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Suppression vs. Repression

Read this article to learn about the difference between Suppression and Repression. Relax and enjoy!

4:06 min read
  Teri Lapping  —  Grammar Tips
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Suppression vs. Repression

“Suppression” and “Repression” are two terms that are often used (and confused) in daily language. 

Do you know the difference between “suppression” and “repression?” 
Do you use these two words correctly? 

To understand the differences and similarities between these two words, we must first enter the world of psychology and Freud. Freud believed that when we are confronted with certain intense stimuli, we protect ourselves and cope by using an array of defense mechanisms.

“Suppression” and “repression” are two types of defense mechanisms that our mind uses to push those intense sensations away, hoping that in the future, we will have the resources to deal with them more effectively. 

What is Suppression?

What are the Latin roots of the word “suppression?”

The word suppression comes from the Latin word “suppressus”: “subwhich means “under, below” and “premerewhich means “hold, press.” 

How was the word “suppression” defined in the past?

It was used the first time in the 14th century when it was defined as “being burdensome.” Later in the 1500’s, it meantto be stifled by force or by authority.

How is the word “suppression” defined today?

We currently use the word “suppression” to define a thought, a feeling, or a memory that we are pushing away consciously. We are deliberately choosing not to focus on this thought or feeling, and not to act on it. We are aware that we may have to deal with these feelings if they arise in the future, but we prefer not to confront them in the present moment. 

For example:

Although I haven’t eaten since last night, I suppress the feeling of hunger and focus instead on my lesson. 

"Suppression" can also be used to describe the act of "keeping something hidden."

For example:

She suppressed her religion to avoid being arrested by the government. 

What is Repression?

What are the Latin roots of the word “repression?”

The word “repressioncomes from the Latin word “repressus”: “rewhich means “back” and “premerewhich means “hold, press.”  

When was the word “repression” used in the past?

It was used for the first time in the 14th century. Later, in the late 19th century, it was used for the first time in its psychological context. 

How is the word “repression” defined today? 

"Repression" is defined as the unconscious inhibition of sensations or feelings. "Repression" is an unconscious mental act where anxious or distressing memories or thoughts become inaccessible to the conscious mind and instead are pushed into the unconscious mind, where they continue to function in secret.

For example: 

The woman’s repressed memories of her traumatic childhood were the cause of her illness. 

"Repression" is also used to describe something that is "subdued by force."

For example:

They experienced many years of religious repression.

How are “Suppression” and “Regression” Different?

Both “repression” and “suppression” are defense mechanisms. 

Both “repression” and “suppression” work to decrease the intensity of negative thoughts and feelings to help a person maintain inner psychological balance.

“Suppression” is a conscious act and a choice that we purposely make while “repression” is an unconscious act and a mechanism that functions outside of our awareness. 

The “suppression” of feelings and thoughts is often seen to be a positive coping mechanism, helping us deal with difficult emotions in a constructive, prosocial way while the “repression” of feelings and thoughts is often seen as a negative coping mechanism, numbing us to difficult emotions which might best be confronted: "repression" prevents us from understanding ourselves and dealing with our emotions in a mature and direct manner.

For example:

We acknowledge our suppressed anger and discuss it with our partner.

I repressed my anger toward my parent, not understanding why every fight becomes a war. 

What we have “suppressed” is retrieved more easily from our consciousness than what we have "repressed." 

Thus, “repression” can lead to more severe consequences when our unconscious feelings control our psychological state and behavior without our awareness. 

Final Thoughts

In our lives, we "suppress" and "repress" many emotions that we find overwhelming. 

Think about “suppression.”
Do you have feelings or memories that you choose to push away, to suppress? 
How does this active, conscious suppression serve you? 

Think about “repression.” When we overreact in a situation, we might be acting from our “repressed” emotions.
When has this happened to you? 

Notice how the differences between these similar words are very significant when examining them in the light of our daily behavior. 

Two final questions: 

Do you now know the difference between “suppression” and “repression?”
Can you now use these two words correctly? 

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