Where are you on the Repressor Versus Sensitiser Scale?

Quite a lot of research took place in the sixties on anxiety disorders and one theory was that anxiety sufferers reacted with two main defensive styles: Repressive versus Sensitiser (this was known As the RS Scale). This article explores those styles.


Repressives avoid acknowledging that something is happening in order to protect against the emotional effects of a threatening situation. They practice selective inattention (denial). In some cases, a person may use a lot of positive self-talk and 'hope' in difficult circumstances in order to deny what is really going on in their lives.

At an Unconscious Level they are reacting and building up Emotional tension but on a Conscious level they are not aware of this going on. They are not wishing to listen to the emotional messages coming up from their Unconscious and may have a very good reason for behaving this way – for example if they pay attention it may mean the end of an important relationship


Sensitisers do the opposite to Repressives – they adopt a more paranoid approach and react to everything as quickly as possible with the intention of minimizing the affected issue before it can really take

In both cases, the people concerned are trying to avoid the development of their own negative feelings in terms of a looming situation. ] Most of us can identify with having adopted versions of these two behaviors at different times to 'keep the peace' or prevent a situation from getting out of hand but the researchers tell us that some folks adopt one of These two approaches are their default way of dealing with life.

As a short-term strategy, either method is fine (in my view) but what if the external issue keeps recurring?

Both approaches are based on the belief that the ultimate threat would be something we could not cope with.

Sample Scenario: John Loves Emily and the Children But Emily does not love John

Eighteen months in their marriage and Emily gives birth to their first child. Up to the point she was pregnant Emily was an apparently loving, caring partner who thought the world of John. Once she became pregnant, however, Emily became cold and uncommunicative.

During her pregnancy, John recalled that this was simply a side effect of being pregnant – he had tried to offer his support through this tough time but Emily dismissed His relationship with Emily still feels cold and John is wondering if this is it and he asks Emily what has gone wrong.

Baby is now nine months old – the relationship with Emily still feels cool and John is wondering if 'this is it' He is getting very emotional.

Emily tells John she wants another baby. This will make her feel differently towards him. John replies he did not realize there was a problem and Emily states it just goes to show how unobservant and self-centered he is.

John tells Emily he would like to concentrate on the quality of life for their current child Rather than simply being a child-producing system and Emily tells him she wants six children and if she can not bring her to make her happy by doing this she will be of no use to her and can leave so she can find a man who will; She storms off.

John reason that Emily must care about him really because women do not have babies with men they do not love, do they? He also thinks about how he will fail to cope with leaving his current child, with the shame of having another man raising his child and how easily Emily could meet another man and disappear from his life, taking his child with her forever. He immediately has an image of his committing suicide because of all this loss. He decides to agree to have another baby with Emily.

Again, until the pregnancy, Emily is the perfect partner.

When her first child, a daughter, reaches three John begins to worry about her behavior – she has a habit of running headlong into things and injuring herself . Emily dismisses all of his concerns telling him he does not know the first thing about children and he should keep his nose out.

John feels completely disrespected by her responses. When he makes it clear he does not like the way he is treated Emily explodes in rage at him and tells him he can leave if he does not like the way things are

This happens several times and on one Occasion John also gets really angry and feels himself losing control. As Emily comes to him in spitting fury mode she says something really hurtful and he slaps her.

Immediately John falls into shocked remorse. His reaction shocks him so much he will never do that again. He begs Emily to forgive him and promises he will never do it again.

Now he starts trying to eliminate the possibility of another confrontation like that happening by constantly monitoring and eliminating potential areas where his daughter could hurt himself.

Emily criticizes him for this, telling him to let her daughter, and John accepts her criticisms – he's really too jumpy.

Meanwhile, Emily wants a third baby. John starts to really notice the cycle – she likes him until pregnancy and then goes cold again. He agrees to another baby for a penny, right?

One day John reads a newspaper story about a child being injured in a certain way and he imagines his own child being hurt that way and then finds he can not Stop thinking about it. He would never forgive himself if that happened to his daughter. He criticizes himself for being over-reactive but keeps it to himself so Emily does not, likewise, criticize him.

The images of his daughter being hurt keep flashing in his mind.

His own self-criticism he can live with but her doing it has more power. John has just developed an obsession.

The fourth child arrives and now John sees the like-John-dislike-John cycle in Emily so clearly he can not be able to get the pictures of hurtful things happening to her out of his head. No longer hide from it.

A year later, when Emily does her baby routine again, John decides to test the theory and refuses to have baby number five. Emily does not dump him immediately but she does go cold on him. The coldness goes on and on and John notices Emily getting happier and happier – with other people who she goes out with more and more.

First child is now fifteen years old and John asks Emily straight what the 'big plan 'Is. John tells Emily he believes she sees him as nothing but a sperm donor and if he walked out tomorrow she would not bat an eyelid.

Emily comes clean and without any sense of guilt tells him he is absolutely right. When John asks how she sees the next steps in regards to the family she tells him now that the cat is out of the bag she wants him to see other women and wants him to stay in the house just for the sake of the children – she has

What John Always Knew

At some level John knew he was pretending real-life events, and the way he was being treated, were not real.

This is a repression at work.

In a bid to remove the potential threat of A future confrontation with Emily that could also lead to the ending of the relationship with both Emily and his children, and next he tries to take preventative measures by following his daughter around – here he is also acting as a sensitiser.

This Gets so bad it triggers an obsession.

What John Knows Now

John has an obsession to get rid of the possible loss of a family . What he now realizes was that he was always powerless to change the path of the relationship. It was always going to end up this way.

But he also knows he can survive the worst case scenario – in fact the worst case scenario is not as bad as the long, drawn out experience he has had.

Quite often in emotional illness we make the mistake of preferring a permanent, lower level painful experience to a short-term, intensely painful version that would eventually pass.

We remain stuck in situations, repressing And becoming increasingly sensitive to them, until we face up to the genuine fact that we can cope with pretty much anything when we need it and we know it all along

Have you had experience of repressing and sensitizing in this way ?

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