How Does Sublimation Influence Your Behavior? (2023)

We all experience unwanted impulses or urges from time to time. How we deal with those feelings, however, can mean the difference between acceptable or unacceptable behaviors.

Acting on these urges in the wrong way can be inappropriate, so finding ways to deal with such desires is critical.

One way that people deal with such urges through a process that is known in psychology as sublimation. Through sublimation, people are able to transform unwanted impulses into something that is less harmful and often even helpful.

How Does Sublimation Work?

Consider what might happen if you are overcome with anger. An emotional blow-up is one way of dealing with these feelings, but such expressions of emotion can be harmful. For instance, you might find yourself with damaged relationships and a reputation as a hothead.

Rather than fly off in a fit of rage, what if you channeled those angry emotions into some type of physical activity, such as cleaning your house? You might spend a few hours angrily scrubbing down your kitchen and bathrooms.

Once your feelings of frustration eventually subside, you are left with a positive result—a sparkling clean house. This is one example of how sublimation can transform negative impulses into behaviors that are less damaging and even productive.

Sublimation in Psychoanalysis

The concept of sublimation has a central role in Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory. Sublimation is a defense mechanism—an unconscious psychological defense that reduces the anxiety that may result from unacceptable urges or harmful stimuli.

According to Freud's psychoanalytic theory, there are three components of personality: the id, the ego, and the superego.

The id is the first to form and serves as the source of the libido or the energy that drives behavior. The id is primitive and basic, composed of all the urges and desires that are often socially unacceptable if we simply acted upon them whenever we pleased.

The ego emerges later during childhood and is the part of the personality that reigns in the id and makes it conform to the demands of reality. Rather than simply acting out on urges, the ego forces us to deal with these desires in ways that are more realistic.

Finally, the superego is the component of personality that is made up of all the morals, rules, standards, and values that we have internalized from our parents and culture. This part of personality strives to make us behave in ways that are moral.

The ego must mediate between the primal urges of the id, the moralistic standards of the superego, and the realistic demands of reality.

Sublimation is one way that the ego reduces the anxiety that can be created by unacceptable urges or feelings. Sublimation works by channeling negative and unacceptable impulses into behaviors that are positive and socially acceptable.

Freud considered sublimation a sign of maturity that allows people to behave in civilized and acceptable ways. This process can lead people to pursue activities that are better for their health or engage in behaviors that are positive, productive, and creative.

(Video) What is Sublimation? (Freudian Defense Mechanism)

Freud's idea of sublimation originated while he was reading the story of a man who tortured animals as a child and later went on to become a surgeon. Freud believed that the same energy that once drove the child's sadism was eventually sublimated into positive and socially acceptable actions that benefited others.

Examples of Sublimation

Participation in sports and athletic competition can sometimes be examples of sublimation in action. Rather than acting on unacceptable urges to fight with others, people may play competitive sports in order to dominate and win. This can also extend to exercise activity as well.

Imagine that you get in an argument with your next-door neighbor. Your feelings of anger might create an urge to physically strike out at the neighbor. Because such action is inappropriate, you might deal with your feelings of frustration by going for a jog.

Some other examples of sublimation in the real world:

  • You feel an urge to be unfaithful to your partner. Rather than act on these unacceptable urges, you channel your feelings into doing projects around the yard.
  • You become distraught at the end of a relationship. In order to deal with these negative emotions, you begin writing poetry. You are able to transfer your heartbreak and emotional upset into a creative activity.
  • You are reprimanded by your manager at work. You feel fearful that you might lose your job, but you decide to walk home from work in order to think and release your frustrations. This activity not only gives you time to cool off and reflect; it also benefits your physical health.
  • You have an almost obsessive need to have control over even the smallest details in your life. You sublimate this energy into becoming a successful business owner and leader.

Research on Sublimation

In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers looked at whether Protestants were more likely to sublimate taboo feelings into creative endeavors.

They found that individuals who experienced sexual problems related to anxieties over taboo desires were more likely to also have greater creative accomplishments than those who reported no sexual problems or those with sexual problems unrelated to taboo feelings.

