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In psychology, sublimation is a coping mechanism. It has its roots in the psychoanalytical approach, and is often also referred to as a type of defense mechanism.

Sublimation is the refocusing of psychic energy (which Sigmund Freud believed was limited) away from negative outlets to more positive outlets. These drives which cannot find an outlet are rechanneled. For example, a student who has a major upcoming test, rather than spending time and energy worrying about it, would rechannel that time and energy into studying. In Freud's classic theory, erotic energy is only allowed limited expression due to repression, and much of the remainder of a given group's erotic energy is used to develop its culture and civilization.

Freud considered this defense mechanism the most productive compared to the others that he identified (ie., repression, displacement, denial, reaction formation, intellectualization and projection). Sublimation is the process of transforming libido into "social useful" achievements, mainly art. Psychoanalysts often refer to sublimation as the only truly successful defense mechanism.

A dramatization of this method is depicted in an early episode of the American television series The Simpsons. In the episode "Moaning Lisa," Lisa Simpson, in an existentially desolate mood, finds solace in playing and singing the Blues.

In Psychological Science: Mind, Brain and Behavior by Michael Gasaniga and Todd F. Heatherton a more sinister example is given in which a sadist becomes a surgeon or a dentist.

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