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Psychological repression, or simply repression, according to Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theory, is the involuntary psychological act of excluding desires and impulses (wishes, fantasies or feelings) from one's consciousness and holding or subduing them in the unconscious. Since Freud's work in psychoanalysis, repression is now accepted as a defense mechanism[1] by psychoanalytic psychologists; however, there remains some debate as to whether (or how often) repression really happens[2] and mainstream psychology holds that true repression occurs only very rarely.[3]

Repressed memories

It is often claimed that traumatic events are repressed, yet it appears that the trauma more often strengthens memories due to heightened emotional or physical sensations.[4] (These sensations may also cause distortions, though human memory in general is filtered by layers of perception and incompletion). One problem from an objective research point of view is that a "memory" must be measured and recorded by a person's actions or conscious expressions, which may be filtered through current thoughts and motivations.

Despite the ability of some psychologists, such as Elizabeth Loftus, to implant false memories in individuals, there is evidence that people can indeed forget painful memories from the past, although it is also possible for them to underestimate the degree to which they actually remember the events. However, due to ethical and methodological reasons—for example, a researcher cannot put an experimental group of people through a traumatic experience, and one could not prospectively secure a trauma-free control group, anyway—the information about repression that experimental research can provide is especially limited.

However, the repression of information chosen for consideration in the present or future - because it is viewed as aversive - has a powerful relationship to what will be drawn out of the unconscious to be made available for honest, conscious deliberation. This has an enormous amount of supporting research in the area of cognitive dissonance theory started in the 1950s by Leon Festinger among others.Repression is a type of motivated forgetting in which painful memories are blocked from consciousness awareness.

Stages

In the Primary Repression phase, an infant learns that some aspects of reality are pleasant, and others are unpleasant; that some are controllable, and others not. In order to define the "self", the infant must repress the natural assumption that all things are equal. Primary Repression then is the process of determining what is self, what is other; what is good, and what is bad. At the end of this phase, the child can now distinguish between desires, fears, self, and others.

Secondary Repression begins once the child realizes that acting on some desires may bring anxiety. This anxiety leads to repression of the desire. The threat of punishment related to this form of anxiety, when internalized becomes the superego, which intercedes against the desires of the id (which works on the basis of the pleasure principle) without the need for any identifiable external threat. This conflict manifests itself within the ego.

Abnormal repression, or complex neurotic behavior involving repression and the superego, occurs when repression develops and/or continues to develop, due to the internalized feelings of anxiety, in ways leading to behavior that is illogical, self-destructive, or anti-social.

A psychotherapist may try to reduce this behavior by revealing and re-introducing the repressed aspects of the patient's mental process to her or his conscious awareness, and then teaching the patient how to reduce any anxieties felt in relation to these feelings and impulses.

References

  1. ^ "Defenses". www.psychpage.com. http://www.psychpage.com/learning/library/counseling/defenses.html. Retrieved 2008-03-11.  
  2. ^ McNally, R.J. (2004). "The Science and Folklore of Traumatic Amnesia". Clinical Psychology Science and Practice 11 (1): 29–33. doi:10.1093/clipsy/bph056.  
  3. ^ "Repressed Memories and Recovered Memory Therapy". Jan Groenveld. http://www.caic.org.au/fms-sra/rmt.htm. Retrieved 2008-11.  
  4. ^ NPR: Why It's Hard to Admit to Being Wrong







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