The researchers suggest that their studies represent "possibly the first experimental evidence for sublimation and suggest a cultural psychological approach to defense mechanisms."

How Can Sublimation Influence Your Life

So what role might the process of sublimation have in your life? As Freud suggested, sublimation is usually considered a healthy and mature way of dealing with urges that may be undesirable or unacceptable.

Rather than act out in ways that may cause us or others harm, sublimation allows us to channel that energy into things that are beneficial. This defense mechanism can actually end up having a positive effect on your health and wellness.

Sublimation is not always obvious because it operates at a subconscious level.

While we sometimes might be able to see how our negative feelings can drive us to act in certain ways, we are often very much unaware of such things. We may be even less aware of the underlying defense mechanisms that are at work.

There also may not be a direct correlation between the cause of the negative emotion and the behavior that results from sublimation.

(Video) Mentalist Daniel Harel shows how subliminal messages trick us

While earlier examples showed anger being sublimated into physical action, such feelings can result in a variety of behaviors. For example, frustration could also lead a person to engage in a relaxing hobby such as fishing or painting.

A Word From Verywell

Sublimation can be a powerful influence on behavior, although one of which we are largely unaware. Even though this defense mechanism may operate on a subconscious level, you can take inspiration from it by intentionally finding ways to substitute more healthy and productive behaviors for harmful ones.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Hockenbury DH, Hockenbury SE. Psychology. Macmillan; 2002.

  2. Kim E, Zeppenfeld V, Cohen D. Sublimation, culture, and creativity. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2013;105(4):639-66. doi:10.1037/a0033487

Additional Reading

  • Geller, J. Of snips... and puppy dog tails: Freud's sublimation of "Judentum. American Imago. 2009;66(2):169-184.

  • Kim, E, Zeppenfeld, V, & Cohen, D. Sublimation, culture, and creativity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2013;105(4):639-666. DOI: 10.1037/a0033487

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How Does Sublimation Influence Your Behavior? (1)

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

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FAQs

What is sublimation in human behavior? ›

Sublimation is one way that the ego reduces the anxiety that can be created by unacceptable urges or feelings. Sublimation works by channeling negative and unacceptable impulses into behaviors that are positive and socially acceptable.

What is sublimation explain with example in psychology? ›

Sublimation is a defense mechanism that involves channeling unwanted or unacceptable urges into an admissible or productive outlet. For example, a woman who recently went through a breakup may channel her emotions into a home improvement project.

What does sublimation mean in mental health? ›

In psychology, sublimation is a mature type of defense mechanism, in which socially unacceptable impulses or idealizations are transformed into socially acceptable actions or behavior, possibly resulting in a long-term conversion of the initial impulse.

What is sublimation in education? ›

Sublimation is the channeling of socially unacceptable behaviors into socially acceptable ones. You essentially transform unwanted impulses into constructive, or at least socially acceptable, behaviors. This allows you to avoid the anxiety and other potentially harmful feelings associated with the behavior in question.

What is a good example of sublimation? ›

sublimation, in physics, conversion of a substance from the solid to the gaseous state without its becoming liquid. An example is the vaporization of frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice) at ordinary atmospheric pressure and temperature.

How does sublimation happen? ›

Sublimation is the conversion between the solid and the gaseous phases of matter, with no intermediate liquid stage. For those of us interested in the water cycle, sublimation is most often used to describe the process of snow and ice changing into water vapor in the air without first melting into water.

What is sublimation process? ›

Sublimation is the transition of a substance directly from the solid phase to the gas phase without passing through the intermediate liquid phase (Table 4.8, Fig. 4.2). Sublimation is an endothermic phase transition that occurs at temperatures and pressures below the triple point of a chemical in the phase diagram.

How do you sublimate anger? ›

You can try engaging in somewhat strenuous physical activity, such as running, using a rowing machine, or even taking a brisk walk, to move through any feelings of rage.

