January 17, 1991
I'm going to give my psychoanalyst one more year, then I'm going to Lourdes.
When I was an adolescent, I couldn't understand how anyone could live in a nudist colony; it would be embarrassing. It seemed to me that I would be sexually aroused a good part of the time and that my arousal would be obvious to everyone.
After a while I found out that it was possible to control my feelings, saving them for an appropriate time. Just as hunger and other natural functions could be controlled to a great extent, so could sexual feelings. If I hadn't learned to repress my feelings I could never have learned to dance. I should explain that in my day dancing was described as "a vertical interpretation of a horizontal desire."
When Freud developed psychoanalysis, he found that sexual repression was the basis of most emotional problems. The emphasis was on the problems because the only people who underwent psychoanalysis were people with problems. So-called normal people just didn't have their heads shrunk.
Every normal human being learns to repress feelings in conformity with the mores of his culture. Thus the nudist isn't sexually aroused at the sight of a naked body because he doesn't allow himself to be; he represses it. The same naked people, seen through binoculars from a hilltop, might be very erotic to the viewer; or is it spelled voyeur.
The repression soon becomes so complete and natural, that a person isn't aware that he has repressed something. One of the purposes of psychoanalysis is to bring repressed thoughts out into the open so that they can be examined.
Not repressing things can cause worse problems than repressing them. Not repressing a good part of a person's anger can lead to murder. A good deal of what we call civilization is the repression of things that come naturally. Unrepressed sexual feelings can get you put in jail or killed, as can unrepressed other feelings. They can also hurt people you love and really don't want to hurt.
There is no human culture that doesn't require the repression of feelings as part of the process of acculturation. What is repressed, however, can be different in different cultures. What is considered indecent is different in Muslim and Christian cultures. Even in our culture, what was considered decent clothes on a beach in my mother's day is very different from what is considered decent today. It must be quite a shock to a person going from Saudi Arabia to a beach in Monaco. I imagine that it takes a lot less time for a person to make the transition to a new culture than it did for me to adjust during my adolescence.
Sexual feelings toward one's parents and children are usually completely repressed. Someone reading this column is sure to say "He's crazy; I know that I have never had such feelings in my life." Well, Freud got into the doghouse with most of the world for saying that such feelings were universal. He's still in the doghouse. If I'm in the same doghouse for saying it, I'm in good company.
There's no reason for most people to look at their repressions. Not only do they cause no problems, but they prevent a lot of problems. The old adages, where you don't itch, don't scratch, and if it isn't broken, don't fix it, applies to the mind. People who have undergone psychoanalysis usually go back to living the way that they did before, repressions and all. What they have learned to do is to look at themselves, so that when their old problems sneaks up on them, they can look at them and smile.
What you don't know can hurt you. It usually doesn't, but when it does, a good look inside can be a great help. Understanding doesn't make a problem go away, but it makes dealing with it a hellofalot easier.
Return to the Psychology Home Page
Return to Ira's Home Page