What is Repression?


>Sometimes something happens that is so shocking that the mind grabs hold of the memory and pushes it underground, into some inaccessible corner of the unconscious. There it sleeps for years, or even decades, or even forever- isolated from the rest of mental life.

Then, one day it may rise up and emerge into consciousness. When the unconscious tucks away a memory, to hopefully be forgotten, it is called Repression.

Repression is a defense mechanism derived from Sigmund Freud near the beginning of the century (Gay 18-19). But if a person cannot recall a memory, was it ever really a memory? Did it ever really happen? If so, can the conscious be manipulated and made to think that, through controversial methods such as hypnosis or a truth serum called sodium pentathol, a false event actually happened? (Accused) And if these false events are believed, then can the manipulated mind be used in court cases to sue the people who caused the traumatic experience?

When Freud discovered the idea behind repressed memories he then had to come up with a way to recover then. A process known as psychoanalysis was formed. The theory of repression and recovery became a “corner stone” to understanding some of our own neurosis (Gay 18-19). When Freud began to use this method frequently, he did not know what psychologists would do with the theory today, nor did he realize that people would ever use this as a method of fraud. In 1990 a case went to trial against a man accused of murder 20 years earlier.

He was accused of killing his daughters’ best friend. The daughter, now an adult, began to remember slowly events that occurred and pieced together enough information to convict her father. He was the first man to ever go to trial and be convicted of murder of the grounds of a recovered memory (repressed memories). In this particular case, was the daughter beginning to remember these events before she began therapy or was this such a traumatic event that in order to settle it within her own mind, she had to come up with her own solution? When a memory becomes locked away, it can be permanent or temporary depending on the severity of the traumatic experience.

Through psychoanalysis, the memory can be brought back. The process is a detailed inquiry of the persons past and past relations and events, which are recorded and analyzed. (Gay 479) Through this process, the psychologist then can determine whether or not there is more there to be “brought out”.

This is where hypnosis and other controversial methods can come into play. When you are under hypnosis, you are completely vulnerable and susceptible to influence. Memories can then be implanted by use of “descriptive details, inserted characters and fictitious plot elaboration.” (Accused) There are also three ways in which memory can be affected: when it is stored, while it is being stored and when it is retrieved. During each of these times something could be misunderstood, or implanted.

Psychologists are not the only influences our brain has. Recollections of horror movies, comic books, nightmares, anything on TV are liable to get garbled in our memories and tossed around to confuse us. Possibilities of retrieval of lost memories are plentiful. Memories of these things can come out in the hypnosis therapy and therapists think it to be true and valid information. But not only is it up to the techniques reliability, but it is also up to the mind and soul of the person to distinguish these other influences and recapture the true event.

Knowing that evidence exists that memories can be implanted and that the mind is so easily mislead, it makes you wonder about your own past. It makes you almost want to remember things that your not even sure existed. It also makes you wonder why people would want to dredge up memories if they are not real. There is no easy answer or explanation to the theory of repression and retrieval, but until psychologists can drag our unconsciousness into the light, retrieval of repressed memories will be left in the dark.

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