Intellectualisation is about the overemphasis of the mind in humans. This means that feelings and emotions are reduced to rationality and logic.
What is intellectualising feelings? Explanation, meaning, definition, psychology
Roughly speaking, intellectualising is a psychoanalytical theory in which a typical defence mechanism is created during the developmental stage of children. This maturation process is intended to create a simple attitude of defence against sexual and aggressive impulses. Adolescents in particular deal with topics such as sexuality, love and the meaning of life and thus try to cope with their current drive conflicts.
It is not only children and adolescents who use this defence mechanism, but every human being. This is about mental processes to deal with unwanted emotions and sensations. In this way, mental balance can be restored. In life, people are often confronted with a wide variety of defence mechanisms. However, the art lies in finding a lasting solution to the underlying problem. Three typical scenarios for a defence mechanism are presented below:
Suppose you accidentally leave your scarf on the bus. Instead of getting angry about it, most people think „Not so bad; it was old anyway and not quite to my taste anymore.“ There is another situation at work. Suppose one gets annoyed with the boss. Instead of confronting him about the conflicts, you take out your frustration on your roommate in the evening. Maybe some people also liked to play with fire when they were young, which is why they are now involved in the volunteer fire brigade.
All three of these scenarios correspond to the psychological defence mechanisms of displacement, rationalisation and sublimation. Everyone knows them and everyone uses these defence mechanisms so that stress and negative emotions are avoided. What at first glance seems useful for mental well-being can, however, be harmful when used excessively. The background to this is that one is prevented from confronting uncomfortable emotions and one’s true emotions. This process, however, is indispensable for an authentic life and for corresponding feelings of satisfaction. But what exactly is a defence mechanism and how is it possible to deal with such negative emotions and feelings in a more mature way?
The term „defence mechanism“ was first coined by Sigmund Freud in the context of psychoanalysis. The term stands for psychological processes with which we regulate interpersonal or inner-psychic conflicts so that we are emotionally relieved. This is often a completely unconscious process, because our psyche wants to protect us from painful feelings. This means that our conscious mind makes us handle or perceive a certain situation in an „alternative“ way. Some defence mechanisms, such as denial, are considered by Freud to be rather immature. A defence mechanism, such as sublimation, takes a person to a higher level intellectually. This may indicate a well-developed and mature personality.
Evidence shows, however, that everyone uses such defence mechanisms. They are an outlet for negative feelings such as inferiority complexes, anger, shame, sadness and guilt. Depending on what personality type you are, you will also use different defence mechanisms. For example, an optimist will often use rationalisation to „sugarcoat“ the truth. The aforementioned scenario with the forgotten scarf can be taken as an example here. Another person, on the other hand, who is very strict with himself, may be more inclined to repress unwanted impulses.
The problem here, however, is that the more one gets caught up in such compensations, the more the original problem is not solved. In some cases, it may even be exacerbated. This means that only if we also confront the negative feelings can we get to the bottom of the matter and grow from it and experience healing. Often there is a pattern behind it, which has already developed in childhood. This is how one protected oneself as a child in order to be better able to deal with painful experiences. However, defence mechanisms only offer temporary and superficial relief.
How many defence mechanisms are there and how can they be reduced?
There are – depending on the classification – almost 20 different defence mechanisms. These can manifest themselves in diverse and sometimes contradictory behaviours at different levels. The most important defence mechanisms are listed below, with intellectualisation being discussed in more detail at the end.
The following defence mechanisms exist:
- Affect isolation
- Somatisation and conversion
- Reaction formation
Now let’s take a closer look at intellectualisation. In intellectualisation, people adopt an abstract, theoretical „researcher’s perspective“. In doing so, they distance themselves from real situations or from their feelings. An example: The wife wants to talk to her husband about concrete problems in the marriage.
Instead of addressing the actual problem, the husband reacts rather superficially and argues with general theories from love. As a result, no workable solution can be found. Furthermore, it gives the wife the impression that she is sitting in a lecture, as her partner seems to react emotionlessly. Another special form of intellectualisation is to „pathologise“ a strained relationship with a work colleague. Instead of making the relationship with the work colleague more constructive, the conflict is elevated to a psychological level by imputing a narcissistic personality disorder to the colleague. This is now referred to as „pathologising“, since a clinical picture is presented.
However, how can one react more maturely in such situations? Intellectualisation often occurs in people who have a special scientific-philosophical streak. These people often think about possible reasons why a person behaves in a certain way in certain situations. Thus, the boundaries between a theoretical classification of a scenario out of pure interest and the splitting off of one’s own feelings through intellectual contemplation are fluid. But how can this defence mechanism be prevented?
The only thing that helps is to regularly remind oneself that one must also embrace human emotions in order to be able to develop further. Everything does not always have to be categorised or labelled in a scientific way.
Intellectualisation is about a conscious act of blocking out emotions. This is to avoid having to deal with various anxieties arising from situations or stress. One only concentrates on the facts and emotionally distances oneself from the actual problem.
When is intellectualisation still healthy?
Of course, it cannot be denied that in some situations intellectualisation can be helpful. One only has to look at the work of surgeons, police, paramedics and scientists. It would be fatal if emotions were to arise in a paramedic while treating a patient whose life is in danger. Here, a paramedic must be able to remain methodical, calm and unemotional and work accordingly to achieve his best result.
At what point does intellectualisation become unhealthy?
It becomes unhealthy when one constantly suppresses one’s feelings. Merely suppressing or blocking emotions does not make the problem go away; it merely pushes it further away. If this process takes place for too long, the problem grows and festers.
At some point, these feelings and suppressed emotions will resurface. Then they may no longer be controlled in a healthy way. Then you run the risk of becoming violent towards your children or your partner because there was never a chance to resolve a certain childhood trauma. Many also resort to drugs to deal with their emotions. Emotions are not things that need to be „fixed“. Rather, they are things that need to be experienced, lived through, understood and dealt with. Only when that is accomplished can it be realised that one comes out the other side.