Understanding the Defense Mechanism of Rationalization

We can clearly see the influence of the vital on the mind when we understand the lengths to which the mind will go to justify satisfaction of the needs, desires or actions of the vital nature. The defense mechanism of ‘rationalization’ is a clear example. We understand, intellectually, that something should not be done. In fact, if someone else were to do it, we would castigate them for the action. Yet, we find ourselves not only accepting, but justifying the action when our vital nature wants to do it (or has done it). We hear these defenses all day long in courthouses and in interpersonal interactions across the world. “Yes, I attacked that person, but he cut in front of me on the road and made me angry.” “I overpowered that woman, but she was dressed provocatively.” “i killed that person, but he was of a different, false religion and did not deserve to live.” “I ate those cookies, which were being saved for the party, but my blood-sugar was low.” “i cheated on that test, but i was too busy to study and needed to get the grade for my future career.” “I was driving too fast, but was late for an appointment.” “I cheated on my taxes, but after all, everyone does it.” “I took some things from my work, but after all, the big corporations are taking advantage of us workers.” How many such excuses have we ourselves used in our lives! This is rationalization, the attempt to justify an action based on some argument or another, whether valid or not.

Dr. Dalal observes: “Another manifestation of the vital mind in relation to psychological disturbances is to be seen in the so-called ‘defense mechanisms’ associated with all psychiatric disorders. A defense mechanism is defined as a means of warding off a painful feeling, such as anxiety, guilt, etc., from the level of awareness. One of the chief defense mechanisms is that of rationalization, by which the mind colludes with the vital in providing specious explanations and justifications for impulses and desires of the vital. As Sri Aurobindo states:”

“The vital started in its evolution with obedience to impulse and no reason — as for strategy, the only strategy it understands is some tactics by which it can compass its desires. It does not like the voice of knowledge and wisdom — but curiously enough by the necessity which has grown up in man of justifying action by reason, the vital mind has developed a strategy of its own which is to get the reason to find out reasons for justifying its own feelings and impulses.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Introduction, Disturbances Associated with the Mind, pp. xiv-xix


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