Negative Consequences To Suppressing Emotions

Today’s society spends a lot of time nurturing and developing our left brain (logic) while dismissing our right brain (emotion).   The motto “I think first, then I am” is becoming the predominant way of living.  Meanwhile more and more emotions are being discredited, and its expressions labeled as “bad” “useless” or “hindering”.    Originally  we were taught to hide things which were damaging, chaotic and dangerous.  We were taught to hide them out of fear to disappoint or to lose status.

Modern psychology and spirituality agree on the negative impact/repercussion on self which arise from  burying/hiding negative behaviors.  Something to consider however, is nowhere on the spectrum of negative habits/behaviors were the expressing of emotions ever found yet we are now taught to suppress them.  Modernly, usually coaches; especially sport coaches; discredit emotions and blame them as the root for poor results.  People are taught in order to succeed or become the best at something their emotions have to be eliminated.

The current cultural and social environments point towards emotional non-expression; especially when dealing with emotions which have been stigmatized, such as anger, sadness, pain or fear.  A person who suppresses emotions no longer gives himself permission to express his anger when it surfaces (in a healthy way)– expressing emotion is needed in order to  grow and to maintain a healthy spirit.  The person then is forced to live a lie (self imposed) and most likely will have bursts of anger, becoming oversensitive and blowing up at the most inopportune times in more detrimental ways.

The emotions I previously mentioned, have been labelled and catalogued as weaknesses rather than potential, consequently there is a tendency to deny them, suppress them, camouflage them or to appease them.  None of those methods provide an actual solution, for they don’t allow us to tap into the root of the problem and to resolve it.

People tend to conform their emotional expression to socially accepted canons, which imply repressing and denying certain emotions.  As Maickael Malamed points out “…part of emotional management has to do with molds…man thinks, woman feels. Men do not cry, sadness is bad, fear is cowardice…emotions are lost on a moral issue, but MORALITY IS AN ACTION NOT A FEELING.”  We deceive ourselves into believing we are a person of great moral character (without facing our shadow), not realizing that the very idea of morality in character comes down to how you respond to adversities in your life.

More frequently people like to label themselves of good moral character or try to be like the people of good moral character without first identifying what it actually entails.  If it entails to go around denying self, becoming judge and jury of others, lying to self and others or hurting self and others, then that is not being a person of good moral character; that is putting on a mask and being politically correct. We all at some point or another have done this,  suppressing our emotions and faking new ones so  society can find us the right type of “people.”  How wrong and sad is that; you give your power away and have to live pretending to be someone else, a mold of perfect which does not exist.  As reward for compliance we get the acceptance of an already very ill society, which foundation is fake image and the enslavement of your true self.

How much nicer would it be to allow yourself to be as you are? to accept yourself, to truly be free to feel, to live openly; accepting emotions as natural expressions of ourselves which are expressing an inner reality, a need, a suppressed dream or an unhealed part of you. If more of us gave ourselves permission to be as we are; with our character flaws; we would not go around taking our frustrations out on others…our society would be a healthier one.

As human beings  it is not healthy to suspend , disconnect or eliminate emotions out of our repertoire of experiences and behaviors. Emotions are not just a “choice” on our menu, they are a fixed component of our behavioral programming.  Emotions give us direction by facilitating awareness of what our organism is experiencing, as it is an accurate and faithful expression of what is happening in our inner life.  Each of our emotions prepare us to respond to different situations.  Look at it this way: Pain tells us a wound has appeared or been reopened, fear communicates our need for security, rage lets us know someone has cross our limits, pleasure communicates to us our needs are satisfied, frustration tells us of unmet needs, sadness lest us know the value of something we lost, regret lets us know we are stuck in the past; usually an unhealthy one; denying ourselves of the joy of living in the present.  If none of these emotions are explored, they can become damaging, even toxic.

One of the most ineffective and sterile strategies is “control”, people tend to use that technique a lot whenever faced with unpleasant emotions.  Most people when feeling a negative emotion tend to want to control it, to force it to disappear, they do this because that is what society teaches them; not to feel.  That technique does not work, it only intensifies the negative emotion.  We need to remind ourselves that control is a neurotic strategy for managing emotions.  Instead of suppressing or denying a confused emotion, we need to stay with it, identify the root and help it mature to a resolution; only then can we become free of it.  There are many ways to control emotions whenever we feel too threatened by them, we can rationalize them, repress them, deny them or simply try to disconnect from them. The result of this unhealthy disciplined effort to control emotions is emotional insanity, inauthenticity, loss of contact with self and disintegration of the soul.

