Freudian Repression: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:01 Freud
  • 1:49 Definition
  • 2:13 Example
  • 3:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Chris Clause
In this lesson you will learn about repression, a psychological defense mechanism proposed by Sigmund Freud. Following this lesson you will have the opportunity to test your knowledge with a short quiz.


Famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed that humans have many thought processes occurring just below the level of consciousness, and that these subconscious thoughts have a significant impact on human development and behavior.

Freud believed that the human psyche is composed of three main processes, which he called the Id, Ego, and Superego. The Id is responsible for unconscious drives that propel us to constantly seek out pleasurable experiences and operates subconsciously. The Ego serves as a sort of check and balance that keeps our thoughts and behaviors operating within the norms of society. It would not be a good thing for us socially to act on all of our subconscious impulses. The Superego evaluates the impulses of the Id and makes decisions as to the degree of morality of those impulses; some call this back and forth between the Id and Superego our 'conscience'. This conflict can be both subconscious and conscious.

Id, Ego, and Superego
Id, Ego, Superego

The pleasure-seeking impulses of the Id conflict with the moral judgments being made by the Superego. The Ego uses a variety of strategies collectively called defense mechanisms to minimize this conflict. Defense mechanisms serve as a means of protecting our conscious thought processes and self-image from the stress-inducing impulses of the Id.

Freud developed his theory of defense mechanisms after seeing their effects brought out in therapy sessions. His patients would come to report feelings and thoughts that had seemingly been buried in their subconscious for years. Only when these impulses and thoughts were brought to conscious awareness through therapy, were his patients able to start healing.

Freud proposed that we subconsciously have access to a variety of defense mechanisms, and chose the most appropriate one depending on the situation at hand. Repression is the most widely used of all defense mechanisms according to Freud and is the focus of this lesson.


Repression refers to the ego's efforts to subconsciously keep anxious thoughts and impulses out of our awareness and keep them buried and hidden. By repressing certain thoughts and impulses, the Ego is attempting to avoid facing and dealing with them. We are usually not even aware that it is taking place. Repression can be both a protective function, keeping us within acceptable social bounds, but can also be harmful when too much of it results in psychological dysfunction.


Let's look at an example of repression to help you understand this concept a little bit better.

As we mentioned, the Id is the aspect of our psyche that is constantly seeking out pleasurable activities. According to Freud, sexual desires are a prime motivator of human thought and behavior. So let's say that you start a new job and your new co-worker is quite attractive, but married with three children. She never gives you any indication that she is romantically interested in you, nor you in her. A year passes and work seems to be going well, but you have developed a severe anxiety problem. You can't function at work like you used to. You decide to see a psychologist and try to get some help.

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