Anna Freud and Defense Mechanisms, Meet Irene

The thing about women who dared to do things other women wouldn’t dare to do is that they did dare. They did do whatever seemed the next natural step they might take.  Anna Freud picked up the work her father had been doing and made her own cut in the fabric of psychoanalysis.  She left her father Sigmund’s model, Id, in the dressingroom and clothed Ego in all the manisfestations her study and research allowed, including defense mechanisms — or how to get tempermental Id to work with staid and proper Super Ego.  The two had to saunter down the same aisle of life; the two had to live in the same brain, the same mind.  So Anna (to this writer’s way of thinking), clothed Ego with defense mechanisms as a way to educate Id and Super Ego that, yes, indeed, hot pink can be worn with somber gray and the wearer may still be considered a gentlewoman.  Or a bright tie can be worn with a dark business suit, even a red shirt can be worn with a white linen jacket and the wearer may still be considered a gentleman.  It’s all in the balance, in the negotiating of texture and hue, in the rationalizing of want set againt what is right and potential wrongs set against need.

(If I am explaining this poorly, blame it on too many writers conferences and too much time spent with metaphors and similes.  And right there, in that sentence, my Ego has flashed her defense mechanisms into play!)

Moving on:  I found myself researching Anna Freud because of new characters in my new novel project.  I wanted to know what made them tick, these new gals, and I was curious about psychoanalysis and where that field was in relation to understanding how the mind works in the late 1940s.  However, as I read about Anna and her father, about Anna’s dream journals and how Sigmund used them in his research, I began to think about Irene Johns of The True Life Adventures of Irene in White Tights. About Irene’s father, Joseph, and the dreamer he was, the romantic he was, the failed artist Joseph Johns was.  And, too, about all that was lost when Irene’s mother moved Irene and her siblings from the farm because Joseph, the dreamer, did not do enough hands-on work to sustain them — at least in mother Olive’s opinion.

How does this have anything whatsoever to do with Anna Freud’s defense mechanisms of the Ego?  A light came on for me as I read the summarized account of defense mechanisms on Wikipedia.  What I knew about my character Irene was that she felt obligated to bring home an income; her Super Ego told her, subconsciously or consciously (who knows?) this was the right thing to do.  On the other hand, her Id wanted nothing to do with climbing inside a cannon to be blasted out over the Atlantic in three acts a day.  Still, she did it.  Thanks to Ego, Irene rationalized that she must.  This was the “hands-on” work she could get in 1930.  This was what she needed to do.  And she did.

Like her father, Joseph, Irene had a dreamer’s side, too.  Unlike her father, she knew what loss of home and being uprooted could do.  And Anna, like her father, Sigmund, had a mind in search of discovery, of new understanding, and she dared, Anna did, to follow her own path of reasoning and research.

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