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Difference Between Suppression and Repression

Suppression vs Repression

In psychology, there are terminologies that science students should familiarize themselves with. Oftentimes, these terminologies are so humongous that you already forget what it means and what kind of examples to give just to explain a particular word for people who are not adept with science.

These words at first must be well explained because at the middle of some concepts and lessons students will encounter these words. And for them to avoid scratching their heads, they should already be familiar with these terminologies. Two of the terminologies used in psychology and its concepts are the words “suppression” and “repression.”

To quickly differentiate the two words, “suppression” is “forgetting one’s thoughts and memories consciously.” For example, a woman was being raped by a stranger one cold night. After a few years, someone asked the woman if she had such an experience. She replied, “No,” even though there is. That is suppression. She is suppressing her bad thought consciously. Another example is when you asked someone who failed his major licensure exam. If he or she told you that they cannot remember about it, they are consciously suppressing their bad memory. Suppression of thoughts and memories are often related with bad and traumatic memories which are painful to that person.

Regarding repression, it is the concept of forgetting one’s feeling unconsciously. For example, when we were asked at what age we talked and walked, we can reply, “I do not know.” This is because we were unconscious during those times. We were still young. We are not aware that we have them or know them. Another example of repression is when a child was being abused physically, but she cannot remember a thing. However, she has difficulty relating and trusting others, thus there is difficulty in forming relationships.

Suppression and repression are categorized under defense mechanisms which people use in order for them to cope with a stimulus that can harm them. By using these two defense mechanisms, they are able to protect their image or their identity by having a choice of saying no. These two words can explain why some people choose to say no and not comment when there is an issue. It is not that they are guilty but, rather, they just want to face these questions in a different manner of defense.


1.Suppression is consciously forgetting an idea, an incident or an experience while repression is unconsciously forgetting an idea, an incident, or an experience.
2.Suppression and repression are defense mechanisms that we use at times of an incident in which we just want to forget or we do not want to talk about it.

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  1. “That is suppression. She is suppressing her bad thought unconsciously.” This line should say consciously, not unconsciously, makes the definition very confusing as it contradicts itself.

  2. Agreed with Matt’s comment. Hope it gets changed soon

  3. What if you have repression but you didn’t want to forget? Is that possible? Or is it just the brain’s defense for you, and even if you want to try to remember, your brain thinks it’s harmful to you?

    Also, I am not quite understanding suppression… Do you know it happened and just stop talking about it then eventually forget? Do you just stop talking about it so that it’s like it never happened? Do you say ‘I want to forget now’ and then eventually, you do forget?

    Thank you so much for this article!

    • I don’t know if this is at all helpful, but regarding your initial question, I absolutely think that’s possible. I’m not a clinician, so this isn’t based on scientific data, just my intuition and logic/reasoning.

      For me, I feel way uncomfortable with their use of the word “conscious.” My discomfort is largely my baggage, as it kind of feels invalidating (despite its possible empowering implications) to my own repression.

      I’ve only recovered one set of memories, which was recently, and that was enough for me to know that I do have missing history, and that there’s insanely good reasons why I repressed it so I need to respect my mind’s choice to do that and not poke around.

      Here’s what I knew about those memories before recovering them (none of this is crazy, morbid, sexual, or abusive, so no worries): I knew that I had gone to a father/son camping trip without my father at the age of 12, and excited when I found out my friend Damian was going to be there. I had little blurred images with no context of that camping trip, with no emotional feelings attached to it at all. My next memory I knew, I was 18 years old and was being told casually by my brother, “yeah, you remember after Damian died…” and I remember in that moment being shocked and horrified. Until then I literally believed we had just gone separate ways, because I had no memory of ever finding out about his death. He had died only a month or so after that camping trip it turns out (car accident), so to allow myself to cherish those memories without pain, I erased the memory of his death. But when my brother spilled the beans, I couldn’t in that moment contain it, so I erased the memories of his life. I have no memory of consciously choosing to do it, but it’s something I learned very early in life so it was probably reflexive at that point (reflexive in the way drinking is a reflex to an alcoholic, so I’m not denying the possibility of choice).

      So I revisited what I knew, and in my mind, I compulsively narrated those events over and over, and narrated what I thought my feelings were over and over, hundreds of times, thousands maybe, for 2 or 3 days straight. I pieced together most of the camping trip though I couldn’t remember Damian’s face. And then something clicked on in my brain, and I sobbed. I couldn’t stop sobbing. For the first time in 29 years of life, I grieved the death of my childhood friend. It was wonderful and painful. And then it happened… it was almost like a flashback, but it was an explosion of memories with Damian. The best memories actually! More than just that camping trip. Memories that made me laugh, some that made me cry.

      I never did get back the memories of first finding out about his death (which I’m totally okay with, as the memories of his life are what’s important), all I have is a still, blurry image of a woman. I know who it is, because I remember the voice. I have intuitive knowledge that I was telling her my favorite story of Damian, and I vividly remember her reply being, “Oh, was that that boy who died?” I don’t remember anything I was feeling, nor do I have any context or timeline, but some intuition somewhere tells me that that may have been when I was 14 or 15, 2 or 3 years after his death.

      I confirmed last week with my brother that all of these memories really are true, and they really were totally repressed/suppressed. I never felt like I ‘chose’ to do it, but the repression is so specific with pretty obvious reasoning and rationality (first forgetting his death, then forgetting him) that it’s hard to deny some level of conscious choice. My sense of it is, if there is any awareness, it’s the quietest, smallest, most ‘insignificant’ part of my awareness. It’s not an internal conversation, where I’ll say, “Hey, that was really shitty! I’m def gonna deny this ever happened.” And there’s definitely no dishonesty involved, even if someone were to ask and I replied with something that didn’t reflect reality, as there is genuinely no conscious awareness at all of the events that are repressed.

  4. Your examples of suppression may also pertain to lying or hiding facts from other people. They don’t necessarily have to do with suppression.

  5. Yes I know all about suppression

    After 42 years of marriage I lost my wife to cancer. Nearly destroyed me.

    I find an old friend from my earlier past about a year. Before I met my wife
    I have not talked to her in 43 years,
    I was the best man at her wedding and Susan was the bridesmaid
    We started dating and she got pregnant
    We were in love do the pregnancy was great
    I was in my car following her and another car was driving on the wrong side of the road and they collide head on
    She loses her life and I saw everything

    I had none of these thoughts and any memories or flashbacks for over 43 years
    Not until I lost my wife and this girl that got married 43 years earlier, she had a picture of us from her wedding

    Than when I saw the picture of both of us together, my mind began racing forward with all of these flashbacks of her that I never knew existed
    So I lose my wife of 42 years and about a month later start uncovering the facts surrounding my prior bride to be.
    I was told I suffered major trauma and as a result suppressed all memories of her in my mind, plus still had ptsd my whole life and never knew it and never dealt with it because I had no such memory of this tragedy
    And still today starting the process in search for a possible gravesite

    I was told I went incoherent for two weeks, went suicidal and from there had a death wish that I literally consumed me. Until I met my wife about a year later and she basically saved my life from myself

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