Is sublimation a coping mechanism? ›

Sublimation: Sublimation is considered a positive coping strategy. Itentails redirecting strong emotions into an object or activity that is safe and more socially appropriate. Reaction formation: Some people may be able to recognize how they feel and choose to behave in a manner opposite of their instincts.

Which action would be an example of the defense mechanism of sublimation a person? ›

Sublimation is a defense mechanism that involves channeling unwanted or unacceptable urges into an admissible or productive outlet. For example, a woman who recently went through a breakup may channel her emotions into a home improvement project.

What is sublimation of instinct? ›

The sublimation of an instinct is the process whereby a new and better object is substituted for the natural or orginal ob- ject of the instinct.

Is sublimation a word? ›

The noun sublimation is from the Latin word sublimare, meaning “to raise a higher status.” In the field of mental health, sublimation helps people who have urges that, if acted on, are self-destructive or dangerous to others.

How can sublimation be understood as a source or form of creativity? ›

Sublimation appears in diverse ways: in form of architecture, philosophy, innovations, or start-ups. And they are effortless. Their fuel is the instinctive drive, that was suppressed in the very beginning. The creator doesn't feel that he/she is doing work, but they feel they heal themselves with their creations.

What is sublimation in science for kids? ›

Sublimation is when a solid becomes a gas without turning into a liquid first.

How is sublimation important in our daily lives? ›

Naphthalene mothballs undergo sublimation to escape into the gas phase. These vapors drive away moths and other fiber insects in a process to protect clothes. Ice crystals are seen in packets and containers of frozen foods.

What is sublimation in daily life? ›

The best example of sublimation is dry ice which is a frozen form of carbon dioxide. When dry ice gets exposed to air, dry ice directly changes its phase from solid-state to gaseous state which is visible as fog. Frozen carbon dioxide in its gaseous state is more stable than in its solid-state.

What is the importance of sublimation? ›

Sublimation can be important in the recovery of compounds that are suspended or dissolved in a fluid or a solid like dry ice. The compounds can be recovered, at least in crude form, by allowing the suspending matrix to sublimate away.

Which statement is true about sublimation? ›

The correct answer is option 2, i.e. Sublimation is a process in which solid changes into the gaseous state without passing through the liquid state.

Can you think of other example of sublimation? ›

Therefore, sublimation of dry ice, and Iodine are the examples of sublimation.

What is an example of sublimation in nature? ›

Explanation: Hoar frost is vapor to solid sublimation of water vapor onto very cold surfaces. You will often see it on tree branches. You will also see solid to vapor sublimation in very cold areas when it is a clear day.

What happens to energy in sublimation? ›

Sublimation. Sublimation occurs when a substance changes from a solid into a gas. Increases in temperature causes the kinetic energy of particles to also increase. This allows the particles to overcome the intermolecular forces and become mobile.

How does sublimation work states of matter? ›

Under certain conditions, some solids turn straight into a gas when heated. This process is called sublimation. A good example is solid carbon dioxide, also called 'dry ice'. At atmospheric pressure, it turns straight into gaseous carbon dioxide.

Why is sublimation a physical change? ›

Physical change are those in which no new substance is formed. In sublimation, there is direct conversion of solid into gas and vice versa. Thus the substance remains the same. Was this answer helpful?

How important is the process of sublimation in the field of industry? ›

One important use of sublimation is in the frozen food industry which is called freeze-drying. This sublimation from the solid phase to the gas phase of frozen water in the material takes place when we reduce surrounding pressure. No heat is involved during the removal of water hence it is different from evaporation.

What is sublimation critical point? ›

The maximum or minimum temperature and pressure beyond which the condition of the substance cannot be altered is referred to as the sublimation critical point. For example. 5 ° C is the sublimation critical point of dry ice.

What is sublimation write an example for a sublime material? ›

Sublimation is the process by which a solid transforms into a gas without first becoming a liquid. Sublimates are chemicals that are undergoing sublimation. Ammonium Chloride is white solid on heating it sublimes and Naphthalene balls are the two examples of substance that sublimes.

