Repression prevents us from knowing the full truth about ourselves. We cannot fully heal what we cannot experience.
If you have experienced any developmental trauma in your life, it is likely that you have repressed it and are therefore not aware of it. This is understandable because people naturally tend to push painful experiences and feelings from their awareness in everyday life. Although, you may not be aware of these feelings, they are very much actively affecting your life today in a very real and powerful way.
I occasionally work with people whom I call, “the chronically single.” Often the reason why they are not in a fulfilling relationship is because they are afraid of being hurt. Naturally, all of us are to some extent concerned about being hurt by others. That’s the risk of getting emotionally close. But some people are afraid of getting hurt because they are afraid of experiencing the same pain they experienced in childhood, such as criticism, shame, or abandonment. In other words, they are afraid of being traumatized again in the same way they were traumatized as children. Therefore they distance themselves from others to avoid getting hurt again. Until these people become conscious of and understand these repressed feelings and their accompanying organizing principles, they are destined to remain stuck in a defensive state and will be too frightened to allow themselves to get emotionally close to someone else. Such individuals are controlled by their repressed fears and don’t know it.
The deepest degree of personal transformation is only possible when you can know and experience the deepest truths about yourself. This is often the problem with short-term therapies and self-help techniques. They may be helpful with the issues that you are already conscious of, but they have little or no impact upon those that remain outside your awareness. You cannot heal what you cannot experience. To change yourself in the deepest way, you must know the truth about yourself and your emotional world.
One of the most crucial jobs of a therapist is to provide a safe space or a “home for your feelings” so that you will have an opportunity to discover, articulate, and understand those painful feelings that you may have repressed. Dr. Robert Stolorow calls this process “bringing feelings into language.” Only when feelings and organizing principles that have been repressed are named, examined, and understood can the deepest type of change take place.