What does it mean when something is repressed?

  1. Repressed and repression are words that describe a psychological conflict in which you try to avoid (repress) an idea, a thought, or a wish that wants to be expressed.  Something is repressed when to satisfy a wish would provoke problems.
  2. Things are repressed when we find ourselves wanting something, that, if we got it would create problems for ourselves or others.
  3. We try to push the idea of wanting something that is incompatible with the rest of our lives out of our minds, but, it keeps coming back.
  4. It might be that we find ourselves wanting to do something that conflicts with the way we live.
  5. Repression indicates that an idea or feeling is being excluded from consciousness and kept unconscious.

You might find yourself wanting something that doesn’t fit within your current relationship.  You might find yourself drawn to somebody other than your partner and try to keep the wish out of your mind.  How did you do it? – You repressed it.

Repression is a psychological defence mechanism

Repression plays a part in all kinds of psychological conflicts.

  • when we find ourselves becoming anxious, stressed, irritable, forgetful
  • when we start to have trouble sleeping
  • when we develop compulsive behaviours

Often the root cause of these things relates to a desire that is being repressed.

The more we try to force ourselves to ignore the thing we want, the more conflicted we become.

Repression creates an internal scaffold on the mind and psyche.

We might look like regular relaxed people from the outside, but inside repressive forces keep our thoughts and emotions in check. They are under a kind of lock.  Repression limits spontaneity and creativity.

Your true nature becomes constrained by these repressive forces.

Are you repressed?

I recently saw a client who referred himself to me because he had become anxious and depressed.  He wasn’t sleeping well, was fatigued and had no idea what it related to.  He had been given SSRI medication and sent for a course of mindfulness based CBT.  He found the medication gave him headaches and that he could not concentrate on the mindfulness based programme.  He stopped going and six months later came to see me.

In psychotherapy sessions it emerged that his relationship with his father was very difficult.  He described how he had to continuously manage the conversations he had with his father so they didn’t lead to arguments.  The more he described this he realised that he was behaving to himself the way his father behaved towards him.  He started to see that there was a critical voice interrupting his thinking and criticising him at every turn.  A voice which made him feel anxious and depressed.

Repression is a technical term that Freud used to describe a mechanism which blocked certain ideas, thoughts and associations from entering consciousness. In Freud‘s model everything that ends up in the unconscious has been put there by repression.

In a more ordinary sense we think of repression as the means by which we stop things from happening; be they thoughts, wishes or desires

Ibsen’s play A Dolls’ House is a study of a repressive Norwegian family.  A husband treating his wife, Nora, as though she were a doll.  The play dramatises the dismantling of the repressive ideology.

If, like my client, your thoughts are being ambushed by a critical internal voice, then it is very difficult to live well, to find the freedom to express yourself, to be creative, to deliver more of your potential, to enjoy relationships, to look after yourself and to nurture others.

Psychotherapy and the repressed

Because psychotherapy works to create more opportunities for you to speak freely, to identify, like the client above, the way negative thoughts repress and get in the way of speaking your mind, psychotherapy provides a route to start undoing the repressive dynamics.

The return of the repressed

If we ignore these problems, they have a way of returning and of interfering with other aspects of our lives.

This is often the case when we develop physical problems and illnesses when there is apparently no obvious cause.

If we can start to identify our repressive dynamics then we may start to limit their capacity to undermine us, and start to find better and more creative ways to use the energy that is currently going into repressing our true nature’s.

When we reclaim this energy we feel better, and find our authentic and spontaneous nature returning.

Repression and the repressed, a destructive force in relationships

Then there are the types of repressive problems that develop into addictions or food issues such as anorexia or bulimia.  Here, part of the self turns on another part.  We use food or other addictive substitutes to give us some kind of control.

  • how does repression impact on you?
  • what are you trying to cut yourself off from?
  • what are you trying to ignore or avoid?

When traumatic psychological wounds are repressed

A complicated bereavement, perhaps a suicide or accidental death, creates a set of feelings that are hard to speak about. In these cases a powerful repressive force can act upon a family, and stop individuals from speaking openly about their grief and difficulties.

The force of the repression means that the grief can never be shared openly.  The grief is repressed.  This sense of a subject being forbidden and taboo can lead to a deepening sense of shame. Traumatised individuals are left with all of their complex feelings about the event of the death, and with no opportunity to speak about them.

Often these repressed feelings return through destructive actions and activities.  You might turn to drink, or crime, or sex, or drugs, or food, as a way of expressing unhappiness that has been repressed and cannot be openly addressed in a straightforward way as the unhappiness it is. Instead the repressive forces exert a destructive influence on how you live.

So what can be done to address the repressive forces that impact on your life?

It is possible to find a way of exploring the way you live, and of becoming clearer about your repressed feelings.

Contact me

I have twenty years experience of helping people find ways to engage with, and to try to come to terms with what has been repressed, the forces that influence and shape their lives.

Giving yourself the chance to speak in a confidential setting about your experience is helpful.  It may provide you with the chance to talk and find a constructive way of accessing the repressed side of your life.

Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my work might help you.