Repression (psychological defense): examples of mechanism

The human psyche is a subtle structure that is constantly influenced by the person himself and his environment, while functioning independently. Many things are not realized or understood by a person, especially if only the result is visible without awareness of the process of its formation. Repression is a psychological form of protecting the human psyche from external stress factors, examples of which can be used to familiarize yourself with its results.

The psyche has several ways of self-defense. What it is? The online magazine draws readers' attention to what happens against their will. Since childhood, the psyche protects a person from various mental traumas. Since a child is the most vulnerable creature, his mental defenses work much faster and more freely than those of an adult.

Psychological defense mechanisms refer to programs to avoid stressful and traumatic factors. And here the psyche has several ways to do this:

  1. Ignoring.
  2. Projection.
  3. Fixation.
  4. Regression.
  5. Repression or suppression.

Repression is one of the common forms of defense that an individual can consciously resort to. Only in this case, most likely, the suppression will occur poorly, reminding itself every time in critical situations. If we are talking about the natural mechanism of repression, when information goes into the subconscious and cannot be reproduced by a person at his will, then the psyche will briefly protect itself from stressful external stimuli, but it will not be able to relieve a person from the experiences that will arise every time he encounters such stimuli .

A striking example of repression can be a person’s irritability to an unimportant factor. For example, an adult man gets irritated every time his mother calls him. From the outside, many people may think his irritability is groundless. The mother just calls, and her son is already furious. However, if we turn to subconscious programs, it may turn out that the psyche pushed there all the situations when the mother, through her various actions, spoiled the life and mood of her son. And now my son has simply developed a conditioned reflex at the sight of just one mention of his mother.

The contiguity of stimuli is a prerequisite for the formation of conditioned reflexes. Do you think the reflex would have developed in Pavlovian dogs if food (unconditioned stimulus) was brought 15 minutes after the bell (conditioned stimulus) or if the bell was given after feeding? To establish associative connections, the conditioned stimulus must act immediately before or simultaneously with the unconditioned reflex reaction.

Each of the assumptions can be considered as a special technique for developing reflexes, and not the most effective one. The action of an unconditioned stimulus before a conditioned one is called reverse conditioning, as a result of which very weak associations are formed (if any). Calling long before feeding is called trace conditioning. This method is also ineffective.

To form sustainable associations, the following is necessary:

  • Make sure that the conditioned stimulus acts immediately before the unconditioned one and that there are no “gaps” between them. Then both stimuli will be perceived as adjacent.
  • Repeatedly and frequently apply exposure to adjacent stimuli. The stability of associative connections is directly proportional to the frequency and number of repetitions.
  • Use a strong conditioned stimulus.

It is worth cautioning against the apparent ease of the conditioned reflex method. At first glance, everything is simple: you act with a strong conditioned stimulus immediately before the unconditioned one, repeat the entire procedure many times - and the conditioned reflex is formed. According to the contiguity of the stimuli, if the above conditions are met, associative connections should be formed. Everything would have been very simple if it had not been for a certain undergraduate student named Robert Rescorla, who doubted that the proximity of stimuli was enough to form a reflex. He proposed adding one more rule to the rules listed above - the rule of predictability.

Rescorla proposed that the conditioned stimulus should not only be consistent with the unconditioned stimulus, but also accurately predict it. If in one series of experiments the time intervals between the conditioned and unconditioned stimuli are uneven (1 minute, 7 minutes, 2 minutes, 12 minutes, etc.), the unconditioned stimulus will be predictable. The conditioned stimulus must be applied in such a way that the body expects the appearance of the unconditioned stimulus with a certain degree of confidence.

Rescorla did not stop there. Some time later, together with another psychologist Alan Wagner, he made another contribution to learning theory. According to the Rescorla-Wagner concept, the effectiveness of a conditioned stimulus is directly proportional to its surprise. If a conditioned stimulus predicts an unconditioned one, associative connections are established between them. At the first stage, associations quickly become stronger. Then, as the subject gets used to the conditioned stimulus, the strength of the associations stops increasing. The conditioned stimulus becomes more expected and, accordingly, less effective.

