Intellectualization is a commonly adopted defense mechanism that involves intellectualizing a stressful situation such that dealing with it becomes easier. In this PsycholoGenie post, we will understand what this concept entails.
Did You Know?
Intellectualization and rationalization are often used interchangeably, which is incorrect. Rationalization involves rationalizing one’s thoughts to justify the action, whereas intellectualization involves acknowledging only the facts and ignoring the emotions.
When faced with an anxiety-ridden situation, different people react in different ways, which is essentially how human nature works. Some are able to face the stresses head on, while others develop certain psychosomatic symptoms, some are able to rationally work their way through it, while others are overtaken by grief. While all these are reactions that we are able to comprehend clearly, there are a certain set of defense mechanisms that may be adopted as a way of dealing with the stress. Intellectualization, for example, is a common reaction to an anxiety-inducing situation. Intellectualization, as the name suggests, involves viewing a stressful situation in a very intellectual manner without letting one’s emotions come in the way. This is a commonly used defense mechanism that allows a person to deal with anxiety.
In this PsycholoGenie article, we will go into the nuances of this defense mechanism and provide examples of the same to help you understand the concept better.
The Workings of Intellectualization
When faced with a stressful situation, one expects that a person will exhibit signs of stress and pressure, however, there are some individuals who do not show any of these telltale signs like tensed expressions, sweating, sadness, etc. On the other hand, they have a complete hold of the situation and appear to be very calm and composed. This, most likely, is the defense mechanism of intellectualization at play.
Intellectualization involves blocking out and/or ignoring the emotional side of any problem and, instead, viewing the problem in a completely rational and intellectual manner by comprehending only the facts associated with it. This is done so that an individual is spared of the anxiety and stress that dealing with the emotions would lead to. Instead, by focusing on the dry, cold facts, one finds it easier to cope. Which is why, one removes oneself emotionally from a stressful situation as if it is not happening to them at all.
Adopting intellectualization does not mean that they are incapable of feeling emotions, it only means that they block those emotions till the time that they feel they have the necessary strength to deal with the same.
Intellectualization, like any defense mechanism, is used in view of anything that is unpleasant, frustrating, unwanted, that which leads to negative feelings. Let us understand this concept more clearly through the following examples.
In order to avoid the distress and intense rejection you feel when the guy you’re dating decides to end the relationship, you focus on the several things that you can do―visit your favorite joints, spend more time with friends, etc.―that you had to forgo when you were with him. This does not mean that you’re denying that the event happened, you’re just not looking into its emotional aspect.
On learning that he has been diagnosed with leukemia, Tom does not go into depression and feelings of anxiety and sadness, instead he sits down to research about the disease and what it involves, he looks up self-help groups and tries to face the situation in this manner.
Medical students who often work on cadavers, intellectualize the situation by looking at the gruesome and macabre setting (almost reminiscent of a morgue), purely as an assignment. They do not think about how and why the person might have died.
After their son leaves for college, Mr and Mrs. Hudson sit down to plan their finances, now that they have to pay for his college tuition and draw up plans for multiple investments.
After hearing that his grandmother has expired, Pete quickly gets busy with arranging for the funeral and contacting family members. He only thinks of all the tasks that he has to complete and does not give a thought to how close he was to his grandmother or how her death will affect him.
Intellectualization is a common defense mechanism, in that many people may have adopted the same at some time or the other in their lives. And while it does help in keeping anxiety, and other stress-inducing elements at bay, it is equally important that one faces their emotions in their truest sense lest they take some other form in the subconscious and find an outlet when it is least expected.