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Psychological repression

Psychological repression, or simply repression, is the psychological act of excluding desires and impulses (wishes, fantasies or feelings) from one's consciousness and attempting to hold or subdue them in the subconscious. Since the popularization of Sigmund Freud's work in psychoanalysis, repression is popularly thought to be a common defense mechanism.[citation needed]


Repressed memories

Main article: Repressed memory

It is often claimed that traumatic events are repressed, yet it appears that the trauma more often strengthens memories due to heightened emotional or physical sensations.[1] (These sensations may also cause distortions, though human memory in general is filtered by layers of perception and incomplete.) One problem from an objective research point of view is that a "memory" must be measured and recorded by a person's actions or conscious expressions, which may be filtered through current thoughts and motivations.

In spite of the popularity and wide use of this concept in psychoanalysis and popular literature, the proposition of "motivated forgetting", where the motivation is both unconscious and aversive, the process of repressing past events has never been demonstrated in controlled research. [1]

However, the repression 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.[clarify] This has an enormous amount of supporting research in the area of cognitive dissonance theory started in the 1950s by Leon Festinger among others.[citation needed]


In the Primary Repression phase, an infant learns that some aspects of reality are pleasant, and others are unpleasant; that some are controllable, and others not. In order to define the "self", the infant must repress the natural assumption that all things are equal. Primary Repression then is the process of determining what is self, what is other; what is good, and what is bad. At the end of this phase, the child can now distinguish between desires, fears, self, and others.[citation needed]

Secondary Repression begins once the child realizes that acting on some desires may bring anxiety. 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 "ego" without the need for any identifiable external threat.[citation needed]

Abnormal repression, or complex neurotic behavior involving repression and the superego, occurs when repression develops and/or continues to develop, due to the internalized feelings of anxiety, in ways leading to behavior that is illogical, self-destructive, or anti-social.[citation needed]

A psychotherapist may try to reduce this behavior by revealing and re-introducing the repressed aspects of the patient's mental process to his conscious awareness, and then teaching the patient how to reduce any anxieties felt in relation to these feelings and impulses.[citation needed]

See also

  • Regression
  • Reaction formation
  • Projection
  • Rationalization
  • Displacement


  1. ^ a b
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Psychological_repression". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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