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Suppression

SUPPRESSION

Suppression is a defense mechanism aimed specifically at affect, which intends to abolish it from consciousness without allowing its re-entry into the unconscious.

The term "suppression" in its broadest sense was used by Sigmund Freud (1900a) to describe a conscious mechanism intended to eliminate undesirable psychical content from consciousness. The difference between suppression and repression (1915d) lies in the fact that this latter defense mechanism is unconscious and under its influence repressed content becomes or remains unconscious. Repression is concerned essentially with the "ideational representatives" of the drive/instinct, which are distinct in that they may remain unconscious. In Freud's early theorizing of affects, though, affects are suppressed and do not pass into the unconscious.

Throughout the metapsychology, however, this distinction between suppression and repression is not quite so clear-cut: "We know, too, that to suppress the development of affect is the true aim of repression and that its work is incomplete if this aim is not achieved" (1915e, p. 178). In this passage from "The Unconscious," the suppression of affect appears as a specific mode of repression destined to eradicate affect from consciousness. Moreover, in the same essay, Freud devotes a chapter to "unconscious feelings" in which affects begin to find a definite position within the unconscious.

This notion of "unconscious feelings" was progressively elaborated on, and in "The Ego and The Id" (1923b), Freud wrote: where feelings are concerned "the Pcs. here drops outand feelings are either conscious or unconscious" (1923b, p. 23). With the introduction of the second topography the affects described by Freud typically become complexes. An unconscious sense of guilt, anxiety as signal, grief, sorrow, etc., are all affects that are articulated through various fantasies, notably around the loss of the object. The signal of anxiety that the threat of the loss of the mother represents for the child is the paradigmatic example of this new conception of affects associated intimately with fantasies (from Freud's second theory of anxiety). Since affect and representation are thus considered to be closely imbricated with fantasies, the defense mechanisms relating to affects are not differentiated in any specific way, and as a result the affects themselves are also likely to become unconscious.

Melanie Klein, who had adopted Freud's second theory of anxiety from the outset, considered affects subject to the same defensive vicissitudes as fantasies. Anxiety, however, very quickly became central to her technique; thus interpretation, for example, inevitably has a bearing on the fantasies of the subject in analysis, when anxiety is at its height. As her theoretical system developed, affects would progressively come to occupy a crucial site in the functioning of mental life (1948). In a conception bound up with the "positions" of the two general modes of organization of psychic life, the type of anxiety, either paranoid or depressive, constitutes a key concept beside the modality of the object, whether partial or total, and alongside mechanisms of defense, whether psychotic or neurotic.

The type of defense mechanism to which the ego might have recourse is dependent on the intensity of depressive anxieties, revealed through the fantasies that manifest them. When they are too intensein sorrow, but in guilt above allthey are expressed in fantasies involving the catastrophic destruction of objects. The ego will have to mobilize extreme and even psychotic defense mechanisms. Between these, massive disavowal will attack, very specifically, these depressive affects in order to annihilate and erase them; however, other psychotic defense mechanisms such as splitting, projective identification, or projection also contribute to their eradication. Furthermore, their action will give rise to other affects, notably persecution anxiety. Where depressive anxieties are not too extreme, and in instances where considerable fantasies of injury, of death (and thus of the loss of objects) prevail, more or less intense disavowal permits the alleviation or even the transformation of these anxieties, with the help of obsessive defenses, into their oppositeeuphoria. Where depressive anxieties are limited and where fantasies of the loss of the love object and exclusion predominate, the depressive conflictual situation opens up the way to the neurotic problematic and the conflictual affects are repressed.

When the repression of affects, the neurotic defense mechanism par excellence, becomes more extensive, its effect seems closer to that of disavowal. The analysis of severe neurotic disorders with serious depressive conflicts reveals the interchange between these two defensive modes in the treatment of the conflictual affects: repression and disavowal. When the repression of conflictual affects is too forceful, the intense pressure on the repressed content towards the internal world of the individual seems to transform those aspects of the external world that arouse or recall these affects into denial.

Alain de Mijolla

See also: Repression.

Bibliography

Freud, Sigmund. (1915e). The unconscious. SE, 14: 159-204.

. (1923b). The ego and the id. SE, 19: 1-66.

Further Reading

Werman, D.S. (1983). Suppression as a defense. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 31(S), 405-415.

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suppression

suppression (sŭ-presh-ŏn) n.
1. the cessation or complete inhibition of any physiological activity.

2. (in psychology) a defence mechanism by which a person consciously and deliberately ignores an idea that is subjectively unpleasant.

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suppression

suppression See SUPPRESSOR MUTATION.

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suppression

suppression See SUPPRESSOR MUTATION.

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