According to the Study of Adult Development by Psychiatrist George Vaillant: “Of all the coping mechanisms – suppression alters the world the least and best accepts the terms life offers“.George Vaillant
The very word “suppression” in a positive context would, I imagine, send a shiver down the spine of many therapists and psychologists but it is indeed the very thing that allows you to sit and read this blog: you are suppressing the fact that one day you will die. We all suppress that very fact every single day of our lives. Otherwise, of course, you would see people running through the streets screaming “I’m going to die one day!” would we not?
George Vaillant continues “Contrary to what many psychologists would have you believe, simply suppressing a traumatic experience and getting on with business is the defensive style most closely associated with successful adaptation“.
I was impressed by this, possibly because my own ethos and that of the Solution Focused Practice that I work to: focusing on coping strategies as a first step. This could be miscontrued as a distinct lack of interest in talking about a client’s past trauma and this really is not the case. In keeping with any Solution Focused Practitioner – I just want to ensure that I don’t analyse or hold theories about what that past trauma means for the future, but instead focus on seeing clients as survivors not victims.
I am a fan of “client-owned suppression” no matter how unpopular that view might be. Suppression allows us to live another day. Suppression works, in fact until the turn of the 20th century, most people suppressed just about everything and if Freud hadn’t fathered pyscho-analysis (or should I say “step-fathered “because of course he was not the first, that was perhaps Johann Friedrich Herbart in the late 18th Century) we might still consider suppression to be the natural state. Suppression is not the same, of course, as “repression” which is an unconscious act or something forced upon us. If an individual decides that s/he will benefit from expressing the trauma or troubles they are encountering, have encountered, might encounter – then that is the healthiest thing for them – but it must always be the individual’s decision, not that of any person designated to help them.
Suppression is what we are doing every day and unless a particular word, or face or place brings the feeling that we are actually suppressing to the fore, we can continue to suppress and compartmentalise experiences and, for some, eventually forget them.