Psychological repression
Psychological repression, also psychic repression or simply repression, is the psychological
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

 attempt by an individual to repel one's own desires and impulses towards pleasurable instincts by excluding the desire from one's consciousness
Consciousness is a term that refers to the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. It has been defined as: subjectivity, awareness, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood, and the executive control system of the mind...

 and holding or subduing it in the unconscious
Unconscious mind
The unconscious mind is a term coined by the 18th century German romantic philosopher Friedrich Schelling and later introduced into English by the poet and essayist Samuel Taylor Coleridge...

. Repression plays a major role in many mental illnesses, and in the psyche of average
Normality may refer to:* The property of conforming to a norm; see normality , assimilation * Normality The state of dynamic equilibrium between all the bio-psycho-social parameters of the individual and the surrounding bio-psycho-social environment...


'Repression, a key concept of psychoanalysis
Psychoanalytic theory
Psychoanalytic theory refers to the definition and dynamics of personality development which underlie and guide psychoanalytic and psychodynamic psychotherapy. First laid out by Sigmund Freud, psychoanalytic theory has undergone many refinements since his work...

, is a defense mechanism that ensures that what is unacceptable to the conscious mind, and would if recalled arouse anxiety, is prevented from entering into it'; and is generally accepted as such by psychoanalytic psychologists.

However, regarding the distinct subject of repressed memory
Repressed memory
Repressed memory is a hypothetical concept used to describe a significant memory, usually of a traumatic nature, that has become unavailable for recall; also called motivated forgetting in which a subject blocks out painful or traumatic times in one's life...

, there is debate as to whether (or how often) memory repression really happens and mainstream psychology holds that true memory repression occurs only very rarely.

Freud's theory

As Freud moved away from hypnosis, and towards urging his patients to remember the past in a conscious state, 'the very difficulty and laboriousness of the process led Freud to a crucial insight'. His intensity of his struggles to get his patients to recall past memories led him to conclude that 'there was some force that prevented them from becoming conscious and compelled them to remain unconscious...pushed the pathogenetic experiences in question out of consciousness. I gave the name of repression to this hypothetical process'.

Freud would later call the theory of repression '"the corner-stone on which the whole structure of psychoanalysis rests" ("On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement"'.


Freud considered that there was 'reason to assume that there is a primal repression, a first phase of repression, which consists in the psychical (ideational) representative of the instinct being denied entrance into the conscious', as well as a 'second stage of repression, repression proper, which affects mental derivatives of the repressed representative: distinguished what he called a first stage of ' primal repression' from 'the case of repression proper ("after-pressure").'

In the Primary Repression phase, 'it is highly probable that the immediate precipitating causes of primal repressions are quantitative factors such as...the earliest outbreaks of anxiety, which are of a very intense kind'. The child realizes that acting on some desires may bring anxiety
Anxiety is a psychological and physiological state characterized by somatic, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. The root meaning of the word anxiety is 'to vex or trouble'; in either presence or absence of psychological stress, anxiety can create feelings of fear, worry, uneasiness,...

. This anxiety leads to repression of the desire.

The threat of punishment related to this form of anxiety, when internalized, becomes the superego, which intercedes against the desires of the id
Id, ego, and super-ego
Id, ego and super-ego are the three parts of the psychic apparatus defined in Sigmund Freud's structural model of the psyche; they are the three theoretical constructs in terms of whose activity and interaction mental life is described...

 (which works on the basis of the pleasure principle
Pleasure principle (psychology)
In Freudian psychology, the pleasure principle is the psychoanalytic concept describing people seeking pleasure and avoiding suffering in order to satisfy their biological and psychological needs...

). Freud speculated that 'it is perhaps the emergence of the super-ego which provides the line of demarcation between primal repression and after-pressure'


Abnormal repression, or neurotic behavior
Neurosis is a class of functional mental disorders involving distress but neither delusions nor hallucinations, whereby behavior is not outside socially acceptable norms. It is also known as psychoneurosis or neurotic disorder, and thus those suffering from it are said to be neurotic...

 occurs when repression develops under the influence of the superego, and the internalized feelings of anxiety, in ways leading to behavior that is illogical, self-destructive, or anti-social.

