In life, human beings experience traumatic events; whether accidents, death or any other trauma, such occurrences harm the person’s psychological well-being. In some cases, people are unable to deal with the aftermath of such occurrences; they thus deals with it by pushing it out of consciousness into the sub-conscious. Instead of dealing with the problem, they ignore it through psychological processes; this research paper focuses on the analysis of the process. It is a process known as repression (Loftus, 1993).
Repression is a very general concept in the field of psychology researched by many scholars through the years. Psychologists and other professionals attempt to understand repression and how it affects the wellbeing of individuals. Repression affects people positively and negatively; studies provide empirical evidence on the extent of repression in dealing with traumatic experiences.
There is a basic understanding of what transpires when repression occurs; when something shocking or traumatic occurs, a person’s mind analyzes and deals with it. When the mind cannot deal with the occurrence, it pushes the memory into sub-consciousness where it cannot access it. In some instances, the repressed memory may emerge into consciousness. Many studies on the concept of repression focus on memories such as; accidents, death of loved ones, and memories of childhood cases of sexual abuse. Many of the subjects unearth memories events that occurred 20, 30 or even forty years ago. Such results raise further questions on the influence of repression on individuals. The questions look into whether repressed memories influence personality and behavior and the reality of the memories.
Sigmund Freud’s theory of repression is a cornerstone on psychoanalytic studies (Boag, 2006). It creates an understanding of the mainstream theories in relation to motivated forgetting of traumatic experiences. In Freud’s perspective, repression had its essence in “simply turning things away, or keeping them from consciousness”. In his view of mentality, the mind denied some of its contents from accessing conscious thought.
Development of Repression
Repression is a concept that existed long before Freud and psychoanalysis; the concept existed over half a century before psychoanalysis. Started by Herbert Johann (1824-1825), repression illustrated the inhibition of ideas by other ideas. It resulted from consciousness’ limited capacity. Herbert’s work influenced Freud’s research and views (Botsford, 1993).
The later mention of the term repression was by Freud and Breuer in 1893. It was in the Preliminary Communication where they discussed how individuals make traumatic memories inaccessible due to the process of motivated forgetting. They discussed cases in which patients wished to forget some things; they intentionally repressed the memories through inhibition and suppression. It is a defensive move in which a person prevents incompatible ideas from affecting him or her. According to Freud; some of those ideas included; physical pain, shame, and self-reproach among others (Boag, 2006).
He expounded his ideas in many of his works including; Project for a Scientific Psychology and drafts sent to Wilhelm Fliess. In his writings, he associated repression with the body’s physiological ‘flight from pain’. Just as the body’s nervous system prepares a person to avoid situations causing pain and discomfort, the brain avoids traumatizing memories. The evident trend towards defense explains the aversion to direct psychic energy that may result in unpleasant outcomes. Therefore, repression helps in withdrawing from painful stimuli that may cause distress.
Between 1895 and 1897, Freud created a link between adult neuroses and repressed childhood memories. His explanations suggested that some of the traumatic experiences repressed in childhood had an impact on neuroses displayed by people in adult years. He later countered this belief on the realization that fantasy also played a significant role in mental life (Boag, 2006).
In 1910, Freud wrote to Feremea detailing the components of Primal Repression and Repression proper. He wrote down the concept of repression in 3 distinct stages including; fixation, repression-proper and return of the repressed.
According to Freud, primary repression results in the creation of a nucleus of unconscious ideas; it is the faction stage. Secondary repression, which is the repression proper stage, focuses on either the mental derivatives of the primary repressed ideas or ideas that share associative connections. The last stage referred to as failure of repression; results in neurosis. Repression of instinctive impulses, which are too intense, and threaten to overwhelm the person occur.
Repression also occurs when the satisfaction of an urge has some external danger. Repression is not the product of one effort; there are various factors that motivate the repression of certain ideas. Some of the factors include; punishments and prohibitions. A classic analysis of the case of repression is the Oedipus complex. In the illustration, a young boy desires to possess his mother. However, the belief that it may result in his castration by the father, presents an unpleasant consequence. Thus, in order to avoid the consequence, he represses the desire and associates with the father. Though the Oedipus complex is a hypothetical condition, repression remains a complex empirical topic. Its study results in attempts to understand and separate it from other concepts. An analysis and results of various studies on the concept provides a wide scope of information; this will aid in understanding its role in psychoanalysis and psychology at large (Erdelyi, 2006).
