Tag Archives: Repression

What Is The Difference Between Repression And Dissociation?

what is the difference between repression and dissociation?

I have frequently referred to the concepts of DISSOCIATION and REPRESSION on this site as, of course, both are highly relevant to the subject of childhood trauma. But what is the difference between the two?

REPRESSION :

In terms of psychoanalytic theory (of which Sigmund Freud is considered to be the ‘father’) REPRESSION can be divided into two types :

  1. PRIMAL REPRESSION
  2. REPRESSION PROPER

I briefly explain these two types of repression below :

REPRESSION PROPER :

This refers to an unconscious process whereby the part of the mind that Freud referred to as the ego prevents distressing and threatening thoughts from ever permeating consciousness. Freud believed that often such thoughts were kept banished from conscious awareness as otherwise they would produce intolerable guilt (generated by the part of the mind that he referred to as the superego). 

Examples of types of thoughts that Freud believed are kept repressed by this process are those concerning certain types of sexual and aggressive impulses and instincts (generated by the part of the mind Freud referred to as the id) that we have learned from our environment (influence of culture, parents etc) are unacceptable.

PRIMAL REPRESSION :

the difference between repression and dissociation

The term primal repression refers to an unconscious process whereby the ego buries distressing and threatening thoughts, feelings and memories down below the level of consciousness into the id.

So, to summarize : in the case of repression proper, distressing and threatening thoughts are prevented from ever gaining access to conscious awareness whereas, in the case of primal repression, distressing and threatening thoughts, feelings and memories which have gained ephemeral access to consciousness are banished from it (buried in the id).

However, Freud also pointed out that there is a high price to pay for the unconscious process of repression in so far as this hidden, buried information that has been forced down into the id will create symptoms of anxiety.

DISSOCIATION :

In the case of dissociation (one of the core features of complex PTSD), thoughts / feelings / memories do NOT get pushed down into / buried in the id ; instead, they become separated / compartmentalized in a different part of the ego.

So, we can finally summarize in this way :

  • In the case of repression, mental information / content is split off into the id.
  • In the case of dissociation, mental information / content is split off into a separate part of the ego.

NB : This distinction relates to how the terms are used in psychoanalytic theory ; in other areas of psychology, the term ‘dissociation’ can take on other meanings (as the articles listed below will show).

To learn more about dissociation, you may like to read some of my other articles (listed below) :

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Traumatic Amnesia Resulting From Childhood Trauma

traumatic amnesia

I can remember very little indeed about my childhood before the age of about eight, even major events that I am told happened to me.

For example, my school, when I was around this age, were concerned I was going deaf as I never answered my name when it was called in class.

Because of this, apparently I had my ears tested but my hearing was normal. In other words, my apparent ‘deafness’ was caused by psychological factors. Indeed, it was particularly pronounced when the subject of parents came up in class. The term psychologists use to describe the condition is dissociation.

However, I have no memory whatsoever of any of the above; that period of my life, as far as my conscious memory is concerned, may as well never have happened.

traumatic amnesia

Research suggests (eg. Williams) that, for some their childhood trauma is so distressing that, in order to protect itself, the brain subjugates, or, represses, the memory of it, keeping it out of conscious awareness.

This is what’s known a defence mechanism. This mechanism works by not allowing distressing memories to encroach upon memory, due to the fact that, if these memories did penetrate consciousness, they would provoke intolerable psychological distress. This process of repressing painful memories operates automatically on an unconscious level as a means of self protection.

Not everyone who experiences significant childhood trauma will develop traumatic amnesia; whether or not a person develops it depends upon numerous factors which you may read about in another of my articles : Why Some Remember And Some Forget Their Traumatic Experiences.

In those who do develop traumatic amnesia, the condition may last for anything from hours to decades.

Traumatic amnesia does not necessarily mean that the individual who experiences it will forget everything connected to the traumatic experience/s; sometimes, the amnesia is only partial (ie. some of the traumatic experience is retained in memory, whilst elements of it are NOT remembered (in other words they are blocked off from conscious memory).

Further research (Henderson) suggests  that if a child’s traumatic experience is due to abuse by a person (normally a parent) who is, in actual fact, supposed to be caring for the child, and whom the child is dependent upon,  then that child is especially likely to develop traumatic amnesia (this is an unconscious means of retaining some sort of bond with parent, thus allowing the relationship with the parent to survive).

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Repression Of Traumatic Childhood Memories.

repression

Repression Of Traumatic Childhood Memories

Most of us are familiar with the idea that people who have experienced severe traumas sometimes REPRESS the memory of them (ie. bury them deep in the unconscious where they cannot be consciously recalled). This process is known as REPRESSION.

This is thought to be an automatic process (ie. not under conscious control) which operates as a defense mechanism (when people deliberately try to push disturbing thoughts/memories out of conscious awareness, the process is known as suppression). Freud thought that such repressed memories festered in the unconscious, causing neurotic symptoms or hysteria, and that they needed to be brought back into consciousness and worked through in order for healing to take place.

Psychologists refer to the inability to recall traumatic events DISSOCIATIVE AMNESIA.

Many have claimed that repression of traumatic memories is very common. For example, one therapist, Renee Frederickson (1992), claimed: ‘millions of people have blocked out frightening episodes of abuse, years of their lives, or their entire childhood.’ Indeed, today, many psychotherapists regard uncovering repressed memories as vital to the treatment of their patients.

But what does the research indicate?

Loftus (1993) found that most people seemed to have no trouble recalling traumatic events, up to, and including, the Holocaust. Indeed, such memories disturbed many in the form of FLASHBACKS.

The scientific community has also become increasingly aware that the ‘memory recovery’ procedures some psychotherapists use, such as hypnosis, can generate false memories of traumatic events, due, often, to a combination of SUGGESTION and LEADING QUESTIONS. So, patients can be encouraged to ‘recall’ something that, in fact, never actually happened. Indeed, so powerful can the effect be that the patient may truly believe the ‘recalled’ event happened, despite documentary evidence disproving it.

HOWEVER, NOT ALL RECOVERED MEMORIES (EVEN AFTER DECADES) ARE FALSE (eg. Schooter et al. 1997) SO RECOVERED MEMORIES OF TRAUMA SHOULD BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY AND CERTAINLY NOT DISMISSED. Instead, corroborating evidence should ideally be sought.

 

David Hosier. BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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