My notes on Freud’s Repression

Here are my notes on Freud’s Repression, posted for the benefit of the rest of my class. Hopefully they’re intelligible enough to help.

What is repression?
– Repression is a preliminary stage of condemnation, something between flight and condemnation.
– It occurs when an instinctual response is not satisfied in some way which cannot be easily dealt with.
– It must be an instinctual, not external one.
– With instinct flight is not available, the ego cannot run from itself.
– It is a stage before condemnation, as that can only occur at a later stage.
– Freud defines condemnation as rejection based on judgement.

– The primary purpose of repression is to avoid displeasure.
– A necessary condition for it is that the instincts attainment of its aim would produce unpleasure instead of pleasure.
– Yet, there are no such instincts, their satisfaction is always pleasurable. Therefore, there must be certain peculiar circumstances.

– Repression does not simply arrive in circumstances where there is some displeasure.
– If one is in pain, the instinct to remove pain aims at removing the source of the pain. Not at any particular pleasure.
– If one is hungry, the instinct is not satisfied by anything except of the action that satisfies the hunger.
– Therefore, repression does not arise in cases where the tension produced by the lack of satisfaction of an instinctual response is unbearable.

Freud thus decides to confine himself to the cases of repression encountered in psycho-analysis.
– Repression occurs when the satisfaction of the instinct is possible, yet the satisfaction of that instinct is incompatible with other intentions.
– That is, if the satisfaction of the instinct would cause more displeasure than pleasure.

Furthermore, repression is not a defensive mechanism which occurs in us from the beginning, but only once the separation of the conscious and unconscious occurs. Repression in its essence is turning something away, and keeping it at a distance from the conscious.

Two types of repression:
– Primal Repression
– consists in the psychical representative of the instinct being denied into the conscious.
– Fixation occurs, that is, the representation persists unaltered and is attached to the instinct       (discusses why this occurs later)

– Repression Proper
– Mental derivatives of the repressed representative are also repressed
– Works by not only repelling certain thoughts from consciousness, but also attracting    connected thoughts to itself


Effects of repression

– Repression only affects the relation of the instinct to the conscious. Not to any other psychic system
– The instinct, which is repressed, develops with less interference and more profusely, as it lacks conscious influence.
– As such, when during psycho-analysis, these representations are shown to the neurotic,           they seem foreign, and terrifying.

– Not all derivatives of the repressed ideal are repressed. If they become far enough removed from what was primally repressed, they can still enter the conscious.
– No general rule for how far removed those must be
– Therefore, repression acts in a highly individual manner

Here Freud points out that we can understand that ideas and opinions to which men give most preference, are a result of the same perceptions and experiences as those which they most abhor. They arise through slight modifications and connections of a repressed though.

– Repression is also mobile
– It is not a process that occurs only once. Rather, it occurs continually.. it requires a         continual expression of pressure to maintain.
– The strength of the impulse that causes repression must be sufficiently strong.

Other elements representing the instinct which is being repressed:
– Quota of Affect
– The instinct, as separate from the idea, which has affected the senses
– As such Freud suggests that there is a need when talking about repression to describe separately the idea and what becomes of the instinctual energy attached to it.

– The change affecting the idea can be either:
– The idea being denied entry into consciousness, if it had not been previously
– The idea being rejected from consciousness if it had been conscious previously
– The difference between those two is not important to Freud.

The quantitative factor of the instinctual representative can be changed in three ways:
– the instinct can become completely suppressed
– it appears as an affect in some qualitatively coloured way
– it is changed into anxiety

The latter two of the possibilities require the taking into account the instinctual change into affects, especially into anxiety, of the psychological energies of the instincts.

Remembering that the primary purpose of repression is the avoidance of displeasure, it follows that the change in the affect caused by the representative is more significant than the change in the idea which causes it.


Mechanism of the process of repression:

– Complications with looking at the mechanism

– The mechanism of repression becomes only accessible to us by our deducing that mechanism from the outcome of the repression.
– This leads to substitute formation
– How is the substitute formed? Are there several processes or just one?

– Repression leaves symptoms behind it.
– Does the formation of substitutes and the formation of symptoms occur simultaneously, and if this is so, is the mechanism of the formation of symptoms the same as repression?

Freud suggests that it seems that these two are different. That repression in itself does not produce the substitutive formations and symptoms, but that those are rather indications of a return of the repressed, and originate from different processes.

Concludes by saying that further study is required but it is clear to him at this stage that:
1) the mechanism of repression does not coincide with the mechanism or mechanisms of forming substitutes
2) there are a great many different mechanisms in which substitutes are formed
3) the mechanisms of repression have at least one thing in common: the withdrawal of the cathexis of energy

How do the concepts introduced in this paper find application in the study of repression?
– Concentrates on 3 best known forms of psychoneurosis

1. Anxiety Hysteria
– The instinctual responses is a ‘libidinal’ attitude towards the father, coupled with fear of him.
– After repression the father no longer appears as the object of libido
– Instead he is substituted by an animal which is more or less fitted to be an object of anxiety

– Such repression must be described as radically unsuccessful. It merely replaces the idea, but does not spare unpleasure.
– Results in the formation of a phobia proper.
2. Conversion Hysteria
– Here it is possible to bring about a complete disappearance of the quota of affect
– The patient becomes indifferent towards his symptoms (to a degree)
– In other cases the repression is not completely successful, and leads to release of some anxiety, which can lead to the formation of a phobia

– Here repression is completed with the formation of the symptom and does not need to continue to the second phase (phobia proper)
3. Obsessional Neurosis

– It is unclear whether the instinctual representative subjected to repression is a libidinal or hostile trend
– It is a hostile impulsion against someone who is loved which is subjected to repression (thus leading to extreme affection)

– At first the repression is completely successful, however it ultimately returns in the form of social or moral anxiety or unlimited self-reproaches. The rejected idea returns and is re-established, as a general rule that is unmistakeably present in this kind of neurosis.

– Repression brought on by a withdrawal of the libido

– The rejection of the idea from the conscious is maintained. As such, repression is prolonged in a sterile and interminable struggle.

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2 thoughts on “My notes on Freud’s Repression

  1. Thanks for these notes. Confirms my rejection of the Prozac Nation.
    There is a lot that these notes stimulate, but on the macro level I found myself making comparisons between Reich, Freud and Jung. It seems that one gets psychosomatic relief and results from the body work of Reichian therapy. And one gets productive creative and self-actualizing results from Jung. Freud seems to occupy a sort of middle ground. Somewhere between higher consciousness and the body. Unlike many other people, I do not reject Freud because of his shortcomings. I think he has a good deal to offer today. He is the launching pad to get us to look at and take responsibility (maybe with the help of others) for our own processes of dysfunction and health. If people took more of this seriously, we wouldn’t have the anti-depressant culture of avoidance that we have today.

    I am assuming that you saw “A Dangerous Method.” I am curious as to what you thought of it…

    1. I think that the best way to understand Freud is as him providing us with a theoretical framework within which we can begin to understand what is human; what it is to be human. He gives us an account of the development of the human psyche, which is invaluable to any thought regarding humanity.

      I think the ‘Prozac Nation’ can be rejected on a different basis – the illnesses which it aims to cure, were not as prevalent say, 100 years ago. Antidepressants are a bandaid solution, and not one aimed at the actual cause of the problem.

      Yes, I saw it. I loved Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender as Freud and Jung. Keira Knightley was redundant in the film I thought. Her acting was too over the top. I wish Mortensen and Fassbender would record the lectures for the Freud and Jung unit I am studying, in character. I would learn everything within a week.

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