Deceiving others or deceiving themselves?
Lynn B. Myers explores repression: what it is, how it’s done and what it might mean for psychological research and for repressors themselves.
DO you have friends or colleagues who turn up early for meetings, never seem to forget anything, are always polite and do not lose their temper? The probability is that they possess a repressive coping style. Nor is this unusual: ‘repressors’ are an extremely important group to study, as they account for between 10 and 20 per cent of the population. But what does it mean to have a repressive coping style? People who are repressors appear to use a number of strategies to avoid experiencing negative emotion, especially anxiety. Repression in this modern sense, then, has something in common with repression in the Freudian, more traditional sense. Freud considered that the purpose of repression was the avoidance of anxiety: ‘… the motive and purpose of repression was nothing else than the avoidance of unpleasure. … If a repression does not succeed in preventing feelings of unpleasure or anxiety from arising, we may say that it has failed.’ (Freud, 1915/1957, p.153.) The concept of repression was popularised over 80 years ago when Freud described it as ‘turning something away and keeping it at a distance from the conscious’ (1915/57, p.147). Early attempts to demonstrate repression experimentally were problematic. How is it best characterised?
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