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We all have uncontrollable cravings or impulses from time to time. However, how we respond to those feelings might make the difference between acceptable and undesirable actions.

Acting on these cravings in the wrong way can be harmful, so figuring out how to deal with them is crucial.

Sublimation is a psychological term for the process through which people deal with such urges. Sublimation allows people to turn unpleasant impulses into something less damaging and, in some cases, even beneficial.

What Is Sublimation In Psychology?

The word "sublimation" has a fascinating history. The word's primary meaning is "to alter form." This word is used to signify "improve" or "get a higher rank." It is now used in chemistry to explain what happens when a solid meet a gas head-on. The original concept of sublimation psychology is somewhat different, but it can still be considered a technique of elevating to a higher level. In psychology, here is what it means.

Sublimation Psychology Definition

Psychology provides a concept for sublimation that pertains to human impulses and behaviors. Almost everyone has cravings and motivations that are socially inappropriate or troublesome in other ways at some point in their lives. Sublimation is a protective mechanism that allows a person to transform undesirable feelings and drives into something harmless, if not even helpful and effective.

Freud's Idea Of Sublimation

According to Sigmund Freud, sublimation is the transformation of energy from impulses, particularly sexual urges, into socially valued thoughts and behaviors. To put it another way, innate desires were redirected towards non-instinctual activities.

Although Freud's psychoanalytic theory is significantly less popular today than in his time, his work has influenced numerous psychological notions. Other components of his theories have gone out of popularity, but the idea of the mind's self-protective defense systems remains a powerful concept.

Sublimation Psychology Example

  • Pretend you disagree with your next-door neighbor. You could feel compelled to attack your neighbour because of your anger physically. Because such behaviour is improper, you can try going for a jog to relieve your irritation.
  • You have a strong desire to cheat on your partner. Rather than acting on these uncontrollable cravings, you focus your emotions on yard tasks.
  • When a relationship ends, you become sad. You start creating poems to cope with these terrible emotions. You can turn your sadness and mental distress into a creative endeavour.
  • At work, you are reprimanded by your boss. You are worried about losing your job, so you decide to walk home from work to think and let out your anger. This pastime not only allows you to unwind and ponder but also enhances your physical well-being.
  • You have an almost compulsive desire to have complete control over every aspect of your life. This energy is channelled into your success as a business owner and leader.

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How To Practice Sublimation Psychology?

Consider what would happen if you were to become enraged. One method to deal with these sensations is to have an emotional outburst, but such outbursts can be damaging. You might end up with ruined relationships and a reputation as a hothead, for example.

Rather than fleeing in a rage, is it better to turn your enraged feelings into physical activity, such as cleaning your house? You might scour your kitchen and bathrooms angrily for a few hours.

When your frustration fades, you are left with a positive result: a spotless home. This is one example of how sublimation can help people change evil urges into less harmful and even productive behaviours.

Sublimation In Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory revolves around the concept of sublimation. Sublimation is a defence mechanism—an unconscious psychological defence mechanism that minimizes anxiety caused by unwanted urges or damaging stimuli.

According to Freud's psychoanalytic theory, the three components of personality - 

the id, ego, and superego.

  • The id is the first to develop and is the source of libido or the energy that drives conduct. The id is fundamental, including all our drives and impulses, many of which would be socially undesirable if we acted on them whenever we wanted.
  • The ego appears later in childhood and is the personality that rules over the id and forces it to adapt to reality's demands. The ego causes us to cope with our impulses in more realistic ways rather than merely acting on them.
  • Finally, the superego is the part of our psyche that contains all the morals, norms, standards, and values that we have picked up from our parents and culture. This aspect of our personality works to establish our moral behaviour.

The ego must arbitrate between the primitive id's urges, the superego's moralistic ideals, and reality's practical needs.

Defence Mechanism: Sublimation

Sublimation is identical with displacement, but it occurs when we can channel our negative emotions into constructive and socially acceptable behaviours rather than harmful ones. One of Anna Freud's first protective mechanisms was sublimation.

This type of defence mechanism is seen to be beneficial. That is because people who rely on it choose to channel intense emotions or feelings into a suitable and safe object or activity.


  1. Rather than yelling at your coworkers, you prefer to focus your rage on kickboxing or workout. You could also use music, art, or sports to channel or divert your emotions.
  2. Fixation at the oral stage of development may lead to an adult sucking on one's thumb, pen, or cigarette for oral pleasure. Fixation during the anal stage can also cause a person to replace their want to handle faeces with a desire to enjoy ceramics.

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How Sublimation Influences Your Life?

So, what role could the sublimation process play in your life? Sublimation, as Freud indicated, is widely regarded as a healthy and adult manner of dealing with unwanted or unacceptable urges.

Sublimation allows us to redirect our energy into activities that are good rather than acting out in ways that may hurt us or others. This defence mechanism may have a beneficial influence on your health and well-being.

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