of an Oedipus complex, but also in terms of the Jocasta complex, the Agamemnon complex, the Electra complex, and so on.

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