The definition of “repression” has been widely contested among psychologist for the past years. Webster dictionary had given a it a definition of being “a process by which unacceptable desires or impulses are excluded from consciousness and left to operate in the unconscious” or simply saying the placement of a unacceptable taught in a far area in our unconscious mind where it can’t be easily retrieved. Sigmund Freud in his book An Outline of Psycho-Analysis tried to investigate further how one gets repression, their behaviors and therapy treatments. Years later, Jennifer Freyd tried to do the same when she published her book Betrayal Trauma. Although both psychologist thinks that one experience repression when the mind is disturbed by some unusual experience, they did not agree as to what are the causes of repression. While Freud believe that any major disturbing event can cause repression may this be caused by other people or natural events, Freyd stick to her idea that one experiences repression when an adult betrays ones trust. They also differ in their idea of digging out the repressed mind from the unconsciousness. Freud presents that the unconscious mind can involuntarily retrieved these memories when similar events happened while Freyd on the other hand argues that these memories can be retrieved by questioning the person. The similarities and contradicting ideas of these two have created an argument on the real meaning of “repression”.
For Freud, repression is a psychoanalytic term that refers to a mental mechanism of defense against ideas that are in conflict with the ego. According to Freud, “repression is divided into primary and secondary repression(s). Primary repression is first organized into unawareness. Secondary repression, on the other hand, involves repulsion of representations back into the unconscious.” (32) He treats repression as innate to human development. It is natural for a person to crave for an outlet for our desires to come-out such as the case of dreams. However, while on the process of achieving and satisfying our drives, we are faced with obstacles. When one cannot cope anymore with the obstacles or traumatic events, these tend to result into inadequatey discharge instinctual impulses and left these experience in the subconscious mind.
Freyd’s description of repression, on the other hand, is concerned with “repressed memories”. Freyd states that “repressed memories within this context refer to memories about childhood sexual abuse which have been stored away somewhere in the mind.” (63) Freyd argues that a memory of a sufficiently traumatic event, primarily childhood sexual abuse, may be “repressed” depending on the degree of “betrayal” of the victim by the perpetrator. The degree of “betrayal” that the abuser perpetrates against the victim depends on how much the victim needs to rely on the perpetrator in order to survive. Repression, termed as betrayal trauma by Freyd “occurs when the people or institutions on which a person depends for survival significantly violate that person ’ s trust or well - being: Childhood physical, emotional, or sexual abuse perpetrated by a caregiver are examples of betrayal trauma.”
For Freud, primary repression is directed towards the maternal ‘abject’ and the archaic ‘thing’. This is experience when what one is an ideal representation of an instinct we want is denied into the our conscious minds, then latter the pressures experienced by not getting what one desires leads to anxiety later on becoming the primal repression. This can be illustrated by looking at a child who desires something, then acting on the desire but was not able to satisfy it. This can lead to an intense anxiety which can become a “traumatic” experience to the child. Furthermore, if primal repression fails, the ideal object degenerates. The rejecting object is unconditionally bad from the point of view of the ant- libidinal ego. (61).
Primary objects of repression, with regard to Freyd’s point of view towards repression, may be linked to memories and betrayal. Freyd argues that the greater the degree of betrayal, the greater the chance that the memories of abuse will be “repressed.” In suggesting that such memories of childhood abuse are “repressed”, Freyd posits that the memories are “repressed” by a mechanism different from ordinary forgetting that there is a distinct motivation that causes the memories to be forgotten. Of great importance in finding or establishing, the difference between the two is in the timing. Does the unawareness of an event occur instantaneously, or is it only afterwards that the memory is banished from consciousness? Within this context, it is prudent to hypothesize that the term repression is so central to the literature and to folk psychology that we would do better to retain it (Freyd 44). In addition, individuals need to be careful to use it without prematurely assuming particular motivations for the forgetting. We can therefore distinguish between ordinarily forgotten memories and “repressed” memories. Memories, traumatic or otherwise, which have been forgotten that do not involve a major degree of betrayal are forgotten simply as a matter of course; the “motivation” for forgetting is forgetting for its own sake. Memories of childhood sexual abuse, however, may be “repressed” depending on the degree of betrayal; the “motivation” for forgetting, therefore, is greater than simply forgetting for its own sake.
