TO FREUD, the very act of entering into
civilized society entails the repression of various archaic, primitive
desires. As explained in Module
I, each person's psychosexual development includes the surpassing
of previous "love-objects" or "object-cathexes"
that are tied to earlier sexual phases (the
oral phase, the anal-sadistic phase, etc.); however, even well-adjusted
individuals still betray the insistent force of those earlier desires
through dreams, literature, or "Freudian slips"; hence the
term, "return of the repressed." In less well-adjusted individuals,
who remain fixated on earlier libido objects or who are driven to
two possibilities exist: 1) perversion,
in which case the individual completely accepts and pursues his or
her desire for alternative sexual objects and situations (sodomists,
sado-masochists, etc.); or 2) neurosis, in which case the same prohibited
desires may still be functioning but some repression is forcing the
"repudiated libidinal trends" to get "their way by
certain roundabout paths, though not, it is true, without taking the
objection into account by submitting to some distortions and mitigations"
(Introductory Lectures 16.350).
Rejected libidinal longings can thus manifest themselves as any number
(See the next module on neuroses.)
In other words, for Freud repression is
a normal part of human development; indeed, the analysis of dreams,
literature, jokes, and "Freudian slips" illustrates the
ways that our secret desires continue to find outlet in perfectly
well-adjusted individuals. However, when we are faced with obstacles
to satisfaction of our libido's
when we experience traumatic events, or when we remain fixated on
earlier phases of our development, the conflict between the libido
and the ego
(or between the ego
and the superego)
can lead to alternative sexual discharges.
The source of our sexual discharges is the
which seeks to cathect
(or place a charge on) first one's one bodily parts (eg. the lips
and mouth in the
oral phase) and then external objects (eg. the breast and then
the mother in the
oral phase). Freud terms this "object-libido." The libido
can also get caught up in the ego,
which leads to narcissism.
A normal part of psychosexual development (see
Module 1) is the overcoming of early childhood narcissism
(the belief, for example, that everything revolves around one's own
Both healthy dreams and unhealthy symptoms follow a similar logic
when confronted with repression. Let's take dreams as our first example.
Freud calls the dream we remember upon waking the "manifest dream";
according to Freud, the manifest dream is already a reaction-formation
that hides what he calls the "latent dream-thoughts." Repression,
which Freud sometimes calls the "dream-censor" in his discussion
of dreams, is continually re-working the latent dream-thoughts, which
are then forced to assume toned-down, distorted or even unrecognizable
forms. Freud calls this translation of latent dream-thoughts into
the manifest dream the "dream work." The two main ways that
repression re-works the primitive impulses of the latent dream-thoughts
is by way of condensation (1) or displacement (2).
1) In condensation, multiple dream-thoughts are combined and amalgamated
into a single element of the manifest dream; according to Freud,
every situation in a dream seems to be put together out of two or
more impressions or experiences. One need only think about how people
and places tend to meld into composite figures in our dreams.
2) In displacement, the affect (emotions) associated with threatening
impulses are transferred elsewhere (displaced), so that, for example,
apparently trivial elements in the manifest dream seem to cause
extraordinary distress while "what was the essence of the dream-thoughts
finds only passing and indistinct representation in the dream"
("New Introductory Lectures" 22.21).
For Freud, "Displacement is the principle means used in the
dream-distortion to which the dream-thoughts must submit
under the influence of the censorship" ("New Introductory
Some of these condensations and displacements become so ingrained
in the id (the
reservoir of inherited human knowledge) that they take on the quality
of rigid symbols,
which have similar meanings for all humans, according to Freud. These
are multiple and variousand can be found elaborated in Freud's
Interpretation of Dreams. As one example among many, Freud
writes that "in a woman's dreams [a cloak] stood for a man"
("New Introductory Lectures" 22.24).
Such symbols also find expression in literature, religion, and mythology,
so, for example, Freud writes how in the ancient marriage ceremony
of the Bedouins, the bridegroom covers the bride in a special cloak
called an 'aba' and at the same time states the following ritual words:
"Henceforth none save I shall cover thee!" ("New Introductory
The job of dream interpretation is to translate the manifest dream
back into its constituent, if buried, dream-thoughts.
The interpretation of symptoms
follows a similar path; the goal is to determine the repressed sexual
desires or traumatic events that are causing the abnormal behavior
to occur. As with the dream-work, psychological symptoms
are often condensations
(caused by repression)
of deeper, unconscious impulses or buried memories.
Proper Citation of this Page:
Felluga, Dino. "Modules on Freud: On
Repression." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory.[date of last
update, which you can find on the home
page]. Purdue U. [date you accessed the site]. <http://www.purdue.edu/guidetotheory/psychoanalysis/freud3.html>.