What to know about what you don’t know you know. #1: Intuition is very efficient—if you don't overthink it.
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Hi Dr. Burton; I hope you’re doing well. Your article was a great read, and I greatly appreciate your insight on this subject. I am fascinated by the influence of ego defenses in some personality disorders found in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, mainly because the polarization of character traits in the personality disorder tends to make one’s mental processes more discernible, and thus his/her ego defenses are illuminated. With that being said, I’m interested in gathering your feedback on the relationship between obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and ego defenses, and I hope this could prove to be a fruitful dialogue for your readers.
To me, one of the most captivating ego defenses noted in your article is reaction formation. However, prior to delving into its connection with OCPD, I’d like to voice some confusion I have with the examples you provided for the ego defense. Prior to moving forward, it seems necessary that we establish a common understanding of the process. Thus, I’d say that with your notation of reaction formation being the “superficial adoption—and, often, exaggeration—of emotions and impulses that are diametrically opposed to one’s own,” I can comfortably support the example of the congressman and alcoholic. Both individuals are advocating for a set of ideals that they secretly oppose, being children’s rights and abstinence respectively, so referencing reaction formation seems appropriate.
However, I am perplexed by the example of the rich student, which is presupposing that the possession of wealth can determine one’s support for capitalism. With the heritability of wealth, and the ability to obtain wealth through anti-capitalistic rallies, I would suggest that a student could genuinely endorse anti-capitalism while being rich. Thus, one cannot support the notion of all rich people supporting capitalism, so the example appears to be inapplicable to reaction formation. Therefore, I’m uncertain if we have differing ideas on the relationship between wealth and capitalistic views, or if I’m misunderstanding the process of reaction formation.
Nonetheless, with our perception of reaction formation being at least largely overlapping, I’d like to discuss the ego defense within the confines of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Bowins (2010) points out the trend in which obsessions, such as fearing the world’s randomness, can produce anxiety that promotes the compulsion to be neat, orderly, and symmetrical. Thus, one could seemingly argue that individuals with obsessive-compulsions are disproportionately compensating for their naturally occurring fears. Atmaca, Yildirim, Koc, Korkmaz, Ozler, and Erenkus (2010) would likely support such a claim with their conclusion that obsessions reflect responses to unconscious conflicts, which can then be neutralized under reaction formation with an opposite impulse. In its simplest form, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder seemingly relates to reaction formation with obsessions being one’s emotions, and compulsions being his/her superficially adopted-opposite impulse.
I’m intrigued by the prospect of receiving a response that addresses the aforementioned information regarding the rich student and OCPD. Would you still suggest that the example of the rich student applies to reaction formation, and do you agree with the relationship between OCPD and reaction formation? I hope you enjoy this alternative method of exemplifying defense mechanisms. Have a great day!
Atmaca, M., Yildirim, H., Koc, M., Korkmaz, S., Ozler, S., & Erenkus, Z. (2011). Do defense styles of ego relate to volumes of orbito-frontal cortex in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder?. Psychiatry investigation, 8(2), 123-129.
Bowins, B. (2010). Personality disorders: a dimensional defense mechanism approach. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 64(2), 153-169.
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