Repression as a defense mechanism

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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Repression: A Primer

Repression in psychological terms is a defence mechanism that involves keeping our feelings, thoughts and urges out of our conscious awareness. Our unacceptable desires are kept away from our consciousness so that we are less anxious.

It is a process by which painful and disturbing thoughts are intentionally hidden, and was first identified by Sigmund Freud. He compared the mind to an iceberg, where only the tip is visible and the major portion is hidden.

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The Beginnings of Psychology

Psychology was not separate from philosophy until the late 1800s.

  • During the 17th century, philosopher Rene Descartes introduced the idea of dualism - that the mind and body were two entities that interact to complete the human experience.
  • While early philosophers relied on methods such as observation and logic, today's psychologists use scientific methodologies to draw conclusions about human thought and behavior.
  • Physiological research on the brain and behavior also contributes to psychology.

Preconscious memories are unrepressed memories that we extract for a specific purpose.

The preconscious mind contains all the things that you could potentially pull into conscious awareness. The preconscious is also controlling the information that is allowed to enter into conscious awareness.

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