CRITICALLY DISCUSS THE PSYCHOANALYTIC CONCEPT OF REPRESSION Repression is defined (White, 1964, p 214) "the forgetting, or ejection from consciousness of memories of threat, and especially the ejection from awareness of impulses in oneself that might have objectionable consequences." In layman's terms when forming a memory, the brain takes what we see, hear, smell, feel and taste and fills in the blank spaces with information that we have perceived from common knowledge and stores it as a memory. But sometimes something happens that is so shocking that the mind grabs hold of the memory and pushes it underground into some inaccessible corner of the unconscious. The psychoanalytic concept of repression as a defense mechanism is closely linked to the Freudian idea of an unconscious mind. Early Freudians saw the unconscious mind as having the same properties as that of the conscious mind.
Just as the conscious mind was believed capable of consciously inhibiting events by suppression, so the unconscious was considered capable of inhibition or cognitive avoidance at the unconscious level by repression. Suppression is said to happen, when one voluntary and consciously withholds a response. Unconscious repression in contrast may function as an automatic guardian against anxiety, a safety mechanism that prevents threatening material from entering consciousness. Symptoms are formed as a result of repression even though the patient may not be aware of it. Freud says; (Freud, 1973, p 335) "We must now form more definite ideas about this process of repression. It is the precondition for the construction of symptoms." Symptoms serve as a substitute for the patient for something that repression is holding back.
Freud says; "A symptom like a dream, represents something as fulfilled: a satisfaction in the infantile manner" (Freud, 1973, p 413). Freudian therapy is like an entrance hall, with a room adjoining it, in which consciousness is found also, but that between these two rooms resides a watchman, who acts as a censor to those entering the second room from the entrance hall. This watchman represents resistance in psychoanalysis, which is present during psychoanalytic treatment, when the psychoanalyst endeavors to uncover the repression. Resistances in psychoanalytic treatment if lifted are able to bring the past into focus and act as support systems in the analysis.
In order to uncover the repression the analyst has to remove the resistance, which is constantly changing during treatment, i. e. the intensity increases as the analyst draws nearer to a new topic, or when a climax is drawing nearer to the close of a topic. But it disappears once the topic has been disposed. At this point one must realise that the patient is not consciously aware of any of this.
We have formed the idea that in each individual there is a coherent organization of mental processes, and we call this his ego. It is to this ego that consciousness is attached; the ego is the mental agency which supervises all its own constituent processes, and which goes to sleep at night, though even then it exercises the censorship on dreams. From this ego proceed the repressions; too by means of which it is sought to exclude certain trends in the mind not merely from consciousness but also from other forms of effectiveness and activity. In analysis these trends which have been shut out stand in opposition to the ego, and the analysis is faced with the task of removing the resistances which the ego displays against concerning itself with the repressed. Now we find during analysis that, when we put certain tasks before the patient, he gets into difficulties; his associations fail when they should be coming near the repressed. We then tell him that he is dominated by a resistance; but he is quite unaware of the fact, and even, if he guesses from his unpleasurable feelings that a resistance is now at work in him, he does not know what it is or how to describe it.
At this stage dreams play an important part in the treatment, as is the case for neurotics. They helped to discover the sense of his symptoms, and what wishful impulses have been repressed. And for some (normal) patients in psychoanalytic treatment it plays an important part over a long period of time, because everyone has dreams no matter if you " re 'sane' or 'insane'. We have established from our reading of dreams that sleep allows repression to relax to a certain extent in this way repression is able to express itself within dreams far more clearly than through symptoms. Dreams therefore become the key to gaining access to the repressed unconscious. Therefore once the unconscious material has become conscious the symptom disappears.
This is the task of psychoanalytic treatment according to Freud; "Our therapy works by transforming what is unconscious into what is conscious, and it works only in so far as it is in a position to effect that transformation" (Freud, 1973, p 323). But what is important to note is that we can never endeavor to be rid of repression it is a part of our psychic to help us cope with everyday life, and if we were able to eliminate ourselves of it, we will never be able to survive. From what I have read on repression I have come to understand repression in this way: Repression maintains equilibrium in the individual by repressing memories and wishes to the level of the unconscious, where they will be out of sight, if not out of mind. The ability to repress dangerous or unsettling thoughts turns out to be vital to the individual's ability to negotiate his way through life.
For instance if a child never learned to repress the urge to steal his sister's ice cream cone, he would have spent years in punishment. If the boss at work cannot repress her sexual desires for her secretary, she will be unable to function, her mind consumed by illicit, inappropriate and impossible urges. Only the timely repression of harmful impulses and urges gives the individual the capacity to move on and meet the demands of an ever - changing world. Although repression functions as a vital coping tool, it also can cause great anguish. A repressed urge, though it may be in the unconscious, still affects the actions and thoughts of the individual. Indeed, conflicting urges or painful memories thus repressed have the potential to cause great anxiety, though the individual will not understand what causes it.
As the repressed items teem and surge beneath the conscious surface, they sap vital psychic energy and constantly force the individual to maintain lines of defense mechanisms against his own unconscious. But as the urges boil up, the individual eventually will find release, through some external displacement, displaced emotion, or other mechanism. This release, coming as it does from uncontrollable and often unfathomable depths, can cause unpredictable, sometimes unimaginable reactions: the wife who has repressed her anger at her husband for fifteen years suddenly lights him and his bed on fire. The repression causes anxiety, discomfort, even neurosis, and the release causes massive emotional and often physical damage. But it is not all negative, the ability to find release, is a positive thing, since we cannot bottle everything up all the time. However it is how we release these repressed emotions that is the cause for concern.
Freud's conception of the mind is characterized by primarily by dynamism, seen in the distribution of psychic energy, the interplay between the different levels of consciousness, and the interaction between the various functions of the mind. The single function of the mind, which brings together these various aspects, is repression, the maintenance of what is and what isn't appropriately retained in the conscious mind. There is no easy answer or explanation to the theory of repression and retrieval, but until psychologists can drag our unconsciousness into the light, retrieval of repressed memories will be left in the dark.