natalia alexandrova
Sexualization as a mechanism of psychological defence
Every person faces daily internal and external conflicts caused by anxiety, emotional feelings, stress and other negative factors. Naturally, a mechanism has developed that copes with psychological stress and improves the state of mind.
This is the so-called psychological defence mechanism.
What is psychological defence?
Psychological defence is an internal psychological mechanism for adapting to difficult points of view of a person and to a situation that can be traumatic. Psychological defences are formed from early childhood, including the prenatal period. They help a person not only mentally, but also physically.

This concept, as well as the classification of psychological defence mechanisms, is among the debatable ones. In his last works, Freud defined psychological defence as naming for all those mechanisms that work to weaken external and internal conflicts and to regulate personality behaviour. In modern psychology, a variety of opinions has appeared.

So, in the works of scientists, psychological defence is understood both as "mental activity aimed at spontaneously eliminating the consequences of mental trauma" (according to Rozhnov), and as "ways of processing information in the brain that block threatening information" (according to Tonkonogyi), and as "the dynamics of the system of personality attitudes in case of a conflict of attitudes" (according to Bassin), etc. But they still have something in common: in any case, there is a conflict, which in the end is somehow being prevented.

As they grow older, defence mechanisms are wasting energy and body forces in vain, not helping to cope with a problem it causes. At the same time, it is danger just to disrupt psychological defence; it is necessary to eliminate the reason due to which it was formed. Otherwise, the psyche will form another non-constructive way to cope with unpleasant experiences.

Types of psychological defence

As Mac-Williams noted, "any psychological process can be used as a defence, no overview of the defences can be considered complete." But there are the main ones that stand out today by most analysts. They are divided into primary (primitive) defence mechanisms and secondary (matured).

The primary ones are those that are associated with the boundary between the own "I" and the outside world: primitive isolation, denial, omnipotent control, primitive idealization (and depreciation), projection, introjection and projective identification, splitting of the Ego, dissociation.

And the secondary ones are connected with the internal boundaries between the observing and the experiencing parts of the Ego: repression, regression, isolation, intellectualization, rationalization, moralization, compartmentalization, annulment, turning against oneself, displacement, reactive education, reversal, identification, response, sexualization (instinctualization), sublimation.

In this article, we will dive more into details of such a mechanism of psychological defence as sexualization.

What is sexualization (instinctualization)?
Sexualization (instinctualization) is a defence mechanism that allows attributing the erotic component to negative events in order to make them positive. In other words, this mechanism allows you to unconsciously convert panic, pain, horror, and similar feelings to something more enthusiastic and pleasant. It is also used to maintain self-esteem, eliminate shame or distract from a sense of inner emptiness. Sometimes sexualization covers depression or suicidal thoughts.

Freud wrote that all human activity is based on sexual energy, which he called libido.
This concept of sexualization has gender features: for women it is addiction, and for men it is often aggression. Also some people sexualize things, situations, processes. For example, money, power, learning process.

Sexualization itself is not problematic and wrong. It all depends on the context, as well as on how exactly it appeared in a particular person. It is necessary to conduct a survey to understand why this particular person resorted to the use of this type of defence mechanism, and whether this particular case can be regarded as a positive (adaptive) or negative (maladaptive) habit.

This method of protection can be considered negative or problematic when it comes to the hysterical and masochistic nature of ф person. Here, sexualization appears due to the suppressed fear of sexuality or when a masochist sexualizes their fear of someone who tortures them or rapes them, when they again and again looks for such a relationship, although it is clear that help is needed here.

Many authors who in one way or another address the issue of defence mechanisms include sexualization in the concept of response, but Mc-Williams in his writings expresses the view that sexualization is possible without external response (more precisely, erotization).

As described above, people can use this mechanism to sexualize any experience, because this is a fairly effective way for a person to understand that he they still alive. Any childhood trauma (fear of death, horror of physical violence) can be transformed into something more life-affirming. This traumatic situation that occurred both with the child and with an older person can be erotically colored in later life. For example, you will enjoy spanking, pulling hair, or strangulation. Thus, a masochistic component is formed in the personality structure, in which the concept of pain and pleasure is practically inseparable.

