How Have Psychologists Revisited Freud's Theory of Repression  Term Paper

  • Length: 8 pages
  • Subject: Psychology
  • Type: Term Paper
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Freud's Theory Of Repression

Freud is popularly known as the father of psychoanalysis and the idea of psychological repression of memories and urges, even though he was neither the first psychoanalyst or even the first to posit the existence of repression. His justifiable fame comes both from the way he popularized psychoanalysis, and from his further development of its theories. He is commonly attributed with creating the theory of the conscious and subconscious, of the many sexual complexes and drives which run our lives and our subconscious, and with the idea that things which are not socially acceptable will be hidden away within the subconscious. Freud called this process of burying the unacceptable aspects of life away into the subconscious regression, which he was to eventually succinctly defined thus: "the essence of repression lies simply in the function of rejecting and keeping something out of consciousness." (Rieff, 147) It is generally believed (though there appear to be exceptions to this belief) that Freud considered all repression to be a subconscious act, a sort of "defense mechanism" against the uncomfortable or painful facts of life.

Repression can be as harmless as repressing a subversive or rude thought, or as destructive as repressing entire categories of experience or disregarding and repressing sexual urges. Freud considered that those things which were repressed eventually displayed themselves in various forms. His earliest work on dreams, accidental slips of the tongue, and on joking and humor, all showed a belief that humans can take their destructive or illicit desires and convert them into something which is socially acceptable where the actual fulfillment of that desire would not be. For example, even in Freud's sexually paranoid time, it was socially licit for even a married woman to make a slip of the tongue of some sort, to have a symbolically erotic dream (for example, a dream about a male friend walking around with a sword and slaying dragons in her cave), or to make "innocent" jokes about cheating on her husband. The woman might not even realize that these were all actions showing a wish to have an affair with her doctor -- her lack of awareness shows that this desire had been well repressed. Though some of Freud's discussion of repression deals with such relatively minor repressions, he is better known for his theories regarding major repressions.

Freud is particularly famous for his theories regarding life stages (in which humans go through a number of different sexual stages, in which arousal and fulfillment is gained through various means, from the oral to anal to genital) and the idea that childhood sexuality which is left unfulfilled and childhood fantasies (such as sexually desiring the opposite sex parent or hating the same-sex parent) which cause guilt or fear, are all repressed and forgotten. Until they are re-earthed and dealt with, the theory suggests, the individual is trapped within that stage by their unconscious memories. The idea that most repression is of a sexual nature, and is an unconscious act, has been one of the more frequently challenged of Freud's contentions. Recently, the idea of "repressed memories" of a sexual nature has led to what some people consider a witch-hunt, and others a true renaissance: the rise of psychologists aiding patients, and women in particular, to recover memories of sexual abuse which are at the root of their problems. Some debate exists as to whether this is what Freud had in mind when he spoke of repression -- some suggest that he turned away from the reality of incest in order to pursue his ideas of repressed fantasies materializing as memories, others suggest that his very idea of repression validates the recovered memories. (This debate is covered in scores, if not hundreds, of sources. A few have been listed in the bibliography, but no one in particular deserves special notice here). It can at least be said with some certainty that the question of repressed memories of sexual abuse and incest was not the most important factor of Freud's work on repression to the good doctor himself, especially in his later years. Freud was primarily concerned with the way that repression of our own socially unacceptable urges, fantasies, wishes, and instincts became repressed and even neurotic.

Jung's Response to Freud's Repression Theories

Carl Jung, who was a contemporary and at one point a friend of Freud, is one of the few early psychoanalysts who work may very well rival Freud's. His response to Freud's theories of repression is particularly important because for so long he was a significant advocate of Freud's work in general, and his own work drew strongly from many of Freud's ideas. Where Jung differed from Freud -- and what really drove them apart both as professionals and as friends -- was in his idea about the core nature of the human subconscious. Freud tended to think of the subconscious as almost exclusively urge-based. It was primarily psychosexual, and where repression occurred the repressed material was believed to generally be of a sexual or violent nature. Urges for sex or violence dominated the subconscious as Freud saw them, particularly in the realm of dreams. Jung, on the other hand, came to believe that the subconscious far transcended the mere animal instincts, and that it was not merely sexual or merely urge based. He came to speak of the subconscious as driven by archetypes, by ancient mythologies and legends and symbols, so that dreams were not necessarily sexual in nature but might give further insight both into life and into the supernatural. Jung was something of a rational mystic, and he spoke not only of the repression of sexual and violent urges, but of the repression of entire "archetypes" within the soul that were not allowed to surface within regular reality but continued to operate within the subconscious. While repression for Freud resulted in neurosis, for Jung in resulted in the creation of multiple inner archetype-selves, (this is a slight oversimplification of Jung's theories, of course) such as the shadow, the anima and animus, and so forth. Jung differed significantly from Freud in this matter, and it was apparently an issue of great contention, as reported in Jung's autobiography:

can still recall vividly how Freud said to me, 'My dear Jung, promise me never to abandon the sexual theory.... we must make a dogma of it, an unshakable bulwark.'... In some astonishment I asked him, 'A bulwark -- against what?' To which he replied, 'Against the black tide of mud' -- and here he hesitated for a moment, then added -- 'of occultism'" (quoted in: Gannon)

Charges of occultism are understandable in light of Jung's work. He refers to the experience of the repressed subconscious self as "a daemon, a human being, or a process... Essentially, therefore, it is a mythological figure" (in: Gannon) and unlike Freud's grim sexualization of the alienated subconscious mind, Jung creates a joyous almost deific self: "a little piece of human psychology and human fate, a remnant of the joys and sorrows that have been repeated countless times in our ancestral history." (in: Gannon) At the same time, there is a degree to which Jung's work is indebted to Freud's, and related to it. The idea of the subconscious and of repression, which are the medium for Jung's mystical approach to psychoanalysis, are owing to his study and early belief in Freud.

Perhaps the differences between Jung and Freud's theories sprung for their differences in experience. Freud worked primarily with upper to middle class neurotics, many of them very bored and socially repressed women. Jung did far more work with middle to lower-class psychotics. Freud himself had sexual issues from childhood (he reported having seen his mother naked, for example) and appears to have had a cocaine addiction. Jung, on the other hand, was overcome by strange, sweeping mystic visions and spent years studying mythology across the world. It is possible that some element of their difference may have stemmed from these social and professional differences -- certainly Freud's theories seem to lend themselves to an artificially sterile social world where every little nuance is judged and in which sexual repression was something of an art form, while Jung's lend themselves to a world where the real pressures of life might push individuals into a more primitive, archetypical understanding of themselves and the world, and sex is less of a worry than sanity.

Adler's Response to Freud's Theories

Adler was another strong supporter of Freud originally. He ended up differing with Freud for many of the same reasons Jung did -- though his conclusions were considerably different, and less esoteric, than Jung's had been. As his biographers tell the story, "there had always been differences between his own views and Freud's... Freud was launching a revolution, however, and there was no room for dissent among the officers. In a dramatic and politically charged break, Adler resigned his posts in 1911, leaving Freud's circle along with a group of eight colleagues to found…

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