Repression and Suppression are two very common defence mechanisms employed by humans. They are an important topic in mental health, and both are methods of coping with difficult thoughts, feelings or memories.

These two defence mechanisms are among the best-known mechanisms. These defence mechanisms are quite similar, and often cause confusion. We show the differences here.

Repression or suppression?

What is Repression?

Repression is the process where certain harmful information arises (e.g. traumas, impulses or thoughts), but the repression defence mechanism doesn’t allow said information to enter conscious awareness.

But this doesn’t get rid of the information – instead it lies deep in the mind. The feelings aren’t dealt with, but still influence a person’s behaviour. The person isn’t aware that this affects them.

An example of repression could be a person who has repressed memories of being the victim of an attack by a dog at a young age. They may grow up to have a fear of dogs, causing them to be reluctant to leave the house out of fear of seeing a dog – even though they don’t know why they have this fear.

In this example, the person would likely develop mental health problems due to the intense fear of dogs – having Anxiety and probably Depression – given the inevitable mood consequences of staying in most of the time and not participating in day-to-day life.

What is Suppression?

Suppression is a process where a person deliberately tries to force a memory, thought or feeling out of their mind. There is a strong emphasis on the “deliberately” section.

A person may have a traumatic memory from the past, but they do not try and process it. Suppression is rare, with repression the more common of these closely related mechanisms.

An example may be a person having been the victim of a traumatic event, such as witnessing a car crash. But instead of thinking about the event, they attempt to force the memory from their conscious awareness.

By doing this, they try and avoid processing it, and almost enter a state of denial about whether or not the event even happened. It is similar to denial – which is another defence mechanism.

The Key Difference

The key difference is that in repression, the person unconsciously fails to deal with traumatic feelings or thoughts, whereas in suppression, a person consciously follows this process.

So in repression, the person is not aware of what event, thought or feeling has caused them problems, but suppression involves a person actively forcing the event, thought or feeling out of their mind.

Regardless of their differences, both repression and suppression can cause distress. For some, they are part of a mental health condition. Fortunately, treatment is available!

How can therapy help?

Talking therapy can be an excellent way to assist with those facing problems caused by defence mechanisms. While not all defence mechanisms are necessarily negative, they can cause problems.

If this is the case, then a person may wish to seek therapy. A therapist will be able to assist them when it comes to their problems, and help them to come to terms with their past problems.

We have a range of articles on talking therapy. We have an article which lists the types of therapy, an FAQ’s list, and an article that provides an overview of the overall topic of talking therapy. You can see our therapy section here.


While these defence mechanisms can be useful in the short-term, they can cause long-term problems. A person may need to go to some form of talking therapy to try and identify or process these harmful feelings, thoughts or memories.

But crucially, with the right treatment, a person will normally achieve a much healthier state of wellbeing. This is always the goal – no one should have to suffer from mental health problems.

See Also


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