Defense Mechanism of The Week: Withdrawal

What is it? When an infant is overstimulated or distressed, it will often fall asleep. Adult versions of the same process can be observed in people who retreat from social or interpersonal situations when there is conflict, going into an internal fantasy world instead of relating to others. Abusing chemicals to alter one’s consciousness can also be considered a kind of withdrawal. Withdrawal can also be labeled an “autistic fantasy”, or a tendency to shrink from personal contact. Some people may generate a rich internal fantasy life, since they regard the external world as problematic; furthermore, when someone responds to this way to anxiety to the exclusion of other ways of coping, he or she could be described as schizoid.

Believe it or not, there are advantages, at least at times, to withdrawal. When an individual is attempting to escape from reality through withdrawal, there is not much of an attempt to distort it. Since people with schizoid tendencies are usually very sensitive, although they have difficulty expressing their own feelings, they are usually very adept at understanding what others are experiencing and what is happening in their environment. On the healthy end of the spectrum, one will find philosophers, artists, and scientists who have the capacity to stand aside from ordinary convention.

Unfortunately, withdrawal is more often harmful than not. The most obvious disadvantage of using this defense mechanism is that it disengages a person from living life, meaning that there is limited participation in interpersonal problem solving. People who are involved with individuals who depend on withdrawal are often frantic to get an emotional reaction out of them or they are exasperated due to their inability to connect.

If you are interested in counseling or psychodynamic therapy in Newport Beach, Irvine, or the Orange County area, please contact Jennifer De Francisco, LCSW at (949) 251-8797.

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