Untrue Things People Believe
This is the twentieth article addressing those things most people believe that are not true introduced in the article, "Most Of What You Believe Is Not True." To see all the articles, or any other one, please see the Index.
I've addressed the question of repression in both the Desires article and the article, Repress, Repress, Repress. Here I want to emphasize the great danger and very real harm that is caused by the completely wrong-headed idea propagated by psychologists that repression is bad.
By repression psychologists mean not doing what one has a desire to do. In their twisted story, when one has a desire they supress or ignore, one may become unaware of the desire, but it is still there in one's subconscious (or some other made-up place) and even though one is not aware of the desire any longer, the "repressed" desire still affects one's feelings and thinking, usually in an adverse way.
There is absolutely no evidence of any such view of repression. The simple fact is, if one is not aware of a desire, they do not have the desire; if one has a desire, it is their consciousness of it that is the desire.
Furthermore there is no psychological or physiological harm ever caused by suppressing or denying the urgings of any desire. The most virtuous and valuable of all human acts require some suppression of desire.
Repressing Desire Necessary
A human being cannot live without suppressing desires, because human beings have more desires than could possibly be fulfilled in a lifetime and must choose which desires to pursue. At any moment one usually has desires for things which are mutually exclusive. One cannot finish the report, get a cup of coffee, and have that talk with Jim all at the same time.
Most one's life is like a restaurant menu. One may desire everything on it, but cannot possible eat them all so must suppress their desire for all the items except the one they choose.
Repression Is Not Self-denial
Repression is frequently necessary to the achievement of what one values most. The most valuable things in life are usually the most difficult to achieve and acquire. To have them often requires one to continue working, for example, no matter how great their desire is to just take a break and rest. The choice to suppress the desire for a rest is not self-denial; it is a choice to do what one knows is in one's own best interest. In most cases, the more valuable the prize, the more lesser desires must be repressed.
The misguided idea that there is some virtue in self-denial is in fact the opposite of repression of desire. To fulfill a desire that ultimately costs one more than the desired object is worth, that is to not supress such a desire, denies oneself of what they actually valued more highly.
Suppression Of Desires Is Freedom
There is another word for repression. It is self-control. Self-control is being in rational control of ones desires and passions for one's own benefit.
There is nothing wrong with doing what one desires so long as one knows why they desire it, that it is not harmful, and that fulfilling it will not interfere with achieving what one values more. As long as one's choice is determined by their best reason, and not by what they feel or desire. One or the other must be in control of one's life and behavior, the rational mind or the irrational desires. Repression only means rational self-control, those free of repression are out-of-control.
To be free means to be able to do whatever one consciously chooses, and choice requires one know what one values, both short-term and long-term. So long as one's choices are made in terms of what they truly value, what is truly in the best interest based on their best reason, they are free. The moment one surrenders their volition to irrational desires they know neither the source or cause of, they have surrendered they have enslaved themselves to blind desire.
Indulging Desires Disastrous
By indulging desire I mean any bahavior that is based solely on what one desires or what they believe will give them pleasure. The real names for that view and behavior are hedonism and subjectivism. While psychologists do not call it that, what they mean by being free from repression is essentially subjectist-hedonism.
Every evil or self-destructive thing any human being has ever done, they first had a desire to do. Unless one is never tempted by anything, every moral individual lives by repressing desires. Anyone who has ever broken a bad habit or overcome a behavior that was harmful to themselves has done so by "repressing" desires. Far from being a limit on one's life, the repression of desires for anything that is not ethically the best, makes an individual free by freeing all the resources of his life to be used in the pursuit of his highest values and greatest joy.