Repression. The unconscious suppression of psychic contents that are incompatible with the attitude of consciousness.
Repression is a process that begins in early childhood under the moral influence of the environment and continues through life. [“The Personal and the Collective Unconscious,” CW 7, par. 202.]
Repression causes what is called a systematic amnesia, where only specific memories or groups of ideas are withdrawn from recollection. In such cases a certain attitude or tendency can be detected on the part of the conscious mind, a deliberate intention to avoid even the bare possibility of recollection, for the very good reason that it would be painful or disagreeable [“Analytical Psychology and Education,” CW 17, par. 199a.]
Repression is not only a factor in the etiology of many neuroses, it also determines contents of the personal shadow, since the ego generally represses material that would disturb its peace of mind.
In the course of development following puberty, consciousness is confronted with affective tendencies, impulses, and fantasies which for a variety of reasons it is not willing or not able to assimilate. It then reacts with repression in various forms, in the effort to get rid of the troublesome intruders. The general rule is that the more negative the conscious attitude is, and the more it resists, devalues, and is afraid, the more repulsive, aggressive, and frightening is the face which the dissociated content assumes. [“The Philosophical Tree,” CW 13, par. 464.]
Many repressed contents come to the surface naturally during the analytic process. Where there are strong resistances to uncovering repressed material, Jung believed these should always be respected lest the ego be overwhelmed.
The general rule should be that the weakness of the conscious attitude is proportional to the strength of the resistance. When, therefore, there are strong resistances, the conscious rapport with the patient must be carefully watched, and – in certain cases – his conscious attitude must be supported to such a degree that, in view of later developments, one would be bound to charge oneself with the grossest inconsistency. That is inevitable, because one can never be too sure that the weak state of the patient’s conscious mind will prove equal to the subsequent assault of the unconscious. In fact, one must go on supporting his conscious (or, as Freud thinks, “repressive”) attitude until the patient can let the “repressed” contents rise up spontaneously. [“The Psychology of the Unconscious,” CW 16, par. 381.]
© from Daryl Sharp’s Jung Lexicon, reproduced with kind permission of the author.