Ego Defense Mechanisms Rationalization

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Rationalization is an ego-defense mechanism that people use to make excuses for situations or events in their lives that they do not like. People use it often when they are angry, depressed, scared or hurt. The mechanism usually works negatively to make the person feel worse about the situation or event rather than better. Rationalization is a type of cognitive distortion.

When people rationalize, they turn irrational things into rational. An example of this: A woman buys an expensive bag and then tells her husband, "My other bag was old. I needed a new one." She ignored the fact that she had other perfectly good bags in her closet. Another instance, a person is afraid of intercourse or touching thinking they will catch an infection. Often, rationalization works as a protection to a person's true feelings.

Rationalization tends to excuse acts that most of society sees as irrational. Instead of, acting graciously to a teacher, a student using rationalization will say, "He didn't listen to me or give me the help I deserved. I don't have to thank him." Making excuses is a way to manipulate, control, and shrink from more acceptable behaviors. Rationalization takes place inside a person. His thoughts determine his actions.

Students use this mechanism often when confronted with not doing their lessons or homework. They also use it to make themselves look good among their peers. They often become better at making excuses than at their chosen courses.

Another rationalization example is, a person sees a commercial on television about children needing food. A possible rationalization is "I gave food to my children today; those people just do not try hard enough." In this way, the rationalizing person condemns the suffering person.

With rationalization, people hurt others without knowing it. They think by excusing themselves, they are not the ones at fault; it is always the other guy. This is an automatic mechanism that people use sometimes unconsciously. Most people do not wake up and say, "I'm going to make excuses for my bad behavior. That's just who I am." Often the people most likely to use it are people who feel guilty or shameful. Medical personnel and lawyers are excellent professions for this mechanism to surface.   

It is not a new mechanism. Rationalization goes way back in history. Though Ernest Jones first used it in 1908, it has existed in Quintilian and classic rhetoric for generations. Publications about this mechanism began appearing in the 1930 with 'The Concept of Rationalization" by Hollitscher and later with Fenichel and Berne.     

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