Sigmund Freud: probably the most famous and influential psychologists of all time.
The founder of psychoanalytic theory, Freud is credited with creating the “talk therapy” approach to solving psychological problems that we take for granted today. In addition, our popular culture is riddled with Freudian references, including the well-known defense mechanisms that many of us use to cope with traumatic situations. And what’s more traumatic than dealing with your money?
All of us have used one of these strategies at some point to protect our fragile psyches from the stress of confronting out bad financial behaviors. Protecting your sanity is good, but the trouble with defense mechanisms – according to the good doctor – is that they distort reality. They may be effective in reducing stress, but they keep us from dealing with the behaviors that are, frankly, screwing up our lives.
Since seeing a psychoanalyst is expensive, I want to discuss a few of the most common defense mechanisms so that you can try to recognize them in yourself and knock them off. No couch or checkbook required!
= Explaining away bad behaviors with seemingly logical excuses for them
For example: “Yeah, I put another $300 on my credit card this weekend, but I needed it. I had a really stressful week.”
= Refusing to accept unpleasant facts.
For example: “My debt isn’t that bad. I’m sure it’s at a normal level for most people my age.”
Failing to open credit card statements or bills altogether
= Stifling reasonable thinking or unpleasant emotions by focusing on (sometimes unrelated) facts
For example: “My credit card debt is the result of the declining socioeconomic status of middle class Americans since the stagflation of the 1970s.”
= Redirecting negative emotions or thoughts to an unthreatening target
For example: “I’m in financial trouble because my damn kids are so damn expensive!”
= Attributing your own unpleasant/ threatening thoughts or emotions to someone else
For example: “She never pays her bills on time! She must be so worried about her credit score…I mean seriously, who is that irresponsible? She’ll never be able to buy a house if she keeps this up…”
Which defense mechanism do you think you use the most? What about in the past? Free association is an important part of psychoanalysis, so leave a comment below!