Instincts, Desires and Ego Defenses
Source: 12-Step Philosophy
I recently became fully aware of certain unconscious motivations that have been directing, to a degree, some of my behaviour. At a conscious level I was trying to help someone early in recovery and still believe that this motive was genuine, but underlying these efforts I was also being driven by powerful natural instincts and desires for connection and intimacy.
In the book, Alcoholics Anonymous (aka, Big Book), our basic instincts are identified as our needs for emotional and material security, social approval and acceptance (self-esteem), and the need for sexual relations. These are the natural instincts and desires that drive human behaviour and insure our survival as a species.
However, our needs in relation to our basic nature can be excessive and distorted by childhood developmental difficulties, trauma, neglect, and abuse. Unmet needs and desires can direct us unconsciously, and sadly, unethically at times. When our behaviour is unethical or against our conditioned values, we operate unconscious psychological “defences” in order to protect our self-concept or ego.
We operate defense mechanisms such as repression, denial, and rationalisation to protect ourselves from the anxiety, shame, and guilt that accompany our more unacceptable motives for behaviour.
Defense mechanisms are associated with Freud’s model of personality structure, which consists of the id, ego, and superego. The id represents our unconscious instincts and desires and is unconcerned with morality. The superego is concerned with social rules and morals, and informs our conscience or “moral compass”, and is largely unconscious in its workings. The ego is the rational, pragmatic part of our personality and operates on both a conscious and unconscious level. The ego balances the demands of the id and superego in the practical context of reality.