Repression: a mistaken impression?

Dev Psychopathol. Fall 1998;10(4):781-92. doi: 10.1017/s0954579498001862.


How do clinical observations of repression square with experimental evidence suggesting that emotionally arousing memories are especially enduring? This discrepancy can be understood by examining three kinds of memory distortions that give the impression in a clinical context, of repression. Potentially traumatic events such as childhood sexual abuse (CSA) may be subject to ordinary forgetting. Recent research suggests people who fail to understand the sexual nature of CSA report that they remember it less well. In other words, the event occurred and it was forgotten, but not "repressed." In addition, people may be wrong about experiencing a period of forgetting, i.e. the event occurred but was never forgotten. Finally, people may believe that a particular traumatic event occurred and was repressed when, in fact, it did not happen in the first place. Under certain circumstances, some combination of these distortions could lead to situations that are mistakenly interpreted as repression.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Perceptual Distortion
  • Repression, Psychology*
  • Wounds and Injuries / psychology*