Repression was first introduced by Freud over a century ago. Repression is basically a defence mechanism from when a very traumatic event is experienced (e.g. sexual abuse, abduction or witnessing a death). The subconscious mind blocks unwanted thoughts or desires from the consciousness. The ego is not entirely successful at doing this, and memories may surface as slips of the tongue, or symbols in dreams: more serious mental problems may be shown because of the internal conflict caused by repression. The displacement of the traumatic event makes one feel better, at least temporarily.
Some controversy over repression is that it touches on a very sensitive topic e.g. death, abuse etc. And asking people to take part in a study who have witnessed such events may be to much for them, so there is some ethical issues.
Evidence that supports repression is William’s (1994) study of the role of repression. In between 1973 to June 1975 — 206 girls were admitted for sexual assaults. In 1994 — 20 years later, Williams studied 129 women who had been treated as a child aged 10 months to 12 years in a large city hospital. The interviews were conducted about 17 years later when all had reached adulthood. 16 women (12%) said that they had no memories of childhood sexual abuse; 38% said they did not recall the incident that brought them to the hospital. This study is often cited as proof that sexual abuse memories are often repressed, evidence for repression. Some criticisms of the experiment were: sexual abuse might have been suspected, but did not actually occur in some cases, some of the children brought to the hospital were under the age of 24 months, before the age when memories are retained; others were under the age of 36 months when memories are unreliable and frequently forgotten, the sample was biased as it mainly consisted of urban women, 86% of whom were African American and finally it was possible that the women did not want to tell the interviewers about the abuse incidents. This is evidence that may suggest William’s study may not be 100% accurate.
Studies of World War 2 veterans showed that many who experienced battlefield trauma appeared to repress the memories and then the traumas were remembered in therapy many years later: more evidence which supports repression.
Evidence that goes against repression — experimental evidence for the existence of repression is less convincing. In an extensive review, Holmes (1990) argues that laboratory studies have failed to produce clear evidence for repression, despite more than 60 years of attempts to do so. The syndrome of PSTD shows that verifiable traumatic events, rather than being repressed into the unconscious mind, leave trauma victims haunted by intrusive memories in which the victim relives the trauma. Further evidence against which several studies discovered was even peoples whom were not present at the time of the traumatic event still had memories of the event, hence being ‘false memories’ which were created from exposure to the stories of others who were there.
In conclusion I think the evidence for repression outweighs the evidence against. So I believe that when a very traumatic event is experienced it is then repressed, which is supported by William’s study and studies of WW2.