Does repression exist?

Dear Writer,
Our team of researchers have compiled what we to believe to be an excellent source of materials for your article on repression. We introduce the topic with necessary definitions, a historical background on the origin of the idea of repression, bring forth articles with a skeptical point of view on repression and finally articles on practical and alternative uses of repression. We want to thank you for giving us this opportunity and wish you luck during the writing process.
All the best,
G., N., S., and V.


Benson gives an excellent definition for what Defense Mechanisms are and specifically repression.

Defense mechanisms are ways to unconsciously protect ourselves from unpleasant ideas. In small doses, they help everyday survival. However, over-use can cause psychological issues.

Repression: pushing down unwanted ideas into the Unconscious and keeping them there. This avoids being reminded of horrible memories, things we fear, or wishes we feel guilty about.

Benson, N. (2007). Introducing psychology a graphic guide to your mind and behaviour (57). UK: Icon Books Ltd.

Freudian Origins of Repression

Freud, A. (1979). The ego and the mechanisms of defense. (Ch. 3,4) Guilford, CT: International Universities Press.

In Chapters 3 and 4 of The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense, Anna Freud reintroduces her father’s concepts of defense mechanisms, with added emphasis on repression. Defense mechanisms are those inbuilt functions of the ego which are able to mediate the conflicts arising between the id and the superego; only through such means can a harmonious self survive in society. Repression being the most efficacious and common, takes the most unendurable thoughts (which cause anxiety among the conscious being if the struggle is to take place consciously) and submerges them deep within the unconscious of the being, far from reach. Nevertheless, efficacy comes at a cost. Anna recognizes the dangers and discusses how through continuous repression and dissociation, withdrawal of conscious experience may end up damaging the integrity of the personality and even becomes a basis for compromise formation and neurosis. This is a vital source for beginners to psychoanalysis, who want to understand repression through the original Freudian perspective.

Believers of Repression

Sears, R. R. (1942). Repression. New York, NY, US: Social Science Research Council, New York, NY. doi:10.1037/11390-006

One question that comes to mind is what type of content is subject to repression? Initially Freud coined the term “unpleasant,” however further developed two types of repression, Primal-repression and after-expulsion. The author of this article investigates the psychoanalytic methods relating to infantile amnesia, which can be discussed as primal-repression, which is usually referred to as the repression of traumatic memories. Repression theory and its experimental falsifiability comes into question here. The author concludes that it is difficult to assess the expectations due to the extent of "working out" that Freud used. The researcher may find these points valid if one was to set out variables and conditions for an experiment.

MacKinnon, D. W., & Henle, M. (1948). Experiment X: Repression Unknown Publisher. doi:10.1037/13252-010

Touching up on Freud’s original condemnation that unpleasant content is subject to repression, an experiment was devised to test whether it is so. A group of subjects is handed a false personality test which they are in all seriousness lead to believe is genuine. The point is that the results are rigged so that the results returned are negative and will register with the subject as “wounding the ego.” Thus since the job of the ego through repression and other defense mechanisms is to protect itself from harm, through a very minuscule degree of repression some negative traits will be unavailable for recall or at least difficult to surface. This depends completely on the manner in which the experimenter fulfills his role at persuading the subjects (variables) and compares the results to a controlled group. This article proves to have an effective approach to an experiment depicting all necessities and strong design to show the effects of repression amongst differently affected groups.

Over-reliance on Repression

Conway, M. A. (2000). In Kazdin A. E. (Ed.), Repressed memory. Washington New York, DC NY, US US: American Psychological Association Oxford University Press, Washington New York, DC NY. doi:10.1037/10522-024

As noted earlier, the efficacy of repression comes at a cost. This is an excellent article presenting an example of the severity of an obstruction that may arise out of an over-reliance on repression. The author, Conway, applies this notion of hysterical paralysis, which was considered a disease primarily prevalent in women during the times of Freud. This disorder was caused by traumatic memories so far repressed and never alleviated resurfacing all at once. This was known to shock and in a way paralyze or hold back the patient from being able to properly speak or retain control of body parts. This is a highly controversial topic like anything of Freud, however attached is an excellent cinematographic interpretation of “hysteria” with some commentary by the director himself. This is also a great depiction of Freudian influence on modern culture.

manganzoncineymusica. (2011, November 23). David Cronenberg talks about Keira Knightley in “A Dangerous Method”. Video File. Retrieved from

trailers. (2011, June 22). A Dangerous Method – Official Trailer. Video File. Retrieved from

What the researcher may expect in the videos above are some scenes of Keira Knightley portraying some excellent acting of a patient with a hysteria disorder and how effective the psychoanalysis approach proposed by Freud was in evoking those repressed memories and discussing them verbally. This is discussed both in the first link provided with the commentary from the director and the above article.

Skeptics Of Repression

Falsifiability in Judicial Applications

Smith, Delores Terzick. Are repressed memory studies scientifically valid? Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 1043.

This article extends the borders of repression into a realm outside of psychology. It seems that judicial processes struggle with the same questions that psychologists do. How much weight should be attributed to the idea of repressed memory as evidence? How valid is it? The authors of this article composed an interesting experiment which would test this hypothesis and determine it based on other similar theories which may be approached in a reduced manner. Experts of the brain and hypnosis have set out to review literature and individual cases to try and bring repression into light. This article would be beneficial for a researcher who feels compelled to investigate both sides of an argument with much supplemented evidence in order to decide his allegiance or skepticism towards repression.