How do you sublimate energy? ›

How To Achieve Sex Sublimation | Spiritual Aspect - YouTube

Is sublimation real? ›

Sublimation is an endothermic process that occurs at temperatures and pressures below a substance's triple point in its phase diagram, which corresponds to the lowest pressure at which the substance can exist as a liquid.

What does it mean when someone is acting out? ›

1. the behavioral expression of emotions that serves to relieve tension associated with these emotions or to communicate them in a disguised, or indirect, way to others. Such behaviors may include arguing, fighting, stealing, threatening, or throwing tantrums.

Is sublimation a coping mechanism? ›

Sublimation: Sublimation is considered a positive coping strategy. Itentails redirecting strong emotions into an object or activity that is safe and more socially appropriate. Reaction formation: Some people may be able to recognize how they feel and choose to behave in a manner opposite of their instincts.

What is sublimation as a defense mechanism? ›

Definition. Sublimation is the channeling of unacceptable feelings, desires, and impulses – often of a sexual or aggressive nature – into positive, socially approved activity. This activity is often creative, but it does not have to be.

How do you sublimate anger? ›

You can try engaging in somewhat strenuous physical activity, such as running, using a rowing machine, or even taking a brisk walk, to move through any feelings of rage.

What does sublimation mean in medical term? ›

Medical Definition of sublimation

1 : the act, process, or an instance of subliming a chemical. 2 : the process of converting and expressing a primitive instinctual desire or impulse to a form that is socially or culturally acceptable.

What is sublimation relationship? ›

During sublimation, a person directs harmful desires and unpleasant emotions into something more beneficial and productive. This happens on a subconscious level and the person may not be aware of it.

What is sublimation of instinct? ›

The sublimation of an instinct is the process whereby a new and better object is substituted for the natural or orginal ob- ject of the instinct.

How do you sublimate energy? ›

How To Achieve Sex Sublimation | Spiritual Aspect - YouTube

What is another word for sublimation? ›

What is another word for sublimation?
directiondivision
redirectionrerouting
transferal

Is sublimation real? ›

Sublimation is an endothermic process that occurs at temperatures and pressures below a substance's triple point in its phase diagram, which corresponds to the lowest pressure at which the substance can exist as a liquid.

How can sublimation be understood as a source or form of creativity? ›

Sublimation appears in diverse ways: in form of architecture, philosophy, innovations, or start-ups. And they are effortless. Their fuel is the instinctive drive, that was suppressed in the very beginning. The creator doesn't feel that he/she is doing work, but they feel they heal themselves with their creations.

Which action would be an example of the defense mechanism of sublimation a person? ›

Sublimation is a defense mechanism that involves channeling unwanted or unacceptable urges into an admissible or productive outlet. For example, a woman who recently went through a breakup may channel her emotions into a home improvement project.

What does it mean when someone is acting out? ›

1. the behavioral expression of emotions that serves to relieve tension associated with these emotions or to communicate them in a disguised, or indirect, way to others. Such behaviors may include arguing, fighting, stealing, threatening, or throwing tantrums.

What is sublimation in drama and arts? ›

Sublimation placed objects in relation to a fantasy about the lost object of desire, raising 'the object to the dignity of the thing' rather than transforming drive energy or providing a substitute for aggressive and sexual gratification (Ziziek, 1989).

Is sublimation a word? ›

The noun sublimation is from the Latin word sublimare, meaning “to raise a higher status.” In the field of mental health, sublimation helps people who have urges that, if acted on, are self-destructive or dangerous to others.

Who discovered sublimation? ›

The word "sublimation" has been used since the late 1550s and comes from the Latin sublimatus, meaning "to lift up" (Source), but the process itself was first explained by Jabir ibn Hayyan (Gerber) in the 700s (Source). Gerber is known as the father of chemistry and having discovered dry ice.

What's the difference between sublimation and reaction formation? ›

Sublimation is when you channel unwanted/unhealthy desires into something that is accepted by society. A classic example is working out when you are really mad at someone. Reaction formation is when a feeling you have subconsciously is presented as the opposite in the conscious.

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