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What Is Sublimation In Psychology

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Understanding The Concept Of Sublimation In Psychology Made Easy

What is Sublimation?

Sublimation is a subconscious process whereby certain negative urges are converted into positive behavior. Let’s understand the concept in greater detail.

Sublimation is a subconscious process whereby certain negative urges are converted into positive behavior. Lets understand the concept in greater detail.

How To Practice Sublimation Psychology

Consider what would happen if you were to become enraged. One method to deal with these sensations is to have an emotional outburst, but such outbursts can be damaging. You might end up with ruined relationships and a reputation as a hothead, for example.

Rather than fleeing in a rage, is it better to turn your enraged feelings into physical activity, such as cleaning your house? You might scour your kitchen and bathrooms angrily for a few hours.

When your frustration fades, you are left with a positive result: a spotless home. This is one example of how sublimation can help people change evil urges into less harmful and even productive behaviors.

What Is The Contribution Of Sigmund Freud To Sublimation In Psychology

Sigmund Freud is the originator of the concept of sublimation in psychology. Sigmund Freud came up with the idea of sublimation when he came across the story of a person who would torture animals as a child.

The person, later on, became a surgeon. Freud hypothesized that the person sublimated his impulses of sadism into a socially acceptable profession. During sublimation, one turns unacceptable desires/impulses/urges into acceptable ones. This transformation is being performed by the ego part of our personality. Freud regarded this ability to channel negative impulses into positive behaviors as a sign of maturity.

Freud viewed human personality as comprised of three essential parts: the id, the ego, and the superego . The Id follows the pleasure principle. It is what wants instant gratifications.

The superego follows the moral principle. It is in charge of weighing things on moral grounds. Thats why the id and the superego are always in conflict with each other. Thats where the ego comes along to solve their conflicts.

The ego is based on the reality principle. It listens to both the ego and the superego and solves their conflicts realistically. We can say that what the ego does is that it reduces the anxiety created by the conflicts of id and ego. Thats why the ego is always playing a mediating role during all psychological defense mechanisms, including sublimation.

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Workings Of Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are subconscious coping techniques that are brought into practice in order to deal with, and lessen the intensity of, anything that is negative, unpleasant, and threatening. Sigmund Freud, the propagator of the concept of defense mechanisms, said that unless these coping techniques are adopted, a person will be forced to deal with the negative stimuli in all their intensity, which can have a damaging effect on his mental health and psyche.

What Is An Example Of Denial


Many people use denial in their everyday lives to avoid dealing with painful feelings or areas of their life they donât wish to admit.

For example, a husband may refuse to recognise obvious signs of his wifeâs infidelity. A student may refuse to recognise their obvious lack of preparedness for an exam!

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Sublimation In Behavioral Psychology Verywell Mind

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  • Summary: In psychology, sublimation is a mature type of defense mechanism, in which socially unacceptable impulses or idealizations are transformed into socially

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  • Highest rating: 5
  • Summary: Sublimation is a defense mechanism that involves channeling unwanted or unacceptable urges into an admissible or productive outlet.

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Is Sublimation Good Or Bad

Defense mechanisms typically aren’t inherently good or bad. The distinction comes in based on how they affect our lives. In general, redirecting the energy from impulses that could be harmful is a good thing because it can benefit both the individual and those around them. However, its important to note that redirecting may cause its own problems, too. Constantly rerouting frequent feelings of anger can defend you from harming yourself, others, or your relationships, but it wont help you get to the root of why youre so often feeling this way. Or, consider the act of funneling frustration, sadness, or stress into exercise. While building an exercise routine can be highly beneficial to your mental and physical health, overdoing it can lead to the opposite effects: injury, obsessiveness, or even neglect of other areas of life.

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What Is An Example Of Regression

When we are troubled or frightened, our behaviors often become more childish or primitive.

A child may begin to suck their thumb again or wet the bed when they need to spend some time in the hospital. Teenagers may giggle uncontrollably when introduced into a social situation involving the opposite sex.

Sublimation In Therapy And Mental Health

What is Sublimation? (Freudian Defense Mechanism)

According to Freuds psychoanalytic theory, defense mechanisms help the ego defend against the primitive, aggressive, or sexual urges of the id.

Although Freud may have overemphasized the role of sexual and aggressive urges on the psyche, sexuality is a common example in the case of sublimation. For example, if a man is sexually attracted to his married neighbor, he may channel that sexual frustration into running, working, gardening, writing, or another productive outlet.

Sublimation is a healthy coping mechanism. Transforming pain or anger into productive, achievable projects can benefit well-being, relationships, and even physical health. In fact, some therapists may encourage it.

Other times, however, a therapist may observe that particular habits and patterns signal that sublimation is at play. The therapist may use that observation to discuss the patients emotions and experiences, and explore if it would be beneficial to address sublimated emotions more directly.

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Sublimation Need Of The Hour

Sublimation is the need of the hour! Yes it is.