Walcott, D. M. (2000). Repressed memory still lacks scientific reliability. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 28(2), 243-244.

Elaborating on the intertwining nature of repression and judicial process the following article is a great example of a case where this occurs. To summarize, the woman, Mrs. Franklin, had suppressed memories surface about childhood abuse and trauma. Consequently she decided to sue her alleged abuser, Stevenson. The court however overturned the verdict, deeming the evidence tainted and impermissible. The grounds were such that since the method used to discover these long time repressed memories had no scientific intervention it was inadmissible. The court questioned the reliability (although we think they meant validity) of such methods and subjected it to meticulous scrutiny. This article is a great example for a researcher who wants to apply ideas of repression outside the realm of psychology and see how they withstand the scrutiny of skeptics.

Alternative Interpretations

Loftus, E. F., Garry, M., & Hayne, H. (2008). In Borgida E., Fiske S. T. (Eds.), Repressed and recovered memory. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, Malden.

Some psychologists are convinced that repression can be reduced into everyday simple brain functions such as forgetfulness. For example the authors of this article put into question whether this whole dispute is necessary for a complex idea such as repression instead, simply attempt to express it in terms of brain functionality. The author reviews research and empirical data where subjects of abuse have allegedly repressed their traumatic memories. They come to the conclusion that it cannot be justified in these terms. Perhaps it is a simple function of the brain to forget useless information which has not been accessed in years or decades. This article is beneficial for a researcher who wants to bring repression into a common light in order to understand it in everyday terms of brain functionality, ultimately simplifying it.

Moghaddam, F.M. (2007). Great ideas in psychology, a cultural and historical introduction (43, 51, 56). Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications.

In his book, Moghaddam makes reference to the studies of Elizabeth Loftus in regards to her applications of the repression theory in courts of law. She provides an alternative interpretation that it is not repressed but as a matter of fact reconstructed, or planted. The whole chapter is a beneficial interpretation by Moghaddam to the Freud theory and would be helpful to anyone who wants to understand the context.

Lego, S. (1996). Repressed memory and false memory. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 10(2), 110-115. doi:10.1016/S0883-9417(96)80073-2

This is a great article, where the author distinguishes the origin of repressed memories (RMs) and false memories (FMs). Lego begins by stating that RMs are memories of scenarios in one’s life that are too severe to withstand and are thus repressed or dissociated from conscious thought deep into the unconscious. However, since they are only repressed and never actually discarded they may project themselves later in innocuous circumstances and signs may begin to arise in an irrational manner causing the individual to question the true nature of their behavior. FMs are more prevalent in patients who are vulnerable and show highly compliant behavior towards their superiors or authoritative figures such as therapists. The idea behind is that since they are so damaged, they are willing to foster false memories which are implanted into their minds through very persuasive techniques. The patient isn’t aware of this though.

Mollon, P. (1996). Freud and false memory syndrome (postmodern encounters). London, England: Totem Books.

It is important to note that not all psychologists are Freud fanatics. Many disagree with psychoanalytic theory and feel the ideas are insensible. This book is a good example of a Freud critic, Phil Mollon. Mollon takes an opposing view to memory repression and feels it is a menacing idea to society, and that it is so deeply rooted that its dangers can be traced to modern “false memory syndrome.” FMS presents the notion that memories which are allegedly suppressed after a traumatic incidence such as sexual abuse during childhood, are in reality not there to begin with but actually implanted by the psychoanalysts. Mollon presents an interesting view and read for any researcher demanding a duality on perspectives.

Rofé, Yacov. (2008): Does repression exist? Memory, pathogenic, unconscious and clinical evidence. Review of General Psychology, 12.1, 63-85. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.12.1.63

A different approach to the investigation of repression takes into account some multidimensional factors. To be more precise, those involving memory, pathogenic effects on adjustment, and the unconscious, which are thought to be necessary in order to arrive at a more efficacious paradigm of repression. The main discussion tackled in this article is whether one remembers or forgets trauma? However this dispute ultimately is weakly justified with empirical evidence and makes it rather difficult to hold on to the old psychoanalytic ideas, especially in regards to claims that repression is responsible for both the development and treatment of neurotic disorders. The researcher may want to consider this advanced article when a basis understanding for repression exists.

Schwartz, G. E., & Kline, J. P. (1995). In Pennebaker J. W. (Ed.), Repression, emotional disclosure, and health: Theoretical, empirical, and clinical considerations. Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association, Washington, DC. doi:10.1037/10182-008

Taking a look from a different perspective of normative psychology, this article looks at repression through a meaning system and implies that it consists of active inhibition. This article is useful in providing an operational definition of repressive coping, however doing so places a lot of agency on the individual.

Contemporary Views

Boag, S. (2012). Freudian repression, the unconscious, and the dynamics of inhibition. London, England: Kornac Books.

This book by Simon Boag is a powerful tool in bringing out a modern interpretation of repression and seeing it in a new light. Boag provides a fresh evaluation and a contemporary discussion linking the outdated (by many) idea of repression and modern psychology including topics covered in today's neuroscience. Boag raises many arguments surrounding the highly controversial topic. However despite Freud’s ongoing influence, discourse around repression has started to die down recently as priority shifts away from memory in therapy. Boag rekindles that flame and brings it into modern context and introduces cognitive-behavioral inhibition and how it plays a role in repression of traumatic memories.

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