Emotional repression can damage our psychological and physical health.  Denying unwanted emotions will not make them disappear.  No matter how much discipline and control we use, they will simply get pushed down, and like a pressure cooker they will resurface in an explosive way or they will manifest themselves in other ways such as insomnia, addictions, lack of spontaneity, uncontrolled emotions, over dramatizing situations, compulsion in some of our actions, psychosomatic illnesses, and functional degradation of the vital sequence of our communication, perception, feeling and expression.

Emotion is energy generated by our body and by its own nature seeks to express itself.  Keeping in mind the old scientific principle that energy cannot be destroyed only transformed, so too happens with emotions when we repress them from being expressed; they can turn into physical and psychological diseases.  Keeping that in mind we need to ask ourselves if it is worth burying them.

Psychology, Tantra, NLP, meditation and other disciplines, teach us that when we repress emotions, the effect of  inhibited expression and movement is channeled inward.  Buried/unresolved emotions can manifest themselves by creating tension in the body. It ends up expressing itself through contractions and muscular rigidity, neck and back pain, headaches, gastric diseases, etc.

When seeking help to manage emotions, it is important for the professional helping, to not only listen to the patient’s life history, mental challenges/incapacities but also to pay attention to any physiological distress, as the body can tell us so much more, hidden from plain sight.

The stronger the repression of an emotion, the stronger the emotional explosion, therefore to believe we can control our emotions is simply an illusory achievement with very negative side effects.  Behind every person who seems very much in control of everything, where it seems nothing in life can affect them, lies a precarious balance. I once read the following and found it very insightful “Despite the stereotyped resources a person may learned: voice modulation, body posture, sunny aptitude, laughter, artificial gaze, facial masking gestures; the controller only achieves a transient transformation of his external behavior because sooner or later the repressed emotions emerge…”

The stronger the repression of the emotion, the more powerful and explosive will its expression be.  The repressed emotion ends up having an expression which goes beyond the normal response; as Don Colbert said  “…Trapped emotions seek resolution and expression because they must feel and express themselves. If we refuse to let them come to light the emotions will strive to push forward.  The unconscious mind has to work harder and harder to keep them under the veil that hides them.”  Let’s  keep in mind that whatever emotions we have trapped in our subconscious will ultimately come to light escaping their prison, seeking release.

The key to achieving success at managing our natural emotions is not to deny or control them; instead let’s allow ourselves to be….  You are worth being you, why then do you have to pretend to be perfect for anyone else?  You are unique in your own way, don’t try to be a copy, a replica of someone else who had different experiences than you.  Also let’s be clear, expressing your emotions doesn’t mean, if you are angry at your spouse/friend/relative/boss  go out there and take your anger on that person.  If you are angry, first feel the anger inside and let the emotion inform you of what is happening within you (not what is wrong with you because there is nothing wrong, it’s natural to feel anger) then decide how to express it in the safest and most productive way.

Releasing an energy which has been suppressed will produce an enormous flow of vitality, which will manifest itself in relaxation, creativity, satisfaction and personal empowerment.  I once heard a professor use the following 3 metaphors to describe emotions.

The first compares emotions with a well of water, contained, and without movement which is the equivalent to controlling and repressing emotions. What happens to water under those conditions? It becomes stagnant and looses its vitality.

The second compares emotions to a Tsunami, where the violence of water sweeps through everything causing death and devastation; this is the equivalent to explosive behavior where our emotions have been trapped for too long and then simply burst in very negative ways. What happens then? We become servants of our emotions, hurting ourselves and others.

The third compares emotions with a hydroelectric dam, which allows water to flow but at the same time it is channeled for productive purposes.  The last metaphor is the one we need to imprint in our minds.  It does not happen overnight, it takes work, but learning to channel our emotions can be one of the most powerful gifts we will ever give ourselves.

Remember that an emotion not expressed will reverse itself against our bodies, threatening our health; before hiding emotions give yourself the opportunity to feel them and to take advantage of them for your own benefit.  You can do so by first being honest with yourself as to what areas of life you need to focus and work on, then decide whether or not you can work and improve on those areas by making some changes in your life, style of thinking, educating yourself on the subject, implementing new techniques into your life style, etc.  If you feel you cannot do it alone then I invite you to consider seeking the help of a professional therapist/coach to help  guide you.

**By Sofia Falcone