A psychotherapist may try to ameliorate this behavior by revealing and re-introducing the repressed aspects of the patient's mental process
Mental function
Mental processes, mental functions and cognitive processes are terms often used interchangeably to mean such functions or processes as perception, introspection, memory, creativity, imagination, conception, belief, reasoning, volition, and emotion—in...

 to her or his conscious awareness
Awareness is the state or ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects or sensory patterns. In this level of consciousness, sense data can be confirmed by an observer without necessarily implying understanding. More broadly, it is the state or quality of being aware of...

 - 'assuming the role of mediator and lift the repression'. In favourable circumstances, ' Repression is replaced by a condemning judgement carried out along the best lines', thereby reducing anxiety over the impulses involved.

Later developments

Otto Fenichel
Otto Fenichel
Otto Fenichel was a psychoanalyst of the so-called "second generation".Otto Fenichel started studying medicine in 1915 in Vienna. Already as a very young man, when still in school, he was attracted by the circle of psychoanalysts around Freud...

 stressed that 'if the disappearance of the original aim from consciousness is called repression, every sublimation is a repression (a "successful" one: through the new type of discharge, the old one has become superfluous)'.

Lacan is surname of:* Jacques Lacan , French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist** The Seminars of Jacques Lacan** From Bakunin to Lacan: Anti-Authoritarianism and the Dislocation of Power, a book on political philosophy by Saul Newman** Lacan at the Scene* Judith Miller, née Lacan...

 stressed the role of the signifier in repression - 'the primal repressed is a signifier' - examining how the symptom is 'constituted on the basis of primal repression, of the fall, of the Unterdrückung, of the binary signifier...the necessary fall of this first signifier'.

Family therapy
Family therapy
Family therapy, also referred to as couple and family therapy, family systems therapy, and family counseling, is a branch of psychotherapy that works with families and couples in intimate relationships to nurture change and development. It tends to view change in terms of the systems of...

 has explored how familial taboos lead to 'this screening-off that Freud called "repression"', emphasising the way that 'keeping part of ourselves out of our awareness is a very active process...a deliberate hiding of some feeling from our family'.

Related concepts: repressed memories

One of the issues Freud struggled with was the status of the childhood "memories" recovered in his therapy from repression. He concluded that 'these scenes from infancy are not always true. Indeed, they are not true in the majority of cases, and in a few of them they are the direct opposite of the historical truth'. Controversy arose in the late C20th about the status of such "recovered memories", particularly of child abuse, with many claiming that Freud had been wrong to ignore the reality of such recovered memories.

While accepting 'the realities of child abuse', Elaine Showalter
Elaine Showalter
Elaine Showalter is an American literary critic, feminist, and writer on cultural and social issues. She is one of the founders of feminist literary criticism in United States academia, developing the concept and practice of gynocritics.She is well known and respected in both academic and popular...

 considered it important that one 'distinguishes between abuse remembered all along, abuse spontaneously remembered, abuse recovered in therapy, and abuse suggested in therapy'. Given that psychologists, such as Elizabeth Loftus
Elizabeth Loftus
Elizabeth F. Loftus is an American psychologist and expert on human memory. She has conducted extensive research on the misinformation effect and the nature of false memories. Loftus has been recognized throughout the world for her work, receiving numerous awards and honorary degrees...

, have shown that it is possible to implant false memories in individuals, it is possible to 'come to doubt the validity of therapeutically recovered memories of sexual abuse...[as] confabulations'. Many however continue to give them evidential weight.

There is related debate about the very possibility of the repression of trauma
Trauma can refer to:-In psychology and medicine:* Trauma , an often serious and body-altering physical injury, such as the removal of a limb...

. While some evidence suggests that 'adults who have been through overwhelming trauma can suffer a psychic numbing, blocking out memory of or feeling about the catastrophe', it appears that the trauma more often strengthens memories due to heightened emotional or physical sensations. (However these sensations may also cause distortions, as human memory in general is filtered both by layers of perception, and by 'appropriate mental schema...spatio-temporal schemata').

Because of ethical and methodological reasons—for example, a researcher cannot put an experimental group of people through a traumatic experience, and one could not prospectively secure a trauma-free control group, in essence—the information about repression that experimental research can provide is especially limited, despite claims of psychologists and psychiatrists about repressed memory. However, the ignoring (rather than suppression) of information chosen for consideration in the present or future - because it is viewed as aversive - has a powerful relationship to what will be drawn out of the unconscious to be made available for honest, conscious deliberation..

See also

External links

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