Repression / Suppression

Despite the fact that repression also occurs in relatively normal individuals, the total loss of repressed memories is a pathological symptom.  Repression, however, should be clearly distinguished from suppression.  Whenever you want to switch your attention from something in order to concentrate it on something else, you have to suppress the previously existing contents of consciousness, because, if you cannot disregard them, you will not be able to change your object of interest.  Normally you can go back to the suppressed contents any time you like; they are always recoverable.  But if they resist recovery, it may be a case of repression.  In that case there must be some interest somewhere which want to forget.  Suppression does not cause forgetting, but repression definitely does.  There is of course a perfectly normal process of forgetting which has nothing to do with repression.  Repression is an artificial loss of memory, a self-suggested amnesia.  It is not, in my experience, justifiable to assume that the unconscious consists wholly or for the greater part of repressed material.  Repression is an exceptional and abnormal process, and the most striking evidence of this is the loss of feeling-toned contents, which one might think would persist in consciousness and remain easily recoverable.  It can have effects very similar to those produced by concussion and by other brain injuries (e.g., by poisoning), for these cause an equally striking loss of memory.  But whereas in the latter case absolutely all memories of a certain attitude or tendency can be detected on the part of the conscious mind, a deliberate intention to avoid even the bare possibility of recollection, for the very good reason that it would be painful or disagreeable.  The idea of repression is quite in place here.  This phenomenon can be observed most easily in the association experiment, where certain stimulus words hit the feeling-toned complexes.  When they are touched, lapses or falsification of memory (amnesia or paramnesia) are very common occurences.  Generally the complexes have to do with unpleasant things which one would rather forget and of which one has no wish to be reminded.  The complexes themselves are the result, as a rule, of painful experiences and impressions.   TDoP 109


The Freudian theory of repression certainly does seem to say that there are, as it were, only hypermoral people who repress their unmoral, instinctive natures.  Accordingly the unmoral man, who lives a life of unrestrained instinct, should be immune to neurosis.  This is obviously not the case, as experience shows.  Such a man can be just as neurotic as any other.  If we analyse him, we simply find that his morality is repressed.  2EoAP 26

Repression has the apparent advantage of clearing the conscious mind of worry, and the spirit of all its troubles, but, to counter that, it causes an indirect suffering from something unreal, namely a neurosis.  TDoP 78

Apart, however, from producing a neurosis the repressed cause of the suffering has other effects: it radiates out into the environment and, if there are children, infects them too.  In this way neurotic states are often passed on from generation to generation, like the curse of Atreus.  The children are infected indirectly though the attitude they instinctively adopt towards their parents’ state of mind: either they fight against it with unspoken protest (though occasionally the protest is vociferous) or else they succumb to a paralyzing and compulsive imitation.  In both cases they are obliged to do, to feel, and to live not as they want, but as their parents want.  The more “impressive” the parents are, and the less they accept their own problems (mostly on the excuse of “sparing the children”), the longer the children will have to suffer from the unlived life of their parents and the more they will be forced into fulfilling all the things the parents have repressed and kept unconscious.  TDoP 78

Whenever an instinct has been underrated, an abnormal overvaluation is bound to follow.  And the more unjust the undervaluation the more unhealthy the subsequent overvaluation.  As a matter of fact, no moral condemnation could make sex as hateful as the obscenity and blatant vulgarity of those who exaggerate its importance.  The intellectual crudeness of the sexual interpretation makes a right valuation of sex impossible.  Thus, probably very much against the personal aspirations of Freud himself, the literature that has followed in his wake is effectively carrying on the work of repression.  Before Freud nothing was allowed to be sexual, now everything is nothing but sexual.  TDoP 84




   Unfortunately, this rule is subject to certain limitations.  It sometimes happens that even important contents disappear from consciousness without the slightest trace of repression.  They vanish automatically, to the great distress of the person concerned and not at all on account of some conscious interest which has engineered the loss and rejoices over it.  I am not speaking here of normal forgetting, which is only a natural lowering of energy-tension; I am thinking rather of cases where a motive, a word, image, or person, vanishes without trace from the memory, to reappear later at some important juncture.  These are cases of what is called cryptomnesia.  TDoP 110