Repression: What It Is & How To Cope With Repressed Emotions

Defense mechanisms are unconscious tools that people use to escape intensely unpleasant emotions, like anger, jealousy, guilt, and grief. Repression is one of these strategies. Although it is a normal part of human functioning and can produce desirable effects in the short term, repression typically isn’t beneficial in the long run. It can actually lead to an increase in discomfort and anxiety over a longer period of time.

Getting to know more about these unhealthy coping mechanisms is the best way to overcome them and turn to more positive strategies for overcoming psychological distress. Then you’ll also be able to spot these detrimental behaviors in other people. For example, you’ll know how to recognize repressed emotions and love avoidant signs in your romantic partner, and take steps to mend your relationship.

Keep reading to gain a deeper understanding of repressed memories and emotions and how they can affect a relationship. Find out the ways to overcome these difficulties or support your partner as they’re working through them.

What Does Repression Mean In Psychology?

What's The Difference Between Repression And Suppression

Repression is a defense mechanism in which a person distances themselves from negative thoughts and feelings by barring them from their consciousness. Essentially, it’s a psychological term for “sweeping things under the rug”. It happens without trying or realizing. 

A person may repress the memories of certain traumatic events or some upsetting feelings, so that they’re completely unaware of their existence. Unlike with sublimation, where negative and inappropriate thoughts are channeled into a positive, productive behavior, repressed thoughts and emotions stay hidden under the surface. However, although they remain concealed from the person, they can still have a powerful damaging impact on all aspects of their life, including relationships. 

What’s The Difference Between Repression And Suppression?

Repression is often mistaken for suppression and they’re sometimes used interchangeably in everyday speech. However, in psychology, these two concepts differ. Both are considered defense mechanisms, yet they work differently. While they both involve separating oneself from inappropriate and unacceptable impulses, repression works without a conscious effort while suppression is voluntary. 

Both mechanisms can be set off as a result of a traumatic event. With repression, a person who was abused as a child or had a serious car accident may have no actual recollection of these events or their memories may be blurred and altered. However, they can still have a detrimental influence on their well-being, which may manifest itself as insomnia, mood swings, depression, and other physical and psychological disturbances. If a child is bitten by a dog at an early age, for example, they could repress this situation altogether and may project these feelings of intense fear onto all dogs and other animals.

During suppression, a person tries to distance themselves from a hurtful emotion or disturbing thoughts on purpose. For example, people who experience obsessive thoughts may try to suppress these impulses deliberately to keep themselves from engaging in obsessive behaviors. Or, a person who’s ashamed of something they’ve said or done may purposely avoid thinking about it.

What Can Trigger Repressed Memories?

What Can Trigger Repressed Memories

A repressed memory may sometimes be triggered by a stimulus and cause the person to experience a range of physical and psychological difficulties. Triggers can widely vary. They can be anything that the person associated with the traumatic event from their past, including various sensations, like smells, sounds, or sights. 

The reaction to the trigger is also individual. For example, it can set off a panic attack, a violent outburst, or severe generalized anxiety. It is helpful for people to recognize their triggers and learn how to retrain themselves to gain control over them, which they can do with adequate psychological support.

How Do I Deal With an Emotionally Repressed Partner?

Emotional repression can take a toll on your romantic relationships. It can result in relationship avoidance, where you are afraid to open up and commit to your partner. If your significant other has repressed feelings, they may have trouble talking about their emotions or realizing what emotion governs their behavior at a given time. It’s hard seeing a partner suffering without being able to help them. 

Here are a few things that can be helpful:

  • Show your appreciation. People who are emotionally repressed have sometimes experienced a lack of validation from loved ones.
  • Let them know that you’re there for them. Take steps to help them feel comfortable talking to you about their traumatic experiences. The first step to encouraging them to work on healing their childhood wounds is to talk about them.
  • Assure them they’re safe. They will begin to share more once they are absolutely certain that they can trust you not to hurt them.
  • Help them seek professional support. A therapist or a relationship coach can assist them in overcoming their love avoidant behavior. 
  • Be upfront about your needs. If you need more openness and affection in your relationship, work out a way to bridge these differences so you’re both taken care of.
  • Know that their reactions are sometimes a reflection of their repression. Learn to differentiate between the results of emotional trauma and the true expressions of their personality and feelings.
  • Keep in mind that change takes time. The path toward personal growth is steep and winding, so be prepared for a bumpy ride and potential setbacks along the way.

How Do You Release Repressed Emotions?

If you believe that you have repressed emotions to work on and that they’re affecting your relationships, you can seek the help of an understanding relationship coach. During coaching sessions, you’ll acquire skills that will help you understand your feelings better, make you more comfortable expressing your feelings, and teach you how to regulate them more effectively.

Overcome Relationship Avoidance & Repressed Emotions With Reliable Coaching

Here at PIVOT, you can work through your repressed emotions, learn how to let go of them, and replace unhealthy defense strategies with more beneficial ones. We’ll help you delve deeper into how you’re used to coping with distressing thoughts and feelings and guide you toward positive change. If you’d like to learn how to actualize your potential and overcome the challenges in your relationships, you can do so under the wing of one of our pleasant and understanding coaches. Take one of our individual, couples, or family coaching opportunities or attend our useful relationship workshop to unlock your repressed emotions and lead a more rewarding and enjoyable life.

© 2021 Lori Jean Glass, LLC | PIVOT