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Putnam, M.A. Tiersky, L.A. Freer, B.D. Pievsky, M.A. (2014). Defense Mechanisms and Cognitive Complaints: Assessing Cognitive Complaints and Self-Reported Defensive Styles. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 62(3):NP11-NP16.

(2014). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 62(3):NP11-NP16

Defense Mechanisms and Cognitive Complaints: Assessing Cognitive Complaints and Self-Reported Defensive Styles

Megan A. Putnam, Lana A. Tiersky, Benjamin D. Freer and Michelle A. Pievsky

Defense mechanisms, as theorized by ego psychologists, are the way in which the ego manages unpleasant affective urges, such as anxiety from intrapsychic conflict and stressors. These mechanisms are used to handle situations of inner turmoil for an individual and are unconscious reactions. Over time the individual, as managed by the ego, develops a pattern of behavior and reactions to this psychic distress that can be thought of as a defensive style.

Cognitive symptoms such as problems with attention or memory, or the inability to plan and organize, are among the complaints presented to clinicians by adult patients seeking treatment (de Braek, Dijkstra, and Jolles 2011). Various studies have indicated that the relationship between self-reported cognitive complaints does not correlate with objective deficits on the neuropsychological measures intended to identify that specific deficit (Wilhelm, Witthoft, and Schipolowski 2010). This discrepancy may in part be explained by the particular characteristics of the person reporting the complaint. Personal factors may contribute to the types of symptoms a patient reports. For example, the personality style trait of neuroticism has been found in one study (Wilhelm, Witthoft, and Schipolowski 2010) to be associated with an increase in scores on the Cognitive Failures Questionnaire (CFQ; Broadbent et al. 1982). Where the Defense Style Questionnaire (DSQ-40; Andrews, Singh, and Bond 1993) uses the term neurotic to represent a particular approach to defensive style, it should not be confused with the personality trait neuroticism.

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