Though Freud’s early conception of repression was the inhibition and exclusion of some ideas, impulse of memory or consciousness, his gradual clinical experience revealed the phenomenon of isolation. Some of his patients dissociated the affective and factual components of an idea; they thus only repressed its affective part. Such exhibited conscious knowledge of the ideas yet remained out of touch with the ideas’ emotional aspects. Further studies revealed the existence of varied partial repressions. It led to the emergence of; projection, displacement, reaction formation, rationalization, symbolization and so on (Erdelyi, 2006). He identified and set the processes apart as defense mechanisms.
There is a wide a range of research on the concept of repression. An analysis of the concepts from the research and studies helps in understanding the concept.
According to Wenzlaff and Wenger (2000), suppression is an efficient technique in mental control. However, in some cases it may be counter-productive. It results in repression, which affects various domains of human wellbeing including; emotional, interpersonal processes, memory, psychopathology, and psych sociological reactions.
Erdelyi (2006) sees repression as the inhibition of certain ideas by other ideas in an effort to keep them from consciousness. Erdelyi (2006), views repression as an essential and consciousness-lowering process. It involves a variety of processes reducing the ability of some materials to access consciousness. It is also instrumental in preventing consciousness from a breach by intolerable and unpleasant psychological materials. Repression is a mechanism that has gone through several laboratory states. Through the unified theory, it divides into two significant parts; subtractive or inhibitory processes and additive or elaborate processes. The distinctiveness relates with the psychological development of repression with experimental and Freudian psychology.
In Freud’s initial analysis, he viewed repression as an inhibitory process followed by various elaborative transformations. The transformations referred to as defense mechanisms, include, perfection, rationalization, reversal, displacement and symbolization among others. Experimental psychology similarly starts with subtractive processes such as cognitive avoidance.
According to Loftus (1993), repressed memories frequently return during therapy; this occurs after suggestive probing. The memories are mostly of abuse and traumatic experiences. Many writings give detailed results in understanding memory, some are authentic while others may be questionable. There are also questions about the treatment techniques used by therapists in handling patients with cases of repression. Some of the techniques are questionable and based on assumptions. Such situations raise the need for advanced and credible psychoanalysis processes to diagnose and handle cases of repression.
Some therapists may influence the clients into believing and recalling memories that never happened; this occurs through relentless probing and may lead to diversionary paths in the clients’ therapy process.
Therapists need to be critical in their work; they must realize and accept that there are inadequate tools in distinguishing the symptoms of repression in clients. They must use the probing technique wisely. The concern also applies to; psychotherapists, social services agencies, counsellors and law enforcement personnel (Kellerman, 2014).
Role of Id, Ego and Superego in Repression
There are certain ideas in the mind that cannot become conscious; this is due to the existence of forces opposing them. Through psychoanalysis, experts can remove the opposing factor and access the ideas. The repression process relates to the role of the Ego, Id and Superego in maintaining a mental balance.
The Ego is a mental idea formed and believed to establish and maintain a coherent organization of the mental processes. The Ego directly connects to consciousness; it thus controls the satisfaction of innate desires and meeting of external expectations (Freud, 1923).
The inability of the Ego to create a balance results in repression. Imbalance in most cases results from the inability to meet the Id’s demands and Superego’s expectations. Id focuses on the satisfaction of selfish urges and desires; it does not consider the consequences of meeting its demands. It is the pleasure principle in mental activities. The superego is the morality principle; it dictates a person’s actions in relation to external expectations. It creates boundaries relating what behavior is acceptable or not. Both the Id and the superego are extreme principles. The ego finds a way of meeting the Id’s demands while staying within the superego’s expectations. A failure to do this results in anxiety; in order to cope, the ego resorts to mechanisms of restoring balance. One of the mechanisms is the repression of factors causing the anxiety. For instance, of a person cannot cope with traumatic memories, he represses them thus cannot access them when conscious.
Repression in Therapy
Repressed memories may result in a lot of problems later in life; the influence on a person’s psychological wellbeing may interfere with how he/she faces and solves problems. For instance, repressed memories about a childhood sexual abuse may affect a person’s sexuality and how he/she relates with others (Kellermann, 2014). Unable to understand the cause of psychological problems in adulthood, the person may seek professional help. Therapy sessions help in coping with thoughts and problems affecting people. In some cases, therapists deduce that repressed memories contribute to present problems; in such cases the therapist and client agree on whether reverse and deal with the memories. The patient is often unaware of repressed memories; their existence only made evident during the counselling sessions.