Repression - definition of the concept

Repression in psychology is one of the psychological defense mechanisms in which the human psyche represses or removes situations that cause negative experiences. Traumatic events or factors seem to be erased from memory. This process is otherwise called repression or suppression.

When repressed, the psyche mobilizes all its forces and directs them to forget information that causes negative emotions. This data is transferred from consciousness to the subconscious. They do not disappear completely, but are simply blocked for a certain period of time.

The main task of repression is to help a person regain internal harmony and balance. Some unpleasant thoughts, events and memories often drive you into depression, make you nervous and worry. This method of psychological defense helps to distract from them.

The German scientist Johann Herbart (beginning of the last century) spoke about repression for the first time. According to him, this process develops as a result of the conflict of contradictory ideas. Later, thanks to Freud, repression began to be considered a psychological defense mechanism.

“You’ll hear about me later!”

The protective mechanism of compensation manifests itself when a person tries to overcome his real and imaginary shortcomings. For example, a disabled person wants to become a successful athlete, and a blind person wants to dance. In these cases, the compensation mechanism has a positive impact on life. However, the opposite often happens: there is a “Napoleon complex,” when a person compensates for his physical shortcomings with assertiveness and a desire for power. For example, the desire for money and power is often based on compensation. A person with low self-esteem seeks to increase it by accumulating society's values, status, money and power.

Repression in psychoanalysis

In simple terms, repression in psychoanalysis is a defense mechanism that turns on when the psyche does not want to experience pain and anxiety and therefore transfers them from real life to the deep layers of the subconscious.

According to psychoanalysts, when repressed, the events that actually occur conflict with the desires, interests and needs of the person. And in order to eliminate this conflict, the psyche “forgets” all the unpleasant moments, protecting the individual from acute sensations.

In order to understand how everything happens, let's give an example. So, imagine a classroom in which a teacher is giving a lecture to students. One of the listeners interferes, talks, makes noise. At some point, the lecturer puts forward a condition: if the student does not calm down, he will not continue the lesson. The rest of those present support him, and the offender is kicked out the door.

Let's distribute the roles:

  • teacher - consciousness;
  • noisy student - unpleasant emotions, experiences, traumatic situations;
  • listeners - psyche;
  • the corridor behind the auditorium door is the subconscious, the unconscious part of the psyche.

Freud's theory

In Sigmund Freud's medical practice, there once came a period when he decided to abandon the use of hypnosis due to its low effectiveness and the extremely labor-intensive process of awakening memories in patients. Quite difficult attempts to restore memory to patients prompted Freud to think that “... there is some force that does not allow memories to become conscious and forces them to remain in the area of ​​the unconscious... which, in turn, implies a certain pathological nature of the emergence of such blocks. I gave this hypothetical mechanism a name: repression.” Freud later called the theory of repression “...the cornerstone on which the entire structure of psychoanalysis rests.”

Many of Freud's early concepts were developed under the guidance of his mentor Joseph Breuer. In addition, Freud himself noted the contribution to the understanding of such a phenomenon as repression by the German writer and philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer back in 1884. Among others, Friedrich Herbart, a psychologist and founder of pedagogy whose ideas were reflected in the writings of Freud and who had a strong influence on Theodor Meynert, Freud's teacher in psychiatry, used the term in his 1842 article on unconscious ideas competing to become into the realm of consciousness.


Freud wrote that “... there is reason to believe that there is “primary repression” (primary repression) - the first phase of repression, which consists in preventing the mental representation of the drive from entering consciousness,” as well as “... “secondary repression” (post-repression / post-suppression), actually repression, which concerns mental derivatives (derivatives originating from something pre-existing) of a repressed idea associated with an instinct, or thoughts originating from other sources, but associatively associated with these ideas.”

