Defense Mechanisms: Intellectualization

Ahhhh… my favorite.

I love this defense mechanism because it is by far the sneakiest. It’s considered one of the more advanced forms of defense mechanisms, meaning it needs a little more brain power than your average, everyday one, like denial for example.

With denial, you can just flat out say, “No!” and close your eyes, plug your ears, and sing lalalalalalalalaaaaaah until whatever you’re trying to ignore goes away and you can continue back to your regular way of living. Denial is the most common defense mechanism in addiction and childhood. Like I said, no need for really high brow thinking.

I used intellectualization as my primary defense during my bout with depression. I would spend hours in my room, just thinking things over, coming to bizarre conclusions about why I couldn’t be happy, why life was shit, and why I was a horrible person.

I was reminded of my old crutch yesterday when I was writing the 50 Shades of Grey Case Files and I mentioned that Christian Grey’s primary defense mechanism was intellectualization. I figured for those of you who read this bloggy, you might enjoy a little nugget about intellectualization in greater depth.

The way I conceptualize this mental health issue is first to recognize that very often it is used to gloss over emotion. When we intellectualize, we take emotions out of the equation. This is of course a good thing very often. We don’t want people making life altering decisions when they are depressed or angry because that’s unstable and dangerous. It’s the argument lots of people make for why we shouldn’t have a woman president.

But that’s precisely the point, we’re globalizing a stereotype to make sense of our world. We’re taking what we believe to be “fact” and just smearing it over our lives. It is not a fact that women are too emotional and incapable of making appropriate decisions. Sure, we cry, we get angry, but I have learned not to make life-changing decisions out of extreme emotion. I may have learned it the hard way, but hell, I learned by 25 – that’s saying something.

I’m rambling, but ultimately, intellectualization is a way we rationalize our lives by using “facts” (as we see them) to make sense of our world, instead of taking in the whole experience. For example, a woman president would be awesome for many reasons, including having someone to represent the rights of women, someone who is equally, if not more educated than the men, someone who has proven themselves in politics time and again, regardless of her ‘emotional state’. Say what you will about Hillary, but girlfriend does a good job of hanging with the boys. I don’t see her crying every time she’s at a press conference.

When we’re deciding to marry someone, we should use all of the information we have – how we feel and think about a person and our future with them. When we’re deciding what to do with our lives, we evaluate the things that are necessary – pay, job security, health coverage, etc. – but then we really should sit and consider our happiness over the long-term with that decision. If we don’t, we’re not being honest with ourselves. If we ignore how we feel every time we sit in our room and listen to sad music and think too much, then we’re not living the life we want, no matter how much thinking about how to feel better makes sense. Sure, mentally it makes sense, but ignoring the sadness we feel is not intellectual at all. It’s short-sighted.

Which is what a defense mechanism is; ultimately it’s an excuse to ignore the bigger picture because we are trying to avoid emotional pain and reality. I feel that we live in a society that doesn’t value emotions, which is more dangerous than any woman in the White House. Whether we like it or not, emotions are real. They exist, we all have them swirling around in our body with varying intensity, and we should honor how we feel. If we did, we would likely have a workforce that wasn’t so burnt out and disenchanted with their work-life balance. If we did, we would have a political climate based on compassion instead of fear, because we’d actually process how we feel about something completely (emotions + thoughts/facts) rather than just instinctively reacting to one or the other and then writing it on a sign and screaming it at people. If we did, we’d be happier.



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Posted on by Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA Posted in Individual, Mind, Theory
Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA

About Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA

Hi, I’m Jen. I’m a mental health counselor newly residing in Seattle, Washington. I strongly believe in the mind-body connection as the cornerstone of my professional ideology, along with the healing possibilities of puppies, a good glass of red wine, the smell of a new book, and the importance of travel.