Suppression. It is a conscious choice not to indulge a
particular thought, feeling, or action. "Not to indulge" means
that we are aware of a thought or feeling, but we decide not to
dwell on it (internally, by continuing to think about it) -- nor
to express it (externally, by acting it out). Usually we repress
because of the impulse's inappropriateness with regard to the
situation or because of time constraints in which we "just can't
deal with that right now." Suppression is a useful psychological
mechanism which permits us to concentrate on our affairs without
being distracted by every impulse which arises, and without having
to act on those impulses. We acknowledge the impulses, and we
accept their presence and the fact that they might emerge again,
to be reconciled or suppressed then.
Repression. It is similar to suppression in that a thought or
feeling or emotion is not expressed -- but in repression, we deny
that the element even exists. The repressed element might come
into our conscious awareness and then be denied, or it might be
prohibited from our awareness at all (as in the action of the
Freudian "dream censor"); it is blocked because it has been judged
it to be potentially disruptive to our psychological stability or
our self-image. Obviously, both the stability and the self-image
are illusory, because they are based on a rejection of the reality
of our own thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
positive and negative aspects of repression.
The positive aspects of repression.
Repression can be a useful defense mechanism. Although
repression is generally viewed as a destructive act, it is
rightly called a "defense mechanism" because it defends us
against psychological material which might indeed be dangerous
if we don't have the ego strength or psychological skills to
manage certain challenges to the ego. For example, if a young
boy must play the role of a "perfectly sweet child" to please
his demanding parents, he might not know any way to survive
except to deny his occasional anger; however, he could select
the option of suppression if knew that he could secretly
acknowledge -- within the privacy of strong ego boundaries --
both the anger and the unfairness of his parents' demands.
The negative aspects of repression. Whether repressed or
suppressed, the elements remain intact and energized; they
continue to influence us (as explained below) while they push for
expression. Although suppression can cause tension and conflict,
repression can cause even more damage -- particularly because our
unawareness of it means that we have less ability to recognize the
ways in which it is affecting us and harming us. (The following
results also occur from suppressed material during the time that
it is suppressed.)
Our perceptions are distorted. While the repressed material
is in the shadow, it projects onto people and situations; for
example, fear which has been repressed and then projected will
color our perceptions of the world as a frightening place.
Because we are not perceiving accurately, we acquire incorrect
information from our surroundings, and thus we respond
inappropriately; we react fearfully to situations which are not
truly dangerous. Repression distorts not only our observations
in this moment, but also our memories of the past and our
expectations for the future.
Repressed material is not available for our use. Every
thought and emotion has a potential purpose -- perhaps offering
new perspectives, and some vitality, and a broader
understanding of our wholeness (as we realize that we have the
capacity for such a thought or emotion). When we repress, we
are refusing these gifts. For example, if we deny our fear, we
are not able to use the energy that is associated with it, nor
can we have a full perspective on the dangers which are
triggering the fear.
Repression prevents us from understanding ourselves. For
example, if we examine our "selfishness" (instead of pretending
that it doesn't exist), we might find the reasons for our
behavior; perhaps we will realize that it is actually a
reasonable response to people who are abusing our tendency
toward generosity. And, in another example, if we analyze a
thought of violence toward an offending person, we can learn
much about our ego, our boundaries, our needs, our viewpoints,
our projections, and other aspects of ourselves.
Repressed material remains unresolved. If we don't even
admit that an emotion or thought exists, we can't take action
toward a solution. For example, if we disavow our capacity for
selfishness, we won't look for the reason why it occurs, nor
will we recognize the ways in which it is wrecking our
friendships, and we won't seek ways to maintain our dignity and
boundaries while also being loving and generous enough to
support those friendships.
Repressed emotions become difficult to express in a
constructive manner. During their period of repression, they
degenerate into primitive forms; for example, repressed anger
can become resentment or bitterness.
Repression causes physical distress. The repressed energy
is lodged in the body, where it might be experienced as
physical tension, physical numbness, lack of vitality, the
physical (and psychological) symptoms of depression, diminished
body awareness, and eventually illness. Massage therapists and
other bodyworkers know that when their treatments release
physical stress, the clients often feel an upsurge of emotions
-- the emotions that have been locked into those tissues.
Repression consumes energy. The effort to keep material in
the unconscious mind is like the effort to keep a buoyant
object underwater; we are using energy to hold back the energy
of the repressed elements. When repressed material is released,
we might experience a feeling of lightness and freedom -- and
power, because the energy from the material and from our effort
to repress it is now available for a constructive use.
Repression causes emotional numbness. We repress by
intellectually denying the reality of the emotion, and by
desensitizing ourselves to our awareness of the movement and
pressure of the emotional energy within us. The extent to which
we repress one emotion or sensation is the extent to which we
repress all emotions or sensations; for example, when we refuse
to feel fear and anger, we also lose our capacity to feel
happiness and pleasure.
The repressed material does not develop. For instance, if
we repress our anger, we do not learn how to express it
properly, because we are denying ourselves the opportunities to
practice the various ways in which the dynamics of anger can be
used in an effective, civilized manner. Because we have not
developed these skills, the anger -- when it finally bursts out
of its repression -- has an immature nature, as in a "temper
The contents regress. Not only do they not develop, they
proceed in the opposite direction, becoming more primitive and
unfocused. Anger degenerates into a general, vague hostility.
The contents become autonomous. They seem to create "a life
of their own." Because the ego has denied its connection to
them, it has no control over them, so they arise at
inappropriate moments, and in inappropriate ways, often driving
us into compulsive behavior; in that sense, they control us. As
the ego makes plans and designs its life, the repressed
contents seem to develop agendas of their own, as though
plotting a way to express themselves -- but their expression
will necessarily be contrary to our will, as though an alien
force is imposing itself upon us.
The contents are projected more intensely. When we see
people through a thicker projection, our perceptions of them
become more distorted. (Refer to the chapter regarding
The contents can cause a reversal in our behavior. Jung
used the term "enantiodromia" to label the inclination of
people to go from one extreme to the other, as when a seemingly
sweet, harmless person suddenly indulges a violent rampage.
for dealing with repression and suppression.
We develop self-acceptance, which is simply a willingness to
view reality -- the reality that certain thoughts or feelings or
emotions are occurring within us (regardless of whether we like
them). As we cultivate respect for the natural psychological
processes of the creation of thoughts and feelings and emotions,
we can actively select the ones which may be expressed
productively in any given situation, while carefully suppressing
those which need to be set aside for a later time.