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Undoing is a defence mechanism in which a person tries to 'undo' an unhealthy, destructive or otherwise threatening thought by engaging in contrary or symbolic behaviour. For example, after thinking about being violent with someone, one would then be overly nice or accommodating to them, or alternatively, counting in threes to put the thought right.

It is often a marked component for people with obsessional compulsive disorder who become engaged in repetetive attempts at undoing which can take on a compulsive or ritualistic aspect.

Undoing can be used to 'explain away' habits or behaviours that are not in line with an individuals' personality. For example, in the case of a person who is well organised in the workplace, yet always forgets to pay bills on time at home, Freudian psychologists could argue that his tardiness with bills is an undoing of a desire to be orderly.

For some people undoing can be used to reduce cognitive dissonance, the uncomfortable feeling created when an attitude and an action, or two attitudes are in conflict with one another.

Undoing is one of several defence mechanisms proposed by Sigmund Freud during his career, many of which were later developed further by his daughter Anna Freud.

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Additional material


  • Kosslyn, S. & Rosenberg, R. (2004) Psychology: The brain, the person, the world. (2nd ed.) Boston: Pearson Education


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