Difference Between Oppression and Repression

Key Difference – Oppression vs Repression

Oppression and repression are two words that are often confused by many people although there is a difference between the two. Let us first define the two words. Oppression refers to harsh and unfair treatment. This can take place when one social group oppresses another group. On the other hand, Repression refers to the act of bringing under control by force. It can further be described as holding back or suppressing one’s thoughts. This is the key difference between these two words. Through this article let us examine this difference between oppression and repression further.

What is Oppression?

Oppression refers to harsh and unfair treatment by one group in the society to another. If you observe the society today, you will notice that while some oppress others, some become oppressed. This can be due to various reasons, for example, people are oppressed because of the color of their skin, or  their sexual orientation, or their gender. This highlights that in oppression there is a clear power play between the oppressor and the oppressed.

Let us take an example feminists consider that women are oppressed due to various social mechanisms. Some consider that all forms of oppression are a result of the patriarchy in the society. Whether it is at home, at work or even on the streets women get oppressed. This can be further explained through work. In some countries, women are paid less than men and are not give opportunities for professional growth (glass ceiling concept). This is a one form of oppression that women face in the industrial setting. However, women are not the only group that is oppressed in the society. Transsexuals also face various forms of oppression as well.

Difference Between Oppression and Repression

What is Repression?

Repression refers to the act of bringing under control by force. Here the individual suppresses his or her thoughts or feelings. In psychology, repression is considered as a defense mechanism that reduces the anxiety that the person feels. Through repression, the individual can suppress an unwanted or undesirable emotion or thought. Let us take an example. A person goes through a very traumatic experience such as an accident. When inquired of the accident as to what exactly happened, he is unable to recall certain parts of the event. This is a result of repression. When an experience is too painful to remember the individual unconsciously suppresses it.

As you can see, there is a clear difference between oppression and repression. Oppression is mostly directed at another person, but repression is not. It is directed at one’s thoughts and emotions. In this sense repression solely involved the individual, no outsiders. In oppression however outsiders or a powerful social group is clearly involved. This difference between oppression and repression can be summarized as follows.

 Ket Difference - Oppression vs Repression

What is the Difference Between Oppression and Repression?

Definitions of Oppression and Repression:

Oppression: Oppression can be defined as harsh and unfair treatment.

Repression: Repression refers to the act of bringing under control by force or the act of suppressing one’s thoughts or feelings.

Characteristics of Oppression and Repression:


Oppression: Oppression is a social phenomenon.

Repression: Repression is a psychological phenomenon.

Parties involved:

Oppression: Oppression involves particular social groups such as women, elderly people, people of color, etc.

Repression: Repression involves any individual who is suppressing his or her feelings.


Oppression: Oppression is directed towards another.

Repression: Repression is self-directed.

Image Courtesy:
1. “WomanFactory1940s” by Howard R. Hollem [Public Domain] via Commons
2. Repression sect278a austria By Onsemeliot (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons