By Dr. Perry, PhD
“Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.” ~Hans Selye
Sublimation is a subconscious psychological defense mechanism whereby we take a negative impulse and channel it into a positive behavior. This is similar to displacement (click here to refer to my earlier post on displacement) but instead of taking a negative impulse, such as aggression towards one’s boss, and displacing that negative feeling onto an innocent third party such as your husband or wife, we take the initial socially unacceptable impulse and direct it towards a positive action. We seek a positive alternative form of fulfillment for the initial destructive urge. According to Freud, the strength of the negative urge would define the strength of the positive outcome.
Our initial impulses can be subconsciously directed into a number of different areas. Here are some ways that we can engage in sublimation.
1. Anger/Emotional disconnect from partner
If you argued with your partner and have become emotionally disconnected and are momentarily not speaking to each other, you might focus on organizing the home or perhaps focus on work or school work.
Subconscious feelings of aggression can be positively sublimated into any area of sports. Aggression can also be sublimated into creative expression such as sculpting. Freud wrote about a man who as a child went around aggressively cutting the tails of neighborhood dogs. This man did not grow up to be a serial killer but instead became a renowned surgeon.
Many unhappy moments have become beautiful pieces of music or powerful pieces of literature. The power of the initial sad moment has the potential to be converted into an artistic endeavor that touches many.
A child with an abusive past may sublimate their pain into a career in law enforcement in order to combat those who inflict pain on those that hurt others.
5. Repressed sexuality
The human sex drive is a powerful emotion that can be redirected into many aspects of a person’s life. For example, it can be the force behind artistic creativity, the founding of companies or life-changing ideas. Freud theorized that Leonardo da Vinci had been a highly sexual child who later sublimated his sexuality to scientific study and art.
Envy of another’s athletic ability or possessions can be sublimated into one’s own pursuit of a better life or one’s own physicality.
7. Wounded Ego
A wounded ego can sublimate into gratitude and appreciation of others.
8. Sexual rejection
Being rejected by one’s love interest can be quite painful. Often times this pain is sublimated into creativity and the result may be a beautiful book, poem or movie.
9. Fear of failure
The fear of failure may be sublimated into becoming an expert in one’s work or being extremely knowledgeable and efficient in an area of expertise.
10. Unstable childhood
A childhood full of unpredictability and instability may be sublimated into setting healthy boundaries as an adult.
I believe that we can learn from the subconscious ability to turn a negative impluse into a positve action. We can learn to be aware of disappointments in life and turn powerful negative urges into positive action. For example, if a person does not receive a raise or promotion at work, the feeling of anger or disappointment can be used to improve their performance or find a better career field. Anger can always be channeled into a great workout by finding a positive release for negative impulses.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I would love to hear how you think sublimation may have had an impact on your own life. Please share your insight and leave a comment below.
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