Sublimation is most often thought of as a defence mechanism, and it is often counted among the so-called mature or higher level defences. It is mature because it is said to enable substitution, modification or transfer of unacceptable wish or raw impulse to socially acceptable ones. For some, sublimation is seen as a channelling of libido into nonsexual activities (i.e. artistic creation or intellectual activity). While the impulse is repudiated in its original form, sublimation grants a measure of gratification to it. In short, the aim and object of the impulse are altered without impeding appropriate measures of discharge. In other words, substitution (Goebel, 2012) allows for partial gratification (i.e. with social approval) of a more direct one, which would otherwise violate a person’s ideals or normative social standards. Others, especially ego psychologists, argue that with sublimation, the ego is no longer in the service of the id: the ego allows the id to find a means of external expression by changing form. Unlike repression, ‘the unacceptable’ is in this way modified such that gratification can be achieved without disapproval or disapprobation. And especially important in Freud’s thinking about the conditions necessary for social life, sublimation serves an essential purpose in the increase of civilization.
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