There are several defensive mechanisms proposed by psychoanalysis, emphasizing above all projection, repression and denial.
These three mechanisms are considered to be psychological processes which, far from being beneficial for our mental health, can lead to emotional distress and psychopathology, which emerges in the form of dysfunctional behaviors and thoughts.
However, there is one mechanism which is not considered detrimental to our mental health and which, in fact, gives us a certain well-being: suppression. Let’s see what suppression is in psychoanalysis, And what advantages it has.
What is suppression in psychoanalysis?
In psychoanalysis, it is understood by suppression at defense mechanism that the individual uses when trying to keep a memory, emotion or thought away from consciousness which causes him anxiety. The person, seeing that he is not capable of passively forgetting the information that bothers him, consciously and voluntarily tries to keep this memory hidden deep in his mind.
The act of suppression involves keeping unwanted thoughts out of our consciousness, and is a process closely related to repression, dissociation, and denial, as well as the mundane act of forgetting. In fact, when Sigmund Freud proposed this concept of suppression in 1892, he did so by looking at his idea of repression, only to do it consciously.. We try to move away from what a conflict can involve in our psyche if we constantly remember it.
An example of the suppression in everyday life that we would have when we broke up with our partner. The event is not pleasant and remembering the feelings you had at the time of the breakup, what was said, how each one took the act of breaking up among other related aspects, is something that can burn us. if we think about it over and over again. again. We try to leave it parked, while we do other things that give us well-being.
Another case we would have with the death of a loved one. It is obvious that you will go through a period of mourning, something quite normal after the loss of a loved one, either through death or by simply breaking the relationship. However, remembering how the person died, especially if it was due to illness, is not good for our minds. This is why we try to keep our minds busy doing other things or thinking about the good things that we still have, like good friendships and family.
These two previous examples are cases where deletion has clear adaptive functionality. It is a healthy process and it allows the person to show a lesser degree of anxiety or even stop having this emotion. In fact, and briefly leaving aside the psychoanalytic approach shifting to cognitive-behavioral, in this therapy, to combat dysfunctional thought patterns, which involve negative emotions, one of the strategies used is suppression: to make people think something pleasant and avoid thinking of a past event that is causing him discomfort.
However, and to come back to psychoanalysis, it must be said that this process is not always beneficial for mental health. This is so if you are trying to pull yourself away from your awareness of something that you should be facing.
For example, imagine we have a tyrannical boss who treats us pretty badly. We know that is not the way we should be treated, but we also know that we cannot cope with it because if we do, we risk losing our jobs. This is why we try to forget our feelings and thoughts about it and be at peace for a while. The problem is, when we’re close to him, those strong thoughts try to come to the surface, change our behavior, make us nervous, and do our jobs poorly.
In any case, psychoanalysis, with the exception of the last example presented here, considers the mechanism of suppression, along with others such as that of sublimation, to be among the most mature that we have. We have more or less conscious control over what causes us discomfort and we try to take it away from our consciousness, in order to improve our well-being without this implying completely forgetting the unpleasant event.
Differences between suppression, denial and repression
Suppression is closely linked to two other defense mechanisms proposed by psychoanalysis: Repression and denial. These three mechanisms share the primary function of protecting the person’s psyche, although they show significant differences in their relationship to the person’s health, as well as in the degree of control over the three mechanisms.
As we have already discussed, suppression is a mechanism that involves an unwanted thought, emotion, or memory being consciously suppressed. In other words, the subject tries not to think about it, but does so entirely on purpose. It is not some dark mental process that causes us to forget something because its emotional charge is so severe that our consciousness could not take it. It’s about avoiding thinking about it, So simple.
This mechanism differs from repression and denial in that unwanted thoughts, even if you don’t want to think about them, can be picked up on purpose. The person, without cognitive but emotional difficulty, is able to remember what he has tried to forget.
In repression and denial, the person ignores their feelingsHe is not capable of having in consciousness what he represses or what he refuses to see reality as it is.
Suppression implies that unwanted thoughts are suppressed, that is, hidden, but in a totally unconscious manner. They are withdrawn from the world of consciousness without our realizing it, but they are not eliminated. The memories remain in our subconscious.
This mechanism is understandable with cases of sexual abuse in childhood, where the person, to protect himself without knowing it, has hidden the unpleasant memory deep in the mind. Although it will affect your behavior, for example causing you to have a bad predisposition to have relationships with other people.
How do these mechanisms differ from forgetting?
After having evoked the main differences between suppression, repression and denial, it is necessary to relate these concepts and, in particular, that of suppression, to the act of forgetting. It may seem that repression and suppression are mere forms of forgetting, but the truth is that there are some nuances to be aware of.
To forget something is, in essence, to remove all information, unconsciously and unwanted, but not always, from the field of consciousness. It’s basically that we stop being aware of a memory. It is kept in the world of unconsciousness, without our wishing it.
Forgetting is part of our daily life, mainly because we are not supercomputers. We cannot be aware and remember every moment of all the data that we have stored in our brain. We need to free our consciousness and reserve it for data that gives us some sort of benefit or short-term adaptability.
Since this is an everyday thing, it is normal to forget mundane things like an ingredient when you go to the market, not to remember that you had an appointment with the doctor, to have a word on the tip of the tongue. .. But these mundane things can also remember when suddenly something related to them pops up, like the shopping list, the doctor’s phone number card or someone saying that word that cost us so much. , remember.
The main difference from suppression is that this defense mechanism is conscious, while forgetting is not.. Also, the event or feeling that we are trying to hide deep within our mind is something with great emotional charge, while daily forgetfulness is usually about mundane things.
As for repression, it is true that both processes share the fact that it takes place unconsciously. Both in daily oblivion and in repression, a memory or a fact is hidden, in an unpremeditated way. However, in repression, one is no longer aware of a terribly unpleasant event, of a traumatic and harmful memory. In contrast, in the oblivion of the world, although the nature of the forgotten data may involve a different emotionality, it is normal that it is something that is not serious.
- Freud, Sigmund. (1915th). The unconscious. SE, 14: 159-204 .. (1923b). Ego and identity. SE, 19: 1-66.
- Werman, DS (1983). Repression as a defense. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 31 (S), 405-415.