In the primary phase of repression, according to Freud, “... it is very likely that the cause of immediate repression as one of the types of repression is quantitative factors, such as early outbreaks of anxiety, which have a very intense appearance.” So, for example, a child understands that actions to please a desire can bring anxiety, this throws him into confusion, and anxiety directly leads to the repression of desire. If there is a certain threat of punishment for the child, then the anxiety associated with this form is transformed into a super-ego, which prevents the emergence of the desire of the subject, subordinate to hedonistic principles. In this regard, Freud suggested that “...probably the emergence of such a super-ego allows us to draw a dividing line between first repression and post-repression.”


Anomalies of repression, as defined by Freud himself, arise when repression develops under the influence of the superego and internalized feelings of anxiety, and thus leads to illogical actions of the individual, self-destruction and antisocial behavior in general (see Neurosis). In therapy, the therapist may try to mitigate this problem by identifying and bringing repressed aspects of the patient's mental processes back into awareness, that is, "taking on the role of both mediator and peacemaker... raising the repressed."

Repression as a psychological defense

If we consider repression as a defense mechanism, it performs two important functions:

  1. Protects against the emergence of negative emotions and experiences by moving traumatic memories from memory to the unconscious area of ​​the psyche.
  2. Helps control and restrain traumatic information that is in so-called captivity from entering the consciousness.

In practice it looks something like this. Imagine a child who has lost his most favorite toy. Of course, he is upset, sad and crying. Parents are unable to calm their baby down. And suddenly the grandmother says that the toy was not lost forever and that very soon it will be found. Thoughts about the loss are immediately replaced by a good mood, and the child forgets about what happened.

In this example, the process of repression helped the child cope with the bitterness of loss. If this had not happened, he would have continued to be sad. The same happens with adults. If the psyche did not repress negative emotions and experiences, people would be depressed for a long time from memories of their mistakes, mistakes, failures, unfulfilled desires and dreams.

When problems arise

Repression becomes an obstacle to the full functioning of the psyche in the following cases:

  • The defense mechanism does not do a good enough job of keeping disturbing thoughts, feelings, and emotions out of consciousness.
  • Repression becomes a barrier to new experiences and does not allow a person to live life to the fullest.
  • This problem is most typical for hysterical individuals; it entails difficulties in interpersonal relationships and social life.

The mechanism of repression is directly associated with the feeling of anxiety. Anxiety itself can cause an impulse to repression in order to get rid of the anxiety factor. However, it should be noted that repressed information provokes a feeling of vague, unexpressed anxiety in a person.


To better understand what repression is, let's look at another illustrative example. So, imagine a young family consisting of a student wife, husband and small child. A woman not only studies. She has a hobby that takes up some of her time and energy. Because of him, she does not always manage to be an ideal housewife. According to her, it is precisely this circumstance that prompts a man to be rude to her, often get irritated for no reason, and not even spend the night at home. Therefore, she tries with all her might to improve, and also considers herself a loving and beloved woman.

Let's look at the situation from the other side. In real life, the heroine of the story is very offended by her husband, experiences loneliness, and feels unloved. But her consciousness hides these sensations, replacing them with the illusion of a happy family. The woman is afraid that otherwise she will have to start all over from scratch. Therefore, she does not pay attention to anxiety and bad thoughts, and engages in self-deception.

When working with a psychoanalyst, it turned out that repression had turned on. It turned out that the woman was very afraid of the death of her beloved man. For her, this was the only reason for the destruction of the family. Often in her thoughts she played out possible tragic situations, in particular, road accidents. Even feeling the scent of women’s perfume from her husband, she did not think about cheating, and even joked about it. The main thing is that your loved one is alive and well.

How did this story end? One day the woman found out that her husband had always cheated on her. Thus her illusions about a happy family were shattered. The repression with which she tried to protect herself from unpleasant thoughts and emotions also collapsed. But instead of this, she finally saw reality.

Generally speaking, repression encourages us to turn a blind eye to many aspects of our personal lives. We are talking about the bad actions of a partner, wrong aspirations and desires, negative character traits, hostility towards others.


When your soul hurts and your thoughts are racing, the main thing is to achieve a happy balance with the world of people and with yourself. The institute of “helping the soul” has a centuries-old history, but it is assistance based on the achievements of special research, using various techniques, that dates back a little more than 100 years.

