Posted by: chrismaser | November 12, 2010

COPING MECHANISMS: REPRESSION

Repression can be thought of as a one-way, spring-loaded valve into the unconscious. Any thought or emotion causing us anxiety passes through this one-way valve, building tension in the coiled spring as it does so. Once trapped in the unconscious, neither the thought nor the emotion is allowed to reappear in our awareness.

It might be expressed as follows: John really wanted to slug his brother for having made fun of him in front of Alice, but that wasn’t acceptable behavior at the party. So he tamped down his anger, put a lid on it, as it were, and left the room. In other words, he repressed his feelings. Without a release, however, energy continually builds in the spring over time, because repression allows no acceptable “safety valve” for growing tension. How does this translate into an agency?

I’ve always believed—and still believe—that if I disagree with how an agency is being run, and I am unwilling to compromise my integrity, I have an obligation to voice my feelings, but inside the agency first and then, if necessary, outside. I believed it is my duty to speak while I was still employed and vulnerable, and if necessary, to lay my job on the line for what I believed in.

That’s the rule I lived by for the twelve or so years I was in the Bureau of Land Management and the year I was in Environmental Protection Agency, and it got me into “hot water” more than once. But I felt that I had a moral and ethical commitment to myself and to the folks in the agency to let them know where I stood at all times. I deserved that, and so did they. After all, integrity is a gift one can only give oneself, but simultaneously owes to others. In the words of Thomas Paine, I resigned because, “Character is much easier kept then recovered.”

From what I’ve seen, however, most people seldom express their true feelings. They repress their feelings until they build to unhealthy proportions, all too often carrying an incredible bitterness within them to their graves.

Repressed feelings take their toll in government employees, many of whom drink and eat too much, have high blood pressure and heart attacks, miss days of work due to malingering illness or chronic, low-level burnout. Many a government employee is dissatisfied, unfulfilled, unappreciated, and ends up capitulating to the machine while putting in the required time until retirement. This is a terrible squandering of human potential, dignity, and life’s essence.

Yet I do not agree with agency employees who cope with the machine by repressing how they truly feel while reaping the benefits of medical insurance, paid vacations, perceived security, and so on, for twenty or more years and then, on retirement, let all the repressed bitterness boil out by publicly attacking the agency for which they worked and whose benefits they willingly accepted.

In addition to repressing personal feelings, someone in the chain of command often represses, omits, quashes, or conveniently “loses” information for a variety of reasons. Once, while I was in Washington, D.C., on detail with Bureau of Land Management, I heard some of the director’s staff talking about “protecting” him from things they didn’t think he would want to hear about or know. Here, was the dog’s tail deciding what information the head needed.

Well, as it so happened, I met this particular director a year after he was out of office, and I told him that I’d tried in vain to reach him while he was still the director of the Bureau to tell him about an impending crisis and how it could be defused, but that I could never get through his layers of protection. “I sure wish you’d been able to reach me,” he said. “You’d have saved me a lot of grief. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t allow myself to become so isolated and inaccessible.”


 

Series on Resistance to Change:

• Our Institutionalized Resistance To Change

• My Introduction To An Agency

• The Inception Of An Agency

• Stages In The Cycle Of An Agency

• When Dysfunction/Malfunction Creeps In

• Homeostatic Defense

• Coping Mechanisms

• Coping Mechanisms: Anger And Aggression

• Coping Mechanisms: Appraisal

• Coping Mechanisms: Defensiveness

• Coping Mechanisms: Denial

• Coping Mechanisms: Displacement

• Coping Mechanisms: Filters

• Coping Mechanisms: Projection

• Coping Mechanisms: Rationalization

• Coping Mechanisms: Resistance

• Breaking The Dysfunctional Cycle

• From Where I Stand
 


Text © by Chris Maser 2010. All rights reserved.

Protected by Copyscape Web Copyright Protection


This article is excerpted from my 1994 book, Sustainable Forestry: Philosophy, Science, and Economics. St. Lucie Press, Boca Raton, FL. 373 pp. It is updated in my 2012 book, Decision Making For A Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit my website.

If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.



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