The process of sexualization can occur due to any sad, anxious, stressful and dangerous events in a person's life. Often there is a negative attitude towards people who are more successful. Then it can help to transfer them to a sexual fantasy.

In sexualization, those feelings that were associated with traumatic experiences (power, aggression, pain, dependence), as a result, are transformed into pleasant sensations. On the other hand, the ability to enjoy caresses, gentle touches and kisses can completely disappear.

In a desire to receive such physical sensations, a partner of a certain character is needed, who will not be against being rude in intimate relationships. But in practice it turns out that it can be difficult for such a partner to restrain themselves, their excessive cruelty and rudeness, and not to show such inclinations besides sexual practices. For a person with trauma, love is expressed in suffering. It allows the partner-aggressor to humiliate them, to control them, which ultimately limits the freedom of the victim. An alarming tension rises from this total control. To get out of such a relationship is getting harder every day. Thus, it turns out that the mechanism of sexualization as a psychological defence leads only to bad consequences, and there is a reason to seek help from specialists.

It is very important to consider the experience of communication with parents. If the relationship didn't not work out, any trauma was inflicted on the child, then the unconscious attitude will be that there is no love without pain. This affects the formation of attachments and close relationships with other people. Most often, traumatic relationships with parents lead to the fact that the child, as an adult, will not be able to create their own family, remain forever single or start a family quite late. At the same time, they can have erratic sexual relations, a large circle of acquaintances, where communication is superficial. Let people close becomes a problem, because affection for such a person certainly means destruction. But even despite all this, and the depth of the trauma, the need for love is great. Because everyone in the unconscious retains the memory of merging with his mother.

A person gradually develops self-deception. It seems to them that in addition to sex without obligations, they don't need anything. With these thoughts they hide that they need love. Biologically, a person needs to breathe, eat food, drink water and excrete waste products from their body. From the psychological point of view, the same thing happens: there is a need not only to "consume" something, but also to "share" something. Gestalt psychology describes similar metabolic processes. So, when the substitution of the concepts of love by sexual instinct is made, for a while it can even satisfying a person. But then dependence can develop, which will only increase the acute need for a loved one and for love in general.

An example of sexualization can also be a parent projection. Projection is also a defence mechanism in which a transfer from internal to external takes place. When meeting different people who are similar to our relatives, to our loved ones, a person can project their image of this relative or loved one onto a random person. Naturally, along with the familiar image, feelings associated with them are transferred. That is, the sympathy, care, or even simple interest that may be experienced in such an image can be misinterpreted, because such instincts are not always distinguishable by a person, they can easily be confused with sexual desire. When there is communication with people of your own gender takes place, it is easier to recognize interest to yourself. With people of opposite gender everything is a little different. Interest in a person is very similar to an upsurge, to energy during sexual arousal. When communicating with friends, these warm feelings often arise, when an understanding is born that a person is a kindred spirit, you want to stay with him and talk again and again. But when this communication takes place between people of the opposite sex, then most likely thoughts arise not only about not wanting to leave a person, but also about love and even passion.

Gratification, encouragement, manipulation can be expressed by bodily pleasures. One can achieve care or praise in this way. This in turn increases self-esteem, a sense of need and importance. They resort to manipulations, including sexualized ones, in order to escape from a feeling of weakness, in order to prove to themselves that they don't need anything. It is possible to recognize the presence of sex manipulation in a relationship. It will definitely have constant tension and discomfort.

To get out of any situation where there is sexualization of any kind, it is worth learning to recognize your needs and desires, to be able to formulate them in an accurate way. It is also very important to be able to accept the denial. Gratitude must be not only expressed, but also felt. Acceptance of one's weaknesses is an important component in recognizing defence through sexualization. You need to get acquainted with yourself and your needs, be sensitive to yourself and others, listen to your inner voice.
I repeat: it is impossible simply just to forbid yourself, scold yourself or to suppress yourself. This will create an outbreak through different way, or lead to severe psychological consequences, up to psychosis. The goal of therapy is to identify the core of the problem and neutralize it. Then the need for sexualization will disappear by itself. And a person will own the power that was previously spent on servicing the psychological defence mechanism.
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