Sublimation (psychology)

Sublimation (psychology)

In psychology, sublimation is a coping mechanism. It has its roots in the Nietzschean & psychoanalytical approach, and is often also referred to as a type of defense mechanism.

Sublimation is the refocusing of psychic energy (which Sigmund Freud believed was limited) away from negative outlets, toward positive, or the rechannelling of drives which cannot find an outlet. For example, a student worrying over a major exam might rechannel that energy into studying, and a rageful person who is accustomed to lashing out might rechannel their passion through introspection and organization.

Psychoanalytic Theory

In Freud's classic theory, erotic energy is only allowed limited expression due to constraints of human society.

Freud considered this defense mechanism the most productive compared to the others that he identified (ie., repression, displacement, denial, reaction formation, intellectualization and projection). Sublimation is the process of transforming libido into "socially useful" achievements, mainly art. Psychoanalysts often refer to sublimation as the only truly successful defense mechanism.

Interpersonal Psychoanalysis

Harry Stack Sullivan, the pioneer of interpersonal psychoanalysis, defines sublimation as the unwitting substitution of a partial satisfaction with social approval for the pursuit of a direct satisfaction which would be contrary to one's ideals or to the judgement of social censors and other important people who surround one. The substitution might not be quite what we want, but it is the only way that we can get part of our satisfaction and feel secure, too. Harry Stack Sullivan documents that all sublimatory things are more complicated than the direct satisfaction of the needs to which they apply. They entail no disturbance of consciousness, no stopping to think why they must be done or what the expense connected with direct satisfaction would be. In successful sublimation, Sullivan observes extraordinarily efficient handling of a conflict between the need for a satisfaction and the need for security without perturbation of awareness.

Psychology of Religion

In Religion, Sublimation is linked to the mystical experience. This is achieved via meditation techniques. It is widely practiced in all religions by the mystics of the ages. See Tibetan Buddhism, Tantra and other various Hinduist practices, such as those in the Kama Sutra. In Christianity, see the Song of Solomon, a Bible text, the lives of St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and his poetry.

Examples in Fiction

A dramatization of this method is depicted in an early episode of the American television series The Simpsons. In the episode "Moaning Lisa," Lisa Simpson, in a nihilistic desolate mood, finds solace in playing and singing the Blues. In Psychological Science: Mind, Brain and Behavior, by Michael Gazzaniga and Todd F. Heatherton, a more sinister example is given in which a sadist becomes a surgeon or a dentist. A humorous example of this is presented in the character of Orin Scrivello in the musical and movie Little Shop of Horrors.

See also

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