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French: défense

Sigmund Freud

From his earliest works, Freud situated the concept of defence at the heart of his theory of neurosis.

Defence refers to the reaction of the ego to certain interior stimuli which the ego perceives as dangerous.

Defense Mechanisms

Although Freud later came to argue that there were different "mechanisms of defence" in addition to repression,[1] he makes it clear that repression is unique in the sense that it is constitutive of the unconscious.

Anna Freud attempted to classify some of these mechanisms in her book The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (1936).

Jacques Lacan

Lacan is very critical of the way in which Anna Freud and ego-psychology interpret the concept of defence.

He argues that they confuse the concept of defence with the concept of resistance.[2]

For this reason, Lacan urges caution when discussing the concept of defence, and prefers not to center his concept of psychoanalytic treatment around it.


When he does discuss defence, he opposes it to resistance; whereas resistances are transitory imaginary responses to intrusions of the symbolic and are on the side of the object, defences are more permanent symbolic structures of subjectivity (which Lacan usually calls fantasy rather than defence).

This way of distinguishing between resistance and defence is quite different from that of other schools of psychoanalysis, which, if they have distinguished between defence and resistance at all, have generally tended to regard defences as transitory phenomena and resistances as more stable.

Desire and Defence

The opposition between desire and defence is, for Lacan, a dialectical one.

Thus he argues in 1960 that, like the neurotic, the pervert "defends himself in his desire," since "desire is a defence (défense), a prohibition (défense) against going beyond a certain limit in jouissance.[3]

In 1964 he goes on to argue:

"To desire involves a defensive phase that makes it identical with not wanting to desire."[4]

See Also


  1. Freud, Sigmund. The Question of Lay-Analysis, 1926d. SE XX, 179
  2. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p. 335
  3. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 322
  4. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. p.235