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What is suppression in psychoanalysis?

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There are several defensive mechanisms proposed by psychoanalysis, highlighting, above all, projection, repression and denial.

These three mechanisms are considered psychological processes that, far from being beneficial to our health mental disorder, can lead to emotional distress and psychopathology, which emerges in the form of behaviors and dysfunctional.

However, there is a mechanism that is not considered so detrimental to our mental health and that, in fact, brings us some well-being: suppression. Let's see what suppression is in psychoanalysis, and what benefits it entails.

  • Related article: "Sigmund Freud: life and work of the famous psychoanalyst"

What is suppression in psychoanalysis?

Within psychoanalysis, suppression is understood as defense mechanism that the individual uses when trying to keep a memory, emotion or thought out of consciousness causing you anxiety. The person, seeing that he is not able to passively forget the information that is causing him discomfort, consciously and voluntarily try to keep hidden in the depths of your mind that I remember.

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The act of suppressing involves keeping unwanted thoughts out of our field of consciousness, and It is a process closely related to repression, dissociation and denial, in addition to the mundane act of I forget. In fact, When Sigmund Freud proposed this concept of suppression in 1892, he did so by looking towards his idea of ​​repression, only that it is done consciously.. We try to remove what may involve some conflict in our psyche if we constantly remember it.

An example of suppression in daily life we ​​would have when we have broken up with our partner. The event is not pleasant and remembering what feelings you had at the time of the breakup, what was said, how it was taken each one the act of breaking among other related aspects, it is something that can burn us if we are again and again thinking about it. We try to leave it parked, while we do other things that give us well-being.

We would have another case with the death of a loved one. It is obvious that you will go through a period of mourning, something totally normal after the loss of a loved one, be it due to death or a simple breakdown of the relationship. However, remembering how the person died, especially if it was due to illness, is something that is not good for our minds. So we try to keep our minds busy doing other things, or thinking about the good things that we still have, such as great friends and family.

These two previous examples are cases where suppression has clear adaptive functionality. It is a healthy process and allows the person to express a lower degree of anxiety or even stop having this emotion. In fact, and briefly leaving aside the psychoanalytic approach to the cognitive-behavioral approach, in this therapy, to combat dysfunctional thought patterns, the which carry negative emotions, one of the strategies used is suppression: make the person think of something pleasant and avoid thinking about a past event that causes discomfort.

However, and returning to psychoanalysis, it can be said that this process is not always beneficial for mental health. This is so if you are trying to push something you should be dealing with out of your consciousness.

For example, let's imagine we have a tyrannical boss who treats us quite badly. We know that he shouldn't treat us that way, but we also know that we can't deal with him because if we do, we might lose our job. That is why we try to forget the feelings and thoughts about him, and get to be at peace for a while. The problem comes that, when we are close to him, these strong thoughts try to come out, change our behavior, we get nervous and do our work badly.

Be that as it may, psychoanalysis, with the exception of this last example presented here, considers that the mechanism of suppression, along with others such as sublimation, are the most mature that we own. We have more or less conscious control over what causes us discomfort and we try to remove it from our consciousness, in order to improve our well-being without completely forgetting the unpleasant event.

  • You may be interested: "What is sublimation in psychoanalysis?"

Differences between suppression, denial and repression

Suppression is closely related to two other defense mechanisms proposed by psychoanalysis: repression and denial. These three mechanisms share the main function of protecting the psyche of the person, although they have significant differences. in the way in which they relate to the health of the person, in addition to the degree of control exercised over the three mechanisms.

As we have already discussed, suppression is a mechanism that implies that an unwanted thought, emotion or memory is consciously suppressed. That is, the subject tries not to think about them, but does so completely voluntarily. It is not a dark mental process that makes us forget something because its emotional load is so serious that our conscious would not be able to bear it. It's about avoiding thinking about it, as simple as that.

This mechanism differs from repression and denial in the fact that unwanted thoughts, despite not wanting to think about them, can be recovered voluntarily. The person, without cognitive but emotional difficulties, is capable of remembering what he has tried to forget.

In repression and denial, the person is not aware of their feelings, he is not able to have in consciousness what he is repressing or what he is refusing to see reality as it is.

Repression implies that unwanted thoughts are repressed, that is, hidden, but in a totally unconscious way. They are removed from the world of consciousness without our realizing it, but they are not eliminated. The memories remain in our unconscious.

This mechanism is understandable with cases of sexual abuse in childhood, where the person, to protect herself without knowing it, she has hidden the unpleasant memory deep within her mind. Although this will affect her behavior, for example, making her have a bad predisposition to have relationships with other people.

How are these mechanisms different from forgetting?

After talking about the main differences between suppression, repression and denial, these concepts and, in particular, that of suppression, can be related to the act of forgetting. It may seem that repressing and suppressing are simple forms of forgetting, but the truth is that there are certain nuances that must be taken into account.

Forgetting something is, in essence, making any piece of information be removed, unconsciously and unwantedly, although not always, from the field of consciousness. Basically, it is that we stop being aware of a memory. It is kept in the world of unconsciousness, without us having wished it that way.

Forgetting is something that is part of our day to day, basically because we are not supercomputers. We cannot be aware and remember at all times all the data that we have stored in our brain. We need to free our conscience and reserve it for those data that suppose us some type of benefit or adaptability in the short term.

Since it is something everyday, it is normal to forget mundane things, such as an ingredient when going to the market, not to remember that you had an appointment with the doctor, having a word on the tip of the tongue... But also these worldly things can be remembered when, suddenly, something related to They appear, such as the shopping list, the doctor's phone number card or someone saying that word that cost us so much remember.

The main difference with suppression is that this defense mechanism is conscious, while forgetting is not.. In addition, the event or feeling that we try to hide in the depths of our mind is something with a great emotional charge, while everyday forgetfulness is usually about banal things.

With regard to repression, it is true that both processes share the fact that they occur unconsciously. Both in daily oblivion and in repression, a memory or data is hidden, in an unpremeditated way. However, in repression, one ceases to be aware of a terribly unpleasant event, a traumatic and damaging memory. On the other hand, in mundane oblivion, although the nature of the forgotten data may imply different emotionality, it is normal for it to be something that is not serious.

Bibliographic references:

  • Freud, Sigmund. (1915e). The unconscious. SE, 14: 159-204. (1923b). The ego and the id. SE, 19: 1-66.
  • Werman, D.S. (1983). Suppression as a defense. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 31 (S), 405-415.
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