Sublimation: Channeling Negative Impulses Into Positive Behaviors

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Sublimation: Channeling Negative Impulses Into Positive Behaviors

Every person has a mixture of good and bad things. Every day, we have positive and negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that impact the way we view and interact with the rest of the world / Photo by: bowie15 via 123RF


Every person has a mixture of good and bad things. Every day, we have positive and negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that impact the way we view and interact with the rest of the world. All these lead up to an effort to become a better person. However, sometimes, we have thoughts, feelings, and memories that are difficult to deal with. It can interfere with our daily lives and affect every decision we make. Usually, people deal with these through defense mechanisms.

Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, stated that a defense mechanism is a tactic developed by our ego to protect us against anxiety. This serves us our safeguard against feelings and thoughts that are too difficult for the conscious mind to cope with. Anna Freud, Sigmund’s daughter, identified 10 different mechanisms used by the ego. One of them is sublimation.

According to an article by Verywell Mind, a trusted and compassionate online resource that provides guidance to improve one’s mental health and to find balance, sublimation allows people to convert destructive impulses into a more productive form. For instance, an individual who has anger management issues might join sports as a means of venting frustration. It is believed that this defense mechanism is a sign of maturity that gives us an opportunity to function normally in socially acceptable ways.

Another example of sublimation is when a person who has suffered from a bad breakup takes up art classes instead of falling into any other vice to cope. Although sublimation works at a subconscious level, it is a great concept that people must work to inculcate within them. Whenever we are faced with negative emotion, we try to channel it and turn it into a positive action. 

How Does Sublimation Work?

People are faced with negative emotions like anger, anxiety, frustrations, and even sexual impulses at varying points in their lives. However, because they are a part of society, people can’t act on these urges, no matter how strong, right, or urgent they may be. With sublimation, they prevent any potential self-harm and look for a positive outlet that leads to self-improvement and growth. This defense mechanism works by channeling negative and unacceptable impulses into behaviors that are productive and beneficial. 

Sigmund thought of this idea while he was reading the story of a man who tortured animals as a child and eventually became a surgeon. He believed that the same energy that once urged the child’s sadism was eventually sublimated into positive and socially acceptable actions that benefited others. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed "possibly the first experimental evidence for sublimation and suggested a cultural and psychological approach to defense mechanisms." In the study, the researchers looked at whether Protestants were more likely to sublimate taboo feelings into creative endeavors. 

The researchers discovered that those who have experienced sexual problems related to anxieties tend to have greater creative accomplishments compared to those who reported no sexual problems or those with sexual problems unrelated to taboo feelings.

However, sublimation has also its downside. According to an article by BetterHelp, an online site that offers accessible, affordable, and convenient professional counseling, there are two things to remember with this defense mechanism. First, sublimation usually happens on an unconscious level, which means that people may have little control over them. Another is that it falsifies reality, either by transforming or distorting your view of what’s real. Harry Stack Sullivan, the founder of interpersonal psychoanalysis, described sublimation as an “unwitting and only partial satisfaction” that allows people to gain social approval and to pursue direct satisfaction. This despite sublimation being against our ideals and societal norms. Sullivan believed that turning negative emotions into positive acts might not be exactly what we want. For him, sublimation is the only recourse that sometimes doesn’t completely satisfy us. 

People are faced with negative emotions like anger, anxiety, frustrations, and even sexual impulses at varying points in their lives / Photo by: dotshock via 123RF


How Sublimation Influences People’s Behavior

Are you troubled by distressing emotions? If so, sublimation can help you to resolve them by putting those energies to a more useful purpose. People don’t necessarily have to deny those feelings. But with this defense mechanism, it will help us stay within the bounds of what is socially acceptable to all of us. When used to handle a situation you cannot effectively do anything about, sublimation is one of the best ways to turn to. 

According to WhyWeSuffer, an online site that helps to resolve emotional and behavioral issues, a successful sublimation involves the pursuit of pleasure and the capacity to mobilize healthy aggression. However, sublimation can have negative repercussions when used routinely. This is because we tend to avoid addressing an issue that must be resolved to move forward. In this situation, people are not facing their problems or issues. 

Thus, it is important to be honest with yourself and to take responsibility for your own emotions. Everyone deals with different types of defense mechanisms, like sublimation—it’s only natural. However, we must not rely heavily on these defense mechanisms and make excuses when you could be making progress. Instead, it’s better to analyze our behavior and change our ways for the better.



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