Repression as a defense mechanism

Repression can best be defined as the psychological defense mechanism that involves pushing undesired thoughts into the unconscious in order to not think about them anymore.

While our consciousness keeps the thoughts and feelings we want to be aware of, the unconscious mind holds our entire history which, without the help of repression, might actually lead us to psychological distress.

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Repression is of two types: primary and proper.

While the primary one takes into account the fact of hiding undesired thoughts or facts, the proper one takes place whenever an individual becomes aware of the thoughts that had initially been hidden and tries to hide them again.

The objective of hiding our undesired thoughts in our unconsciousness is to feel less anxious.

However, Freud stated that this process can backfire at any point, as these hidden thoughts or feelings can still create anxiety, eventually leading to psychological distress.

By hiding our undesired thoughts or feelings, we might actually end up feeling more anxious and depressed, without even knowing the reason.

Dreams were thought by Freud to be one way these repressed thoughts would try to come back to our minds.

Some of the most known examples of repression:

  • Slips of the tongue: we tend to express hidden thoughts by mistake
  • The Oedipus Complex: children try to identify themselves with their same-sex parent in order to avoid competition for the other parent's love
  • Phobia: hidden thoughts can still influence our behavior.

Repression has been a controversial topic in recent times:

  • In the field of psychoanalysis, there are people who both sustain and deny the beneficial effects of repression.
  • In regards to our memory, there is a controversy on whether hidden or traumatic memories can really be recovered.
  • Neurosis: research has shown that repression can have a beneficial effect when it comes to individuals with dysfunctions at this level.
  • Therapy: besides lifting repression, there are also other therapeutic actions that lead to a successful therapy and psychoanalysis.

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