The reason for the emergence of psychological help as such, the need to turn to it, was formulated by Erich Fromm, a German philosopher, social psychologist and psychoanalyst: “Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem.” This problem was resolved by different schools of knowledge: from Eastern to Western and European. Psychological assistance in its development went through two periods: the religious-mystical and the stage of modern scientific psychotherapy.

Initially, the “problem of existence” was solved using the methods of religious traditions. The search for its origins was carried out solely on the basis of ideas and dogmas. Appropriate methods for solving were proposed: for example, meditative practices in Eastern teachings, so-called metaphorical communications used by both Eastern and Western schools - the Sufi parable “The Tale of the Sands”, “Ten Bulls of Zen”, fairy tales, parables, sayings, everyday narratives . Trance communications were also used based on rhythmic monotonous actions or repetition of words - ritual dances, chanting mantras, prayers; hermeneutical procedures - fortune telling on cards, runes, etc.; body-oriented methods - for example, yoga; sacred symbolism - the use of totems, amulets, appeal to the symbolism of religious services; the phenomenon of catharsis - for example, the process of confession, talking through a problematic situation.

All these methods, enriched with scientific knowledge, are still used in one form or another, bringing positive results. Thus, metaphorical communications are reflected in fairy tale therapy, body-oriented methods are used both as a separate direction and in combination with psychoanalysis; elements of catharsis are easy to observe during a consultation - one of the forms of help from a psychologist.

If life has stopped making you happy and has lost its meaning, if relationships with loved ones have turned into a series of quarrels and deep mutual resentments, if you are having a hard time with yourself and you don’t see a way out of the situation, it’s time to seek psychological help. Finding the source of mental pain, realizing the real problem, changing habitual patterns of behavior - this is the path along which we invite you to walk together. “Change your thinking and you will change your life ,” - during the consultation process you will definitely appreciate the correctness of these words of Brian Tracy.


Psychology first hand: psychological publications

Love or neurosis?

We all want to love and be loved, if we succeed, we feel happy. To this extent, the need for love, or more precisely, the need to be loved, is not neurotic. In a neurotic person, the need to experience the love of other people is exaggerated. If the people around them are less kind than usual, this spoils the mood of a neurotic and causes phobias or severe depression. He clings to people... He may need psychological help and psychotherapy. It is important for a mentally healthy person to be loved, respected and valued by those people whom he values; neurotic need for love is obsessive and indiscriminate

How to deal with stress?

When stress becomes chronic and mental symptoms develop, it becomes obvious that something needs to be done. Coping with stress can take many forms: from desperately trying to find a way to “relax” to seeking help and support from loved ones. Sometimes the desire to escape from stress leads a person to what could be called destructive methods of self-support - drug addiction

Psychological consultation

What happens during a consultation with a psychologist is certainly not magic. In a serious process of psychological counseling, the client, together with the psychologist, sooner or later becomes able to work on his initial - sometimes hidden, sometimes explicit, “magical” expectations regarding his psychologist and psychological counseling in general. Then comes the realization that the paths of psychological change are not so much magical and supernatural, but rather human, depending on two people who, being next to each other, are able to talk about something really important, relating not to something beyond, but to what is happening between them

How to diversify relationships? Psychologist's advice

If your sex life has become monotonous and predictable almost to the point of disgust, take immediate action. Let sex be the first thing you do in the morning, not the last thing in the evening. Do this in a new environment, in new underwear, in a new mood. Even the most amazing lover will get bored if you have learned all his tricks by heart. In the initial period of an intimate relationship or marriage, there was no talk of monotony. Mutual attraction and impatience forced them to have sex in different settings and with all possible variety of positions and techniques. However, over time, what was new became familiar and even boring.

How to eliminate crowding

The most important thing is to rethink by all available means what has been repressed into the subconscious and make this information conscious. One possibility is to write an autobiography. As you write, you will remember and become aware of those moments from your past life that prevent you from living in the present. First of all, pay attention to losses, for example, the death of people close to you. If necessary, seek help from a psychoanalyst.

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