Study Guide

The Interpretation of Dreams Repression

By Sigmund Freud

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"Repression" is one of the many terms from Freud's vocabulary that has made its way into pop culture and everyday speech. But it's also a term that is sometimes misunderstood.

Throughout The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud uses a few different metaphors to describe both the unconscious and the location of "repressed" thoughts. Some of these metaphors suggest that repression is like "pushing down" or "burying" the thoughts that we find too upsetting to deal with. But for Freud, repression doesn't actually work that way. In his kinda-sorta neurological theory of mental energies, attachments, and drives, repression happens when certain thoughts are "left to themselves," unacknowledged by preconscious or conscious thought.

Basically, it's more like a repressed memory is one you just sort of forgot about. But that doesn't mean it's gone—it's just waiting to come back… in your dreams.

Questions About Repression

  1. According to Freud, what kinds of impressions, wishes, and thoughts are most likely to be repressed? Why is this the case?
  2. In Freud's view, what kinds of repressed wishes, impressions, and thoughts are most likely to make their ways into our dreams?
  3. If repressed thoughts, impressions, and wishes are inaccessible to preconscious and conscious thought, how exactly do they come to shape our dreams?

Chew on This

Throughout The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud's use of spatial metaphors to describe unconscious and "repressed" thoughts is misleading. These metaphors reveal Freud's literary sensibility more than they explain his actual theory of psychical processes.

One of the most striking and original points in Freud's theory of repression is the relationship between childhood and adult wishes and drives. By arguing that our adult selves will repress the socially unacceptable wishes and desires of our childhoods, Freud presents an intriguing picture of how social conditioning influences our psychological development.

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