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Intellectualization is a defense mechanism where reasoning is used to block confrontation with an unconscious conflict and its associated emotional stress. It involves removing one's self, emotionally, from a stressful event. Intellectualization is often accomplished through rationalization; rather than accepting reality, one may explain it away to remove one's self.[1][2]

Intellectualization is one of Freud's original defense mechanisms. Freud believed that memories have both conscious and unconscious aspects, and that intellectualization allows for the conscious analysis of an event in a way that does not provoke anxiety.[3]


Intellectualization is a 'flight into reason', where the person avoids uncomfortable emotions by focusing on facts and logic. The situation is treated as an interesting problem that engages the person on a rational basis, whilst the emotional aspects are completely ignored as being irrelevant.

Jargon is often used as a device of intellectualization. By using complex terminology, the focus becomes on the words and finer definitions rather than the human effects.

Intellectualization protects against anxiety by repressing the emotions connected with an event. It is also known as 'Isolation of affect' as the affective elements are removed from the situation. It allows to rationally deal with a situation, but may cause suppression of feelings that need to be acknowledged to move on.



Suppose George has been brought up by a strict father, and he feels hurt and angry as a result. Although George may have deep feelings of hatred towards his father, when he talks about his childhood, George may say: "Yes, my father was a rather firm person, I suppose I do feel some antipathy towards him even now".

George intellectualizes; he chooses rational and emotionally cool words to describe experiences which are usually emotional and very painful.

A person told they have cancer asks for details on the probability of survival and the success rates of various drugs. The doctor may join in, using 'carcinoma' instead of 'cancer' and 'terminal' instead of 'fatal'.

A woman who has been raped seeks out information on other cases and the psychology of rapists and victims. She takes self-defense classes in order to feel better (rather than more directly addressing the psychological and emotional issues).

A person who is heavily in debt builds a complex spreadsheet of how long it would take to repay using different payment options and interest rates.

See also


  1. Intellectualization. URL accessed on 2008-03-11.
  2. Defenses. URL accessed on 2008-03-11.
  3. Defenses. URL accessed on 2008-03-11.

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