The Role of Suppression and Repression in Relationships


Commonly, when we hear the term suppressed (which means to consciously choose to ignore one’s feelings, thoughts, needs, and desires) or repressed (which means to unconsciously ignore one’s feelings, thoughts, needs, and desires) memories we think of a traumatic childhood. This would typically be a childhood that has involved some type of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. In contrast, we rarely hear people discuss suppression and repression as it relates to marriages. The reason for this is because most times we buy into the belief that as an adult that we should be capable of monitoring and managing our emotions. Therefore, as mature beings, we don’t use suppression or repression as a coping mechanism. We simply deal with our issues head on. However, this is not 100% true.

It has been my experience that women suppress their feelings/emotions/memories. Women make a mental note, but consciously choose to function as wives, mothers, daughters, etc., Women oftentimes override what it is that they feel because as «nurturers» this is what they are taught to do. They are taught at an early age to «do what they have to do» for the sake of those they love. However, men operate from a different school of thought. Men, especially Black men, are taught to disassociate themselves from their feelings completely. They are taught to believe that their feeling and/or talking about their feelings is not manly. Men, unlike women, don’t simply override their feelings/emotions/memories, but they unconsciously program themselves to believe that they don’t exist or don’t matter. So, in essence, women are told to feel (remain conscious) but to override their feelings for the greater good… the family… the spouse. Men are told not to feel (unconscious) in order to safeguard their manhood… their status.

Because, typically, women are suppressors, they remember details about an event very vividly, and in turn, they respond to it very strongly. Whereas, men may even struggle to recall the fact that an event even occurred at all.

If men aren’t taught to give themselves permission to feel, if they are told that feeling is taboo or a sign of weakness, then they may encounter the past by repressing. However, this is done so unconsciously. Repressed memories are psychological, neurological, cultural, and generational. Hence, women should be open to the idea that a man’s failure to recall is not an attempt to deceive. However, when women choose to no longer suppress their feelings/emotions/memories, men must be willing to listen, process, and respond to them. Since men have not been made aware of the repressed feelings, which women have been entertaining for some time, they will need time to process through them.

Therefore, it may be helpful if couples choose to engage in the following steps:

1- Share suppressed moments in parts… not all at once.

2- Allow time for processing (for both parties).

3- Fully acknowledge (take ownership of) feelings/emotions/memories. (The only way out of the situation is to go through.)

Dr. Shanta L. Chester