No man is an island. We all live together and have to keep in mind that our actions and reaction to certain actions, may hurt others.

Thus, the unconscious mind develops styles that tend to keep out the negativity and enhances productivity.

It is significantly important to control the urges so that the person does not act in an unfitting manner that can later cause guilt, trauma or distress.

Converting emotions for better adjustment and overall well being is also called sublimation.

If we give in to our anger, aggression and unwanted or unacceptable urges, then the relationships we are in might be wrecked.

People might not want to be a part of a group where we are, or would not want to have relations with us or do any business.

Plus sublimation also gives us an edge as to the quality of work that can be done.

More intense the emotion, more rigorous will the person indulge in the sublimed activity.

History has shown that the great artists and musicians have had unhappy lives and used sublimation as a defense mechanism.

We can see how their work displays their strong emotions, thus making their pieces into masterpieces.

This shows that sublimation propels creativity into action.

Even when the negativity dies down, the person is not left with guilt but with a positive frame of mind.

Sublimation makes the individual transform frustrations into productivity.

Examples Of Sublimation In Psychology

  • A youth has anger issues so he is signed up to a local boxing club.
  • A person with an obsessive need for control becomes a successful administrator.
  • Someone with excessive sexual desires that put them in danger takes up running.
  • A person who is highly aggressive trains to be a soldier.
  • Someone who was turned down for a sought-after position starts their own company.

Sublimation in psychology is considered to be the most mature way we can deal with our emotional responses. Using this as a defense mechanism can produce someone who is extremely industrious. But as we sublimate on a subconscious level, we are not aware of when or where it happens.

This means we are oblivious of many of the decisions we take. So how does that affect us?

Harry Stack Sullivan, founder of interpersonal psychoanalysis, has described sublimation when talking about the nuances of people interacting with each other. For him, sublimation is an unwitting and only partial satisfaction that allows us social approval where we can then pursue direct satisfaction. This is despite it being contrary to our own ideals or societal norms.

Sullivan understood that sublimation in psychology was far more complicated than Freud believed. The substitution for negative emotions into positive behaviour might not be exactly what we want. Nor might is completely satisfy us, but, in a civilised society, of which we must take part, it is our only recourse.

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What Is An Example Of Reaction Formation

Freud claimed that men who are prejudice against homosexuals are making a defense against their own homosexual feelings by adopting a harsh anti-homosexual attitude which helps convince them of their heterosexuality.

Another example of reaction formation includes the dutiful daughter who loves her mother is reacting to her Oedipus hatred of her mother.

Getting Help Controlling Impulses

Sublimation (psychology)

The ability to control our impulses is what allows us to function well together in relationships and as a society. For our own well-being, though, its best to do this in a healthy way. This is where the guidance of a mental health professional may be useful. For instance, a therapist can help you examine where potentially problematic impulses may be coming from and craft strategies for sublimation or other ways to handle them. If certain impulses are causing symptoms of anxiety or depression, they may be able to help you identify and manage those as well.

For those who feel more comfortable meeting with a therapist virtually, online therapy is an available option. Research suggests that this therapy format offers a viable alternative to in-person sessions, so it may appeal to those who prefer its accessibility and convenience. With a virtual therapy service like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can speak with via phone call, video call, and/or chat to address the challenges you may be facing.

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How Can Sublimation Influence Your Life

So what role might the process of sublimation have in your life? As Freud suggested, sublimation is usually considered a healthy and mature way of dealing with urges that may be undesirable or unacceptable.

Rather than act out in ways that may cause us or others harm, sublimation allows us to channel that energy into things that are beneficial. This defense mechanism can actually end up having a positive effect on your health and wellness.

Sublimation is not always obvious because it operates at a subconscious level.

While we sometimes might be able to see how our negative feelings can drive us to act in certain ways, we are often very much unaware of such things. We may be even less aware of the underlying defense mechanisms that are at work.

There also may not be a direct correlation between the cause of the negative emotion and the behavior that results from sublimation.

While earlier examples showed anger being sublimated into physical action, such feelings can result in a variety of behaviors. For example, frustration could also lead a person to engage in a relaxing hobby such as fishing or painting.

How Sublimation In Psychoanalysis Works

First developed by Sigmund Freud, the psychoanalytic theory behind sublimation sees personality as primarily comprising three components: id, ego, and super ego. These unconscious psychological defenses help a person reduce anxiety from socially unacceptable sexual impulses or other harmful feelings.

The three components of Sigmund Freuds psychoanalytic theory are further explored below:

  • The id: This is first to form and becomes a source of a persons libido or the energy that drives a persons behavior. It is basic, primitive, and is the driving force behind a persons urges and desires many of which would be socially unacceptable if acted upon.
  • The ego: This part of a persons personality develops later in childhood. It reigns in the id, forcing it to conform to societal norms. Desires and urges are channeled into more acceptable outlets to help a person better come to terms with those needs.
  • The superego: This is a part of an individuals personality that is made up of the internalized morals, rules and standards a person has learnt throughout their life. This part of personality becomes a driver in a person developing a moral code.

