Pervin and John define anxiety as a “painful emotional experience that signals or alerts the ego to danger. “(2001, 107). They argue that humans are incapable of sustaining prolonged anxiety due to the fact that it is a highly painful state (2001, 86). Anxiety is created by forbidden id impulses that are seeking expression (McNeil, 1970: 17). In dealing with such intense anxiety people develop mechanism of defence that serve to repress the forbidden impulses (Pervin & John, 2001: 86).
Defence mechanisms according to Freud are unconscious ways of reducing anxiety by distorting reality and excluding some thoughts, wishes, and, feelings from awareness (Pervin & John, 2001: 86). Melvin Udall utilises a number of defence mechanisms in dealing with his feelings of anxiety. Repression, being the primary defence mechanism, is utilised a great deal by Melvin. He seeks to eliminate all forbidden id impulses by his use of repression. Repression is also a common feature of many other defence mechanisms that are used by Melvin. Projection is one of the most frequently used defence mechanisms by Melvin.
We see, in many cases throughout the movie, Melvin projecting his feelings of inadequacy onto other people. He does this by insulting them with racial remarks, sexual remarks, and general slander. Empirical evidence has shown that many people will at times project unfavourable traits onto others that they deny within themselves (Pervin & John, 2001: 86). In one example, Melvin says to another character “I’m not a prick, you are, but I’m not”. This is a clear indication of Melvin projecting his inadequate feelings of himself onto others.
Melvin denies that he needs attention and company from others. We see this in his relationship with Verdel, his neighbour’s dog. When Melvin has to return the dog to Simon he utilises the mechanism of denial to repress the anxiety created by the loss of company. Once Melvin has returned the dog he begins to play the piano and sings a song about looking on the bright side of life. He then stops and laughs and says to himself “over a dog”. This is a clear indication that he is denying the fact that he needed the company of the dog.
According to Pervin and John (2001: 88-90) denial is maladaptive as it turns a person away from the reality of situations and prevents them from constructively dealing with the anxiety-causing problems. Melvin’s use of denial is thus maladaptive and, according to McNeil (1970: 18), would lead to his psychoneurotic behaviour. McNeil (1970: 18) states that the certain defences that are necessary to eradicate anxiety will “determine the form of psychoneurosis that will mark the individual’s life”. Thus the defence mechanisms used by Melvin Udall contribute to his obsessive-compulsive behaviour.
Melvin Udall expresses a number of phobias and phobic reactions. According to Mcneil (1970: 19) the classic psychoanalytic viewpoint will see all phobias as an expression of anxiety hysteria. He states that phobias “reflect an intense conflict between basic impulses and repressive mechanisms that seek to deny them access to consciousness. Phobias are created when the conscious self (the ego) denies the original source of anxiety and displaces it through an attachment to some object, person, or situation that acts outside the self and bears only indirect relevance to the original conflict (McNeil, 1970: 19).
According to McNeil (1970: 19) phobias are related to the defence mechanisms of repression, regression, and displacement. For Melvin Udall there is possibly an intense conflict between certain anxieties and the defence mechanisms employed to repress them. His excessive concern for germs perhaps shows a displacement of his anxiety onto a ‘real world’ object that he can avoid or control. If Melvin has a fixation in the anal stage he will thus seek to control the objects, persons, or situations upon which he displaces his anxieties.
In displacing his anxieties onto other objects Melvin is able to express his repressed impulses in a disguised form that is free from anxiety as the feared object is avoided and the true nature of the impulse is not consciously faced (McNeil, 1970: 19). In this sense Melvin’s germ phobia is a displacement of his unresolved internal anxieties that he is unconsciously avoiding.. Bibliography McNeil, B. Neuroses and Personality Disorders. 1970. USA: Prentice-Hall.