The End of Repression as a Psychological Defense

Modern society has very little use for repression. In fact, there is almost nothing any longer that requires repression. The one major exception is the social nature of the human being, which represents a threat to the level of consumer motivation. In this regard, one price of modernity is the way in which it interferes with affiliation and sociality needs. But rather than a situation in which the real self is doomed to conflict with an oppressing society, modernity has established a self that copes by way of impulsivity rather than institutionality. To be oneself now means that one experiments actively with oneself, rather than being held hostage to rehearsed cultural myths that define expectation and potential. Even though exposed to new forms of ontological insecurity and disability, moderns can now draw on endless alternatives as they cast and recast their identities. Any former social hints about self-renunciation have been silenced by new strategies of enculturation through entertainment and overindulgence.21 These are an extension of the wider postintellectual trend toward enculturation by banality designed to enlarge even further the perceived size of the consumer cosmos.

As impulsive consumers of possibilities, moderns do not necessarily develop any genuine individuality since they are products of standardization, derealization, and linearity. Yet they are able to navigate the open consumer expanse without conscious awareness of limitations beyond those that are monetary and technical in nature. Some of these limitations are ameliorated by new modes of cultural magic, most notably eulogized credit, that take one always closer to the satisfaction of one's full range of consumer appetites.

With social repression mostly out of the way, we have seen an eclipse of most conflicts between self and society. Instead, moderns encounter a new self-self type of conflict in which they themselves come to represent their only potential source of repression. They operate according to the motto "I owe it to myself" and engage in an inner battle in order to get the most out of themselves. Traditionally, the social roles assigned to members helped to identify the will of society and to proscribe the upper limits of self-attention and self-gratification. However, moderns no longer face threats related to infringements of society's will, but rather to threats associated with a deep fear that they might not be able to respond completely to their own will.

This has coincided with the decline of repression disorders and hysterical symptoms that were related etiologically to social sinning, and with the concomitant ascendancy of impulsivity-related symptoms that communicate the demise of temperance.

Supplanting a coordinated social strategy that regulates attention to inner impulses is a marketplace that supports itself by perpetual indoctrinations that foster a sense of personal entitlement. An important secondary process is the cultural manufacture of unwarranted self-esteem that increases the amount of entitlement the person will seriously entertain. Psychologists are gradually coming to recognize entitlement as one of the central defining characteristics of the modern psyche, and as one of the new social traits around which psychological symptoms are constructed.

Dysfunctional entitlement is now regarded as a key explanatory factor in certain types of self-absorption psychopathologies that appear to be on the increase today. This includes consumption disorders, personality disorders of the narcissistic and borderline variety, and a range of interpersonal pathologies that relate to imbalances of personal gain. Even the recent upsurgence of kleptomania in Western culture can be interpreted in relation to short-term gain strategies that are motivated by exorbitant levels of experienced entitlement. The problematic feature of this arrangement is the considerable risk of dejection, self-disappointment, and depression that arises when expectations and entitlements go unrealized, or when dedicated self-servicing does not translate into positive emotional outcomes.

Psychological defense is now under the jurisdiction of intrapsychic, rather than sociopsychic, forces. Just as life has come to be construed as a process of self-creation and self-actualization, the individual relies more and more on symbolic anxiety reducers that do not transcend the self. In former ages, the social "other" was the principal avenue by which coping was enacted. However, the new line of psychological defense for moderns are anxiety reducers that symbolically enhance the perceived capacity to achieve all that to which we are entitled as individuals. If it is still correct to speak of repression, it has to do with the renunciation of social connectedness and basic relatedness needs. For this reason, the new patterns of psychic defense prevent the modern from being fully distracted, and adequately pacified.

The chronic agitation of the modern person attests to defense mechanisms that do not engage sufficiently the essentially social requirements of psychological immunity. They are inward systems that offer little salvation from the multiplicity of stressors that accompanies contemporary life, and that particular lack explains in part the rash of internalization disorders (e.g., depression) that have appeared in recent decades. The social alienation that lies at the heart of the modern psychic defense also helps to explain the current rise of externalization disorders, which tend to revolve around flawed social communication, attachment deficiencies, and gross underdevelopment of social facilitation skills.

The problem of accessing cultural coping mechanisms makes modernity better suited to regression than to repression. As a defense, regression fosters emotional estrangement from the inner self, as well as a greater capacity for psychological bonding to primitive distracting consumer heroics. This combination has significant economic advantages but has spawned a society of easily undone members who are forced to search constantly for defenses that can perform in the absence of collective coping. The self-as-customer phenomenon, as well as the cultural fixation on youthful-ness, are manifestations of new regressive tendencies that are facilitated by economic motives.

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