According to Freud, everything rotated around identity in the beginning; as identification became more and more exposed to the external world, the contents of identity developed. Freud states that “continued influence of the outside world, eventually resulted in the formation of the ego. As the ego developed, the contents of identification were influenced by external world forces” (65) Some researchers have speculated that “one of the possible long-term effects of repression is concerned with deliberate forgetting that is often motivated by fear of the consequences of disclosure or of the disruption of close attachments”.(57) This hypothesis could help to explain how abused children forget their ill-treatments. Continued or repeated ignorance of the abuse consequently affects behavior. With reference to behavior, people would then become implicit. This implies learning without awareness, for instance, or deliberately avoiding the involvement of emotions when doing something in their attempt to avoid being repressed.
In his persuasive work The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis, Freud notes that “one of the important merits that can be recognized to becoming aware of that which has been repressed is self-awareness” (67). Primary self-awareness implies being aware of what one does and is experiencing. Reflective self-awareness, on the other hand, is concerned with the how our minds work or think of their experiences. Humans who fail to develop a character at all always lead defective human lives, according to functional criteria. This is true because such people have not exercised their natural human capacity to evaluate and endorse their many desires. Furthermore, they are deprived of the being treated as people with moral status as they fail to become responsible of themselves. That is they are not capable of carrying themselves in an acceptable manner as ethical theories describe.
Freyd is of the opinion that, instead of the trauma being forgotten, it is deprived of affective cachexia, so that what remains in consciousness is nothing but its ideational content, which is perfectly colorless and is judged to be unimportant. Freyd further states that, “repression makes it easier for the ego to cope with trauma fundamentally by excluding painful feelings from consciousness” (87). However, the cost of reduced anxiety is high. Within this regard, all that is left of the trauma in an individual’s experience is colorless ideational content, robbed of its affect by repression. The trauma, in other words, is cancelled out, but consciousness is then divided.
Both Freud and Freyd hypothesize that painful or traumatic experiences are forgotten. Freud mentions repression as a defense mechanism in id stage of childhood. Freyd cites “amnesia is induced by repression”. (61) The occurrence of universal injuries due to repression is attributed to mind functions. Besides, both the theories are vulnerable in the sense that they do not account for all persons and all situations. Both studies accept that recall of memory exists and that it can be triggered by external agent or under controlled monitoring. There is a common question of validity of recovered memories as expressed by Freyd. It is possible and highly probable that the “recovered memories may be false or fabricated depending upon individual impression and interpretation by patient/respondent”. (59)The assumption that memories are wholly or entirely repressed remains open to debate.
Freud and Freyd, often referred symptoms that resulted into the universal injuries as the return of the repressed. Neurotic symptoms are considered to be a failure of repression. Repressed feelings put constant pressure upon the ego for an entry into consciousness. If the ego allows this to happen, however, the feelings will once again arouse anxiety. Thus a symptom winds up being a compromise between the ego, working to maintain its unity, and the emerging feelings. As both put it, Freud and Freyd, Neurotic symptoms are based on the hand on the demands of the libidinal instincts (Freyd 53).
In light of the above, the distinctiveness in the definition of repression as put up by Freyd and Freud is in the fact that Freud’s repression is a psychoanalytic term that refers to a mental mechanism of defense against ideas that are in conflict with the ego, as defined by Freud. Freud further divides repression into primary and secondary repression. In primary repression the first organization deals with unawareness. Secondary repression, on the other hand, involves the repulsion of representations back into the unconscious. Freyd’s description of repression, on the other hand, is concerned with “repressed memories”. One of the major advantages of that which has been oppressed is self-awareness. Neurotic symptoms are considered to be a failure of repression.
Freyd, Jennifer . Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Childhood Abuse. Cambridge (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1996. Print.
Freud, Sigmund. The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis. First published in American Journal of Psychology, 21, 181-218. 1910. Print