Repression & Suppression - What are they?
Suppression and Repression are natural defense mechanisms which the mind utilizes to cope with harmful events, unwanted thoughts or negative stimulus.
Suppression is the term used where unwanted information or negative experiences are pushed out of our awareness, through a conscious choice or deliberate action.
“I’m not dealing with this now!”
We suppress the impulse, thought, feeling or action as its execution might be inappropriate or because we are unable to deal with it effectively in that moment.
It’s a conscious decision to focus on more productive or necessary actions, and to not give way to distraction, or unhealthy impulses.
For example; we may not like our Boss and consider his decisions to be wrong, but we know that telling him, or refusing to follow his instructions would be detrimental to our career progression, so we deliberately choose to Suppress the instinct to argue back or to disobey his instructions.
Repression is a form of dissociated amnesia, similar to suppression but the trigger comes from comes from an unconscious process, usually to block out a deeply unpleasant or traumatic experience.
“I’m Unable to deal with this now!”
This is the unconscious minds way of protecting against those intense negative emotions and pain. For example a person involved in a physically traumatic accident may have no memory of the actual event. The mind shields us from the memory.
The nature of repressed memories varies and does not only include traumatic events, but also unhealthy thoughts of a violent or sexual nature, shock, grief, or situations which question our established model of the world which the unconscious hides away.
This is a useful short term technique, a protective strategy for the unconscious to utilize, however the intense emotions and memories don’t fully disappear and often manifest at a later time as a negative influence on a person’s behavior or emotional state.
Freud believed Suppression could be considered as a positive mental strategy, as it allows the conscious mind to focus on what’s more important in the moment.
It can be a useful skill to help navigate everyday life. The suppressed thought can always be readily accessed later at a more convenient time, while a Repressed thought cannot – unless the person is guided to do so.
For a therapeutic or counseling situation it is important to consider the difference between what you are ‘putting off’ or ‘ignoring’ (suppressed) and what your unconscious has deliberately Repressed.
And useful to note that Suppressed thoughts are often forgotten too.
While uncovering and facing these emotions and thoughts can be uncomfortable and may create mild anxiety, bringing Suppressed memories to your attention can help resolve issues and blockages, and help you reassess the life strategies you’re using.
Digging into what motivates and influences your attitudes and behaviors to find those hidden aspects of yourself is often called – Shadow Work. A term coined from Freud’s work.
As these memories and feelings are consciously suppressed, they can be accessed outside the use of a hypnotic trance, for instance within a counseling or coaching session, or though working alone with journal prompts and mediation.
Regular Suppression of the same emotions and thoughts can lead them to ‘bubble away’ under the surface, causing stress or anxiety, and those negative thoughts may manifest in behavioral influences, unhealthy coping mechanisms and negative habits.
Dealing with, and Healing from these denied emotions can have a positive and cathartic impact on stress levels, and enable people to feel more in control of their life.