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Recommended Steps To Work With Clients Using Sublimation

Hence as far as possible help the client get in touch with their true feelings through a more subtle approach that does not include too much confrontation. Also prepare the necessary framework to ensure that the client after acknowledging their true feelings, are not too hard on themselves.

One can use the NLP meta-model in combination with a supportive & comforting tone & body language for the same.

Different techniques from Hypnosis can also be used to help the client identify their unconscious feelings along with the reasons for the same. This would enable the client to have a deeper understanding of self & also develop the skills required to cope up with these feelings.

If you are a practising therapist or are looking forward to becoming one, learn all the techniques mentioned in this post and a lot more. Join us for our practitioner course Cognitive Hypnotic Psychotherapist that is based on an integration of different approaches to psychotherapy with techniques from Hypnosis, NLP, Metaphor Therapy and Mindfulness.

What Is An Example Of Sublimation

  • Anger and Aggression
  • Anger is a very negative emotion and leads to verbal or physical aggression.

    When the mind sublimates, it will convert anger into a constructive activity.

    This activity might be vigorous and responsible for releasing that pent up frustration that otherwise cannot be discharged through display of anger.

    For example, if a person is angry at someone and sublimes, then instead of showing aggression towards him, he might go on like redecorating the house and putting up things with the hammer around the house.

    Instead of venting out as an aggressive outburst a person might go for a run or a jog or take up a sport, like tennis or swimming.

    There are people who excel in sports and their respective vocations, because they use sublimation successfully.

    This enables them to divert their negativity towards the positive.

    If one is extremely angry and wants to beat someone up, they would start typing to make use of their hands and let out on the keyboard, this way many have ended up being writers and this is again one of the best examples of sublimation.

  • Unacceptable Sexual Urges
  • Sexual urges are always unacceptable in all religions and most of the societies around the world.

    Mostly they are hidden or camouflaged with others emotions.

    Especially if these urges are outside of marriage they are considered immoral.

    Sexual urges, though, are responsible for relationships and propagation of new life.

    They use their pent up physical urge into a healthy routine.

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    Chores And Menial Tasks

    Another typical example of sublimation is the conversion of inappropriate urges into useful, menial tasks that, lets be honest, may otherwise never get done. Instead of being unfaithful to your partner, you pull the weeds out of your flower-beds. Rather than obsessively micro-manage your children, you purge and re-organise all of your belongings.

    When you feel like yelling at or confronting your boss, you tidy your desk-space. If your anxiety is causing you deeply distressing and troubling thoughts, you scrub the kitchen and bathrooms clean.

    What Are Defense Mechanisms In Psychology

    Understanding sublimation requires understanding defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms are simply unconscious psychological mechanisms that help us avoid anxiety and distress-provoking thoughts and memories.

    We are under the control of many impulses and urges during most of our waking hours throughout our lives. Some of these urges and impulses are what we want, while others are what we dont want.

    This difference between unwanted and wanted impulses and urges is crucial because it determines the extent to which we regard them acceptable or unacceptable and the extent to which they are anxiety-provoking or otherwise.

    Naturally, we all get anxious all the time. But our brains have a way of coping with anxiety. In psychology, specifically psychoanalysis, we refer to the mechanisms we tend to protect ourselves from anxieties as defense mechanisms.

    A defense mechanism is a psychological operation operating at an unconscious level to save us from anxiety-provoking thoughts and feelings.

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    Defense Mechanism Of Sublimation: Case Study

    Uma is a widowed woman she has never had feelings for any man other than her deceased husband. She gets introduced to her daughters boyfriend and suddenly feels attracted to the young man.

    What does Uma do?

    She unconsciously transforms her unacceptable feelings into motherly feelings which are accepted in society. She starts funding his education, takes him and her daughter out for dinners and movies etc. Calls him once a week to check on his studies and hostel. Goes out of her way to help him and even sides him when her daughter and her boyfriend pick a fight.

    What Uma is doing here is that she is using the defence mechanism of sublimation.

    Sublimation: In Day To Day Life

    Jack King

    In day to day life, we all use sublimation knowingly unknowingly. The simplest example would be, a boy who feels extreme anger towards his father since he cant express it he plays violent video games. Now, this is definitely helping him in a way, however, the flip side to this is that the original feeling of anger towards the father is not addressed. At the same time, not always will he get a chance to play video games which can then add to more complications.

    In the example given above, about Uma and her daughter it is a possibility that Umas daughter eventually may object to her mother going overboard with the young man. She may express displeasure of not being prioritized. This may lead to friction in the mother-daughter relationship.

    Thus, like every defence mechanism, in the short run Sublimation serves a purpose but in the long run, it can have the potential to create complications.

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