About Repression

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Repression is a time honored word for forgetting things that are unpleasant. It is considered a “defense mechanism”. I consider the term defense mechanism to be a poor term because, there are serious “holes” in this kind of defense.

When we repress a painful experience, usually by drawing our
attention away from it, we also prevent the flood of other memories that are associated with the event. Looking at this with reference to “my” model of memory as “dynamic RAM that is refreshed by accesses” explains the loss of many memories only peripherally related to the painful event.

For example, it may become difficult to recall the names
of people, places and events that happened at the same time
as the event.

For example, let’s say the traumatic event is a painful love affair and it’s dissolution. Associated with that memory, in place and time are other people, places and events. If we think about the love affair, we would normally think about these other things, too. Doing so refreshes those associated memories. If we never think about the painful love affair, it is likely we will seldom think about the associated events. We will also avoid thinking about the associated events because we are like to think about the pain too.

I have observed, in myself and others, that this creates a “hole” in memory, where it is diffucult to remember even the names people who were good friends.

This creates a strong argument in favor of reviewing even painful events. There is a trade off. I leave you with this question: How can we limit the painful memories so that the other pleasant and useful ones are preserved.

I would be pleased if readers would comment on this. I will write more about it after I have heard from you.


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