suppress vs. repress

Discussion in 'English Only' started by francez, Jun 16, 2010.

  1. francez New Member

    The Netherlands

    Is there any difference between the word suppress and repress in the sense of "not allowing yourself to express something"?

    Some examples from Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary:
    He struggled to suppress his feelings.
    He repressed his anger.

    In this context, can these words be used interchangeably?

  2. pickarooney

    pickarooney Senior Member

    Provence, France
    English (Ireland)
    My own feeling on the difference is that if you suppress anger it may abate but if you repress it it will eventually resurface.
  3. nzfauna

    nzfauna Senior Member

    Wellington, New Zealand
    New Zealand, English
    I think they can be interchangeable. They both appear in each others' thesaurus entries.
  4. LnGwStX Member

    English, USA
    I know I'm coming late, but I wanted to chime in for posterity's sake.

    To me, suppression is conscious while repression is unconscious. A person may consciously suppress their anger as an act of self-control, but a person who represses their anger denies that they feel it, which implies that at some point the emotion will assert itself, probably in an uncontrolled way. One who suppresses his anger might take a break, count to ten, take some deep breaths, and calm himself. One who represses his anger might bury the emotion under false cheer, not addressing it at all (and later have an explosive episode, or else some sort of ill effect on his health, like heart trouble or ulcers).

    That's my take as a native speaker with an abiding interest in the topic of emotional health.
  5. elianecanspeak

    elianecanspeak Senior Member

    by Lake Michigan
    English - EEUU
    I'm sorry that I don't have good citations for the following definitions -- they are ones that I have had in my notes for a number of years. When I searched "repression" on the web they appeared so many times that I cannot credit the original author. These are technical psychological definitions.

    These distinctions are usually not made in casual speech by those not in the field.

    The involuntary exclusion of a painful or conflictual thought, impulse, or memory from awareness. This is the primary ego defense mechanism

    Usually listed as an ego defense mechanism but actually the conscious analog of repression; intentional exclusion of material from consciousness. At times, suppression may lead to subsequent repression. Examples: (1) a young man at work finds that he is letting thoughts about a date that evening interfere with his duties; he decides not to think about plans for the evening until he leaves work. (2) a student goes on vacation worried that she may be failing; she decides not to spoil her holiday by thinking of school. (3) a woman makes an embarrassing faux pas at a party; she makes an effort to forget all about it.
    [] --uncredited google document. There were many more entries spelling "listed" as "fisted".
  6. francez New Member

    The Netherlands
    Thank you for your answers. Now I understand it better. :)

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