Chapter 4 – The Mechanism of Defence : 1936 : Anna Freud

by Julia Evans on January 1, 1936


– Freud, Anna, Das Ich und die Alwehrmechanismen, Chapter IV, “Die Abwehrmechanismen.” See Versuch einer Chronologie, 60—63 (Vienna: Intern, psychoanal. Verlag, 1936);

– Translated by Cecil Baines : p45-57 of The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (London: Hogarth Press, 1937); (New York: International Universities Press, 1946) : 

Available at  /authors by date or authors a-z

From the dustcover – 1954

The author is the daughter of Professor Sigmund Freud, and in this book she shows expository powers which remind the reader of her famous father. She gives a careful account of that aspect of psychology which has been made a special study in Viennese psychoanalytical circles. It is concerned particularly with the non-sexual components of the mind. The ego, in its attempt to deal with the repressed impulses, has recourse to a great variety of defence mechanisms, as they are called, with which to protect itself. The author does not attempt a systematic classification of these defences, but she gives an extremely clear description of their nature and of the complicated ways in which they interact. The book is essentially a clinical one, and the relation of the theoretical knowledge to practical analytic work is constantly kept in mind. The volume is of very great important to all who are interested in the progress of psycho-analysis.

Cited by Jacques Lacan

–   Reference [4] in The Direction of the Treatment and the Principles of its Power:10th-13th July 1958 : Jacques Lacan : See here     

See p54-57 of Chapter IV, Suggestions for a Chronological Classification. 

p21-22 & 71 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : 3. I will link psycho-genetics – in the sense that it tends to ground analytic phenomena in the developmental stages involved and to be nourished by direct observation of the child – to a particular technique that concentrates on the analysis of defences. 

This link is obvious from a historical point of view. It might even be said that it is based on nothing else, since this link is constituted only by the failure of the solidarity that it presupposes. 

One can locate its beginnings in the legitimate credence given to the notion of an unconscious ego with which Freud re-orientated his doctrine. To pass from this to the hypothesis that the mechanisms of defence, that are grouped together under its function, ought themselves reveal a comparable law of appearance, one that even corresponds to the succession of stages by which Freud attempted to connect the emergence of the drives to physiology – that was the step that Anna Freud, in her book on The mechanisms of defence proposed to take in order to put it to the test of experience. 

It might have been an opportunity to make a fruitful critique of the relations between development and the obviously more complex structures that Freud introduced into psychology but the sights were lowered – it was so much more tempting to try to insert into the observable stages of sensori-motor development and of the developing skills of intelligent behaviour these mechanism of defence that supposedly emerge as they progress. 

One can say that the hopes that Anna Freud placed in such an exploration were disappointed: nothing emerged from this line of approach that threw any light on technique, although the details that child-observation, illuminated by analysis, allowed to be glimpsed, have yielded some very interesting suggestions. 

The notion of pattern16 which functions here as an alibi for an abandoned typology authorises a technique which in pursuing the detection of a non- contemporaneous pattern, concentrates all too easily, it seems, on its deviation from a pattern that finds in its conformism the guarantees of its conformity. One cannot recall without a sense of shame the criteria of success in which this shoddy piece of work culminates: the achievement of a higher income, and the emergency exit provided by the affair with one‘s secretary, regulating the release of forces strictly bound up in marriage, career and the political community, do not seem to me to be worthy of an appeal (articulated in the analyst‘s planning, and even in her interpretation) to the discord of life and death instincts even if she decorates her remarks with the pretentious term ―economic‖, and pursues it, in a complete misunderstanding of Freud‘s thought, as the interplay of two forces homologous in their opposition. 


possibly Jacques Lacan picks up on Anna Freud’s reference to the English school on p57, though this seems to me to be mainly to Melanie Klein (introjection & projection).

p71 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : [4] Translated by Cecil Baines : p45-57 of The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence (London: Hogarth Press, 1937); (New York: International Universities Press, 1946) : See p54-57 Suggestions for a Chronological classification.

Reference to Sigmund Freud’s work

p46 I Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, pp. 154-5.  : Inhibitions, Symptoms & Anxiety : 1926d : Sigmund Freud,  SE  XX p75-175 : Download from at Part I & Part II  

p46 2. ‘Certain Neurotic Mechanisms in Jealousy, Paranoia and Homosexuality.’ Collected Papers, vol. ii, p. 292. : See Extract from ‘Some Neurotic Mechanisms in Jealousy, Paranoia and Homosexuality’ : 1922 : Sigmund Freud or here

p47 1. Instincts and their Vicissitudes.’ Collected Papers, vol’ iv, p69 : Instincts and their vicissitudes : 1915c,  SE XIV: 117-140  : published at : available here

p56 1 Freud, Totem and Taboo, Gcsammette Schriften, Bd. X, S. gl. Compare also the view held by the English school, to which I refer on page 57. : Totem and Taboo: 1912-1913 : Sigmund Freud,  SE Vol XIII  : published by : available here  

Related texts

Being Analysed – Chapter 3 of Anna Freud – a biography : 1988 : Elisabeth Young-Bruehl or here

The Relation of Beating-Phantasies to a Day-Dream : 31st May 1922 : Anna Freud or here

Minutes of the meeting of the International Psychoanalytical Association : 30th July 1953 : Dr Heinz Hartmann (IPA President & Chairman of the Meeting) or here 


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Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst in London & Sandwich, Kent


Further posts:

Some Lacanian history  here

Of the clinic  here 

By Anna Freud   here  

By Sigmund Freud here 

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud  here 

By Jacques Lacan here   

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here 

Jacques Lacan in English or here 

Translation Working Group here 

Use of power  here