It is only human to want to avoid painful emotions. Hiding or suppressing our emotions is a common coping mechanism for dealing with difficult issues in our lives. Pushing our emotions down may seem like a smart approach to avoid confrontation or pain, but it can damage our mental and physical health.
Emotional suppression is the act of consciously or unconsciously blocking, repressing, or ignoring one's emotions.
Emotional suppression can be a coping mechanism for dealing with difficult situations, or it can be a learned behavior from past experiences.
Hiding your feelings on a regular basis can have negative consequences for your mental and physical health.
Crying is a normal and healthy way to express emotions, release pent-up emotions, reduce stress, and improve overall mood.
Expressing your feelings improves emotional regulation and coping skills. It can also lead to better communication with others and improve relationships.
Why do we suppress our feelings?
Emotional suppression can begin in childhood due to a variety of factors, including parenting style, family environment, and life experiences.
The following are some reasons and examples for feeling suppression:
- Children who grow up in environments where expressing emotions is frowned upon (“big boys don't cry”) may learn that feelings are a shameful thing and should not be expressed.
- Children may also learn to push down their feelings if they are exposed to role models who suppress their emotions.
- Children who have experienced traumatic events may suppress their emotions as a coping mechanism to avoid reliving traumatic memories.
Commonly suppressed emotions
Expressing one's feelings can put a person in a confrontational situation or make them feel vulnerable. For many people, it is easier to shut down and avoid dealing with conflict.
People most commonly suppress the following emotions:
- Anger. One of the most common emotions to be repressed, as it is often seen as socially unacceptable to express anger, and people may suppress it as a way of avoiding conflict or potential negative consequences.
- Sadness and grief. People may suppress these emotions because they find them difficult to deal with.
- Fear. It is often repressed due to a reluctance to confront our fears.
- Guilt. People might feel guilty for something they did or didn't do and not want to acknowledge it.
Recognizing suppressed feelings
People who suppress their feelings often struggle to put a name to what they're feeling or to make sense of it. Not being able to talk about how you feel makes it hard to communicate, but it also makes it harder to figure out what parts of your life aren't meeting your needs.
Here are some signs that may indicate you have repressed emotions:
- People tell you that you are emotionally detached.
- You experience a lot of nervousness and anxiety.
- You avoid people when they tell you they express their hurt or sadness.
- You find it difficult to say “no” or set boundaries, which might be an indicator of repressed anger and resentment.
- You become volatile and have emotional outbursts, such as crying or getting angry, that appear out of proportion to the situation.
- You experience physical symptoms such as tension headaches, muscle aches, fatigue, and sleep disturbances.
- You have difficulty sustaining intimate relationships.
- You engage in self-destructive behavior such as substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, or other harmful coping mechanisms.
- You hate being alone with your thoughts.
Repressing emotions is not always bad. In certain situations, it can be a healthy coping mechanism. For example, repressing emotions can help them stay calm and think clearly when someone is in a dangerous or potentially harmful situation. In some cultures, expressing certain emotions may be considered taboo, so repressing them may be necessary to maintain social harmony.
What is catharsis?
Catharsis is often used in therapy to help clients release and express pent-up emotions. Catharsis is derived from the Greek word for purification or cleaning. The concept underlying catharsis is that people feel relief and emotional release by releasing and expressing emotions.
Catharsis can take many forms, and different methods may be more effective for different people. Crying, screaming, hitting a pillow, or writing in a journal are all examples of cathartic techniques. The goal is to find a healthy way to express emotions and to release pent-up feelings that may be causing distress.
Catharsis is not a one-time event, and it's not a magic solution to emotional problems. It's a process that takes time and practice.
Is it healthy to cry?
Yes, crying is a normal and healthy way to show how you feel, and it can also be good for your mental and physical health. Crying brings us closer to people, allowing us to feel more empathy and receive more support from those around us. In addition, crying can help release pent-up emotions, reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, and improve your overall mood.
Crying releases the stress hormone cortisol and the mood-regulating hormone oxytocin. It also helps to reduce feelings of sadness, anger, and frustration.
Some people find it very difficult to cry, but this doesn't mean that they are not capable of feeling emotions. Furthermore, crying is not the only way to express emotions; other methods like talking, writing, art, or exercise can also be effective.
What stops us from crying?
There can be several reasons why someone might be afraid to cry:
- Socialization. Some people may have been taught growing up that crying is a sign of weakness or unacceptable for their gender.
- Past trauma. Someone who has experienced traumatic events may associate crying with that trauma and may avoid crying to prevent reliving those memories.
- Fear of vulnerability. Crying can make someone feel vulnerable and exposed, and they may be afraid of being judged or rejected by others.
- Fear of loss of control. Crying can be an intense emotional experience, and some people may be afraid of losing control if they cry.
Healthy ways to express your emotions:
- Talk to someone. Share your feelings with someone you trust and who will listen to you non-judgmentally.
- Write about your emotions. Journaling is a great way to express your emotions and gain a better understanding of them.
- Engage in creative outlets. Art, dance, music, and writing are all great ways to express emotions in a nonverbal way.
- Exercise. Physical activity is a great way to release pent-up emotions and can help improve your mood.
- Practice mindfulness. Deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help you stay present in the moment and manage your emotions more effectively.
- Seek professional help. Consider speaking with a therapist or counselor who can help you understand and process your emotions in a healthy way.
- Practice self-compassion. When feeling emotional, treat yourself with kindness and understanding.
- Embrace your emotions. Ask yourself regularly, “What am I feeling now?" Allow yourself to fully experience and feel the emotion without judgment.
Expressing your emotions can lead to personal growth and self-awareness. By acknowledging and expressing emotions, you can better understand yourself and your needs. Expressions of emotion can be verbal or nonverbal, through art, music, writing, or physical activity, and they can be done alone or with other people. Find the ways that work best for you, and remember that it can take time and practice to reveal your emotions healthily.
- International Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research. Consequences of Repression of Emotion: Physical Health, Mental Health and General Well Being.
- Frontiers in Psychology. Is crying a self soothing behavior?
- APA Psychnet. A study of catharsis of aggression.