Defense Mechanism of the Week: Repression

What is Repression? 

In essence, it is motivated ignoring or forgetting for protection of the Ego.  This is the defense mechanism that first fascinated Freud, and has been studied in depth by therapists and psychoanalysts ever since.   Another way to say it is, as Freud defined it, a mental turning away from something, and keeping it at a distance from the conscious mind.   For example, a disturbing circumstance comes up, such as evidence that a spouse is cheating.  It is then consigned to the unconscious, with the individual subsequently feeling confident that their spouse is faithful.

Of course, sometimes a person just forgets something because they are shifting their attention to something of greater importance, which is part of the everyday human experience.  But if an idea or a thought is not accessible because it is so upsetting, then repression is in play.  Traumatic events offer an extreme example.  After a rape or an attack, vital events are very often not accessible, which is part of a repressive, PTSD reaction.  Another more mundane example would be temporarily forgetting someone’s name who is be to introduced during an important meeting as a result of negative feelings toward this person.

Repression Is a Higher Level Defense

Repressive, believe it or not, is considered a higher level defense-one must have a sense of wholeness and continuity of the self before one is capable of handing disturbing impulses by repression.  If we were constantly aware of all of one’s impulses, feelings, memories and conflicts, we could be absolutely overwhelmed.    Repression is only a problem when it gets in the way of living positively or of finding more successful ways to cope.  Overreliance on repression has been traditionally considered a hallmark of the Hysterical Personality.

Ultimately, repression suppresses a feeling of anxiety, and is the automatic suppressor of countless anxieties that are inherent to living life.  Unhealthy repression, unfortunately, leads to more anxiety, which is characteristic of the depressed, neurotic character.

If you are interested in Psychodynamic Psychotherapy to work through unresolved issues and live in Newport Beach, Irvine, or Orange County, please contact Jennifer De Francisco, LCSW at (949) 251-8797.

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