Treatment processes related to repression focus on helping the patient reclaim and deal with their traumatic experiences from the past (Loftus, 1993). Through therapeutic techniques, therapists dig into the client’s past mental life. They seek to reveal the memories so that the client can face and deal with them; the techniques seek to change the client from a victim to a survivor of the traumatic experience. In order to reveal the memories, a client must undo the denial process that resulted in repression.
Accessing repressed memories should be done with the right instruments and techniques. Therapists should restrain from a desire to elicit memories that do not exist; some may go to an extent of planting false memories. There are cases where therapists lead clients to believe they repressed memories of things that did not even occur. It is unethical and interferes with the patient’s treatment process. False memories can easily be created by someone the patient trusts; such as the therapist. It can occur through; a lie, suggestion by the therapist or through the incorporation of other peoples’ experiences into a person’s autobiography. The analysis provides evidence on the fragility and malleable nature of memory; therapists should not take advantage of this at the client’s expense.
Instead, they should use techniques such as suggestive probing only to unearth existing memories when necessary. They can then guide their clients in accepting and coping with the memories; studies show that new experiences have a significant role in altering memories of traumatic events. The client can recover by accepting what happened and focusing on making new and good experiences in their lives.
Therapists have a responsibility of distinguishing between truly repressed memories and signs of false memories. Some of the recommended strategies in dealing with repressed memories include; compassion, clarification and gentle confrontation. Empathy is a key ingredient in helping patients cope with the reality of things they repressed for years.
Sigmund Freud’s theory on repression remains a significant part in the understanding of psychoanalysis. In Freud’s opinion, it formed the foundation for psychoanalytic concepts; it connects and relates to all tenets of psychoanalytic theory. It focuses on how the mind selectively keeps some of its memories from accessing consciousness; they are mostly memories on traumatic experiences such as childhood sexual abuse. The mind’s inability of coping with the memory affects results in motivated forgetting. Studies, however, reveal that the process is not permanent. The repressed memories can find their way into consciousness through various means. Studies on repression have received both support and criticism; supporters associate with psychoanalysis and see it as a means of understanding human psychology. Critics question the scientific status of the concept. Experiments also do not provide adequate evidence on repression.
Repression remains significant in the field of psychology and a cornerstone in psychoanalysis. Its comprehension is necessary for therapists, counsellors, and other professionals in the field. It helps in understanding patients with cases of repression; they can then be helped in unearthing and coping with the repressed memories. Through coping, they solve problems and gain control. There are still inadequate studies and research on the concept of repression. More research should occur in order to provide information and a better understanding of repression and other related psychological concepts.
Boag, S. (2006). Freudian Repression, the Common View, and Pathological Science. American Psychological Association. Macguaire University. Review of General Psychology, 10(1), 74-86. Retrieved February 27, 2014 from http://www.reseachgate.net/publication/228926109_Freudian_repression_the_common_view_and_pathological_science/file/79e4150a328e6d2245.pdf
Botsford, D. (1993). The Psychology of Repression: compulsion versus Liberty in Education. London: 25 Chapter Chambers. ISBN 1-85637-161-1. Retrieved February 27, 2014 from http://www.libertarian.co.uk/lapubs/educn019.pdf
Erdelyi, M. H. (2006). The Unified Theory of Repression. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2, 499-551. New York: Department of Psychology. Retrieved February 27, 2014, from http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~wegner/pdfs/Erdelyi (2006) in BBS.pdf
Freud, S. (1923). The Ego and the Id: Sigmund Freud on Repression. Translated by Joan Riviere. New York. W. W. Norton and Co. retrieved February 27, 2014 from http://www.trop.troy.edu/knessFreud Handouts/Repression.pdf
Kellerman, N. P. F. (2014). The Long-term psychological Effects and Treatment of Holocaust Trauma. Retrieved February 27, 2014 from http://www.amcha.org/Upload/folgen.pdf
Loftus, E. (1993). The Reality of Repressed Memories. American Psychologist, 48(5), 518-537. Retrieved February 27, 2014 from http://www.webfiles.uci.edu/eloftus/LoftusRepressedMemAP93.pdf
Wenzlaff, R. M. and Wenger, D. M. (2000). Thought Suppression. Annual Review of Psychology, 51, 59-91. Retrieved February 27, 2014 from http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~wegner/pdfs/Wenzlaff & Wegner.pdf