This post is part of a series on Defense Mechanisms for Mental Health Awareness Week 2016. To know more, read the introduction to the series here. You can read all posts connected to the defense mechanisms series here.
An influential CIA agent, Carrie Mathison, is the protagonist of the popular T.V. series, Homeland. With her profound intellect, she is whole-heartedly invested in her role within the CIA. Carrie often makes instinctive decisions that usually result in significant outcomes. The very perceptive Carrie often digs out solutions that others may miss.
Why Carrie Uses the Defense Mechanism of Rationalization
She seems driven by her principles to catch the bad guys, and to uphold justice. In dealing with people who embody terrorism, she is objective and often ruthless. However, there are times when her objectivity can be questioned. This hints at the defense of rationalization.
Rationalization helps us find reasons to engage in acts that conflict with our values. It helps us live with decisions that may cause us turmoil, by believing they are logically the right thing to do. It is usually a defense against the cognitive dissonance of doing things contrary to our strongly held principles.
Rationalization often helps. A conversation between Carrie and Brody hints at the use of rationalization. He is trying to come to terms with the fact that he has assassinated the chief of a terrorist organization. She helps him rationalize by giving reasons why his act is justified.
Brody: In what universe can you redeem one murder by committing another?
Carrie: You’re a Marine, Brody, the rules are different.
Brody: I’m a lot of things, I’m not a marine anymore, I haven’t been for some time.
Carrie: You were asked to do a mission on behalf of your country and you did it.
Brody: Is that what you tell yourself?
Carrie: That’s what I believe.
Carrie’s belief about her work helps her maintain her self-esteem, prevents her from judging herself harshly for killing people who kill others. This could perhaps be a regular way of using rationalization, when putting in perspective, difficult choices, for instance, those that involve killing.
However, we may find ourselves relying excessively on fragile rationale to justify certain unhelpful behaviours. This is when the defense becomes maladaptive, as in the following example.
The series evokes considerable suspicion about which side Brody picks – furthering the cause of CIA, or that of its opponents. Now the CIA, and I, often wondered whether or not you can trust Brody to fight against terrorism. At times, Brody himself isn’t too sure of his belief system. Carrie, however, is largely convinced about his intentions. Her objectivity seems questionable, doesn’t it?
Many of her decisions seem to be guided by her feelings for Brody, and contradicted CIA’s agenda. At times, she is forced to choose between loyalty to CIA and love for Brody. She chooses Brody, believing that he is helping her and the CIA, when in fact his intentions aren’t clear. Despite overwhelming evidence otherwise, she appears to believe that she was only doing her job. She thus justifies pursuing her personal goals in terms of her relationship with Brody, using the rationale of fulfilling her work demands.
How Carrie Uses the Defense Mechanism of Over-Compensation
Carrie thus uses work as a pretext to fulfil other needs, believing it is a job requirement. In her role as a CIA agent, she often uses intimacy as a tool. She attempts to form a deeply intimate relationship with people who could provide her with some vital information. We know she is rationalizing.
But why is she doing this, when she has other means to procure the information? Why is she forging intimacy on people in her professional activities? Could it be to make up for a lack of intimate connections in her personal life? This suggests the use of yet another defense, that of over-compensation.
Over-compensation is quite interesting. The belief that we lack something often causes a lot of turmoil. But we need to maintain our composure, and be OK with our imperfections. Overcompensation helps us believe that though we are deficient in one area, we can build our strengths in other areas. Some of us may think to ourselves, so what if I am not athletic; my strength lies in my intellect, or my work speaks for itself.
Usually, trying to compensate for our deficits by focusing on our strengths helps us evolve. However, when we relentlessly focus on covering up for that one deficiency in us, it can make us forget why we are trying so hard in the first place.
Carrie appears to invest less in self-care, and in her personal life in general, as compared to her professional life. Though fiercely independent in her job, she often seeks help from her sister for managing her personal problems. She is aware of this tendency in herself, when she tells Quinn, “I can be a great station chief, but I can’t be a mother”. Almost as if to compensate for her perceived deficits in parenting, she is excessively involved with her work. She is constantly working, often at the cost of other things like her health, relationships, and so on. She seems to be over-compensating.
A lot of her effort goes in sustaining this defense. Maintaining her job becomes her sole aim. She goes to extreme lengths for this. She even tries to hide her illness from her close friend and mentor, Saul, to avoid losing her job. Eventually, attempts to over-compensate seem to wear her out.
Like Carrie, most of us may struggle with using defenses productively. It is hard to know how much of it is adaptive. Somewhere along the way, we may figure it out through trial-and-error, by using, misusing and overusing. It is important to note that when we find ourselves trying too hard to sustain our defenses is when they stop being useful to us.
Carrie may be using other defenses, as she is portrayed as an intense individual with many complexities in her functioning. You must have read about quite a few defense mechanisms as part of our series of posts. Please do comment below and let us know which of those apply to her!
Post Contributed by: Namrata Suresh
Image Credit: Fox 21 Television Studios (This image is used under the Fair Use Policy, as it is part of a free, online blog and is not being used to sell any product or service.