5 Costs of suppressing emotions, and steps to release them

Emotions are our body’s way of getting us to take action. On a very primal level, our bodies are trying to keep us safe at all times.  Reacting to, and processing an emotion can protect us from physical and mental dangers. This is why suppressing emotions, which is an emotion regulation strategy many people use, confuses and hurts the body.

With the number of distractions we have available at hand, like Netflix, social media, alcohol and food, its easy and convenient to avoid emotions instead of facing them. Our near and dear ones also often advise us to not be so sensitive, and to be strong and move on. These distractions and invalidating messages we receive from people together make us push away our feelings.

An experiment
A “thought suppression and its effectiveness” experiment was conducted by psychology professors at Harvard University and Rice University in the 1980s. They asked a group of people to avoid thinking of a white bear for 5 minutes, and every time they thought of one they were told to ring a bell. The other group was told to think about anything, including thoughts of white bear. The group that was asked to suppress the thought of a white bear ended up having more thoughts about it than the other group. The same applies to emotions. When we suppress emotions, they get intensified.

When emotional suppression is used from time to time, it doesn’t have dramatic negative consequences, however if we try to push emotions away all the time, it can lead to serious issues later on.

The costs of emotional suppression 
It has been suggested that when it comes to emotions, people have the tendency to be either expressive (externalisers) or inexpressive (internalisers). Internalising emotions can have grave consequences –

  1. Intensified emotions and poor health – As per a study, suppressed emotions must be released in other ways. Internalisers were found to be have more body and health related reactions to emotional stimuli than externalisers. Illness and disease is increased by continued emotional suppression, especially in the case of aggressive emotions like anger, which can lead to digestive issues, hypertension and coronary artery disease. It also impairs memory.
  2. Sleep disturbances– When we lie down to sleep at night, all our unprocessed thoughts and emotions resurface. Our brain gets busy trying to work out the details of the problem and how to solve it, and we end up tossing and turning in bed, and not sleeping.
  3. Emotional numbness – As we suppress negative emotions, we not only intensify them, but also reduce our ability to feel positive emotions like joy, hope and enthusiasm. We have mental fatigue from trying to manage the emotions we haven’t released, which leaves little energy for enjoying the simple pleasures of life.
  4. Limiting beliefs – Suppressed emotions seep from our conscious mind into our subconscious mind. This leads to negative belief patterns about our lives and ourselves.
  5. Social costs – When we don’t express our emotions people don’t know about our emotional state, and we end up missing out on their support and also bonding with them. We end up looking inauthentic and insincere, as it is not easy to push away emotions all the time successfully, and sometimes we fail at it. Lastly suppressing emotions is hard work! It takes up a lot of mental energy and space, and makes it hard for the suppressor to remain engaged and put in the effort required to maintain close relationships.

Releasing emotions in a healthy way 
However one may argue that expressing intense negative emotions like anger may not be socially acceptable. Also if negative emotions like anger are expressed in unhealthy ways, the guilt that follows may end up intensifying them.

They key is our ability to recognise the emotion when it happens and then process and express it. We could follow these steps to do this in a healthy way –

  1. Calm down– Become aware of how your body is feeling. Are you breathing in a shallow or deep way? Now take a few deep breaths. Then by diaphragmatic breathing (deep breathing while your stomach pushes out on the inhale), you can activate your vagus nerve. This nerve is responsible for regulating emotions, and when we take deep mindful breaths, we are literally massaging the intensity of our emotions. You could also go for a walk or run to help calm down.
  2. Identify the emotion– Simply acknowledging your emotion reduces its intensity, making it profoundly easier to manage. When you identify what is bothering you—”I’m feeling angry right now”—your frontal lobe gets to work. That brain region helps with problem solving and validates your experience, which can help you start to feel better.
  3. Self-compassion– Realize that we as humans experience all emotions, both positive and negative. Practice self-compassion; try not to invalidate yourself with dismissive or unhealthy self-talk about what you are feeling. Speak to yourself like how a good friend would talk to you.
  4. Analyse the emotions vis a vis the situation– Identify whether your emotion and its intensity are appropriate given the present situation. Is it an over reaction because of an aberration in your personality due to past experiences?
  5. Express yourself– Different ways work for different people. Breathing, mindfulness and meditation, art and creative activities, journal writing and sharing with loved ones are all be healthy ways of expressing and releasing emotions. If you feel like someone has been unfair or crossed your boundaries then communicating your needs to that person in a calm manner will help.

The Clinical Theory implies that there is an optimum level between total suppression and total expression, which, during adulthood, a person must find in order to protect their physical and mental being.

We use the Bach Flower Remedy Agrimony to help those who suppress their negative emotions behind a cheerful face. The Agrimony personality type doesn’t like to face problems and so she/ he pretends that they don’t exist. It follows that they don’t share their problems either. They dislike confrontations. When forced to face facts they turn to distractions and drinks to dull their senses.

Agrimony helps them sleep better, as suppressed emotions resurface at night, and there is very little at that time they can distract themselves with. After taking the remedy, gradually they realize that they need to face problems and start sharing. Their cheerfulness then is genuine and is no longer a facade or pretense.

Olive Tree promotes wellbeing through healing with and learning Bach Flower Remedies. As practitioners of alternative medicine our aim is to enhance wellness and healing by restoring the mind and body harmony.

Our services include Bach Flower Therapy consultation (at our centre in New Delhi, and online worldwide) and a Bach Centre UK certified short distance learning programme which can be taken from any place worldwide and will empower you to heal your family and friends and also to start a fulfilling career in alternative medicine. We also sell Bach flower essences. To know more call us on 9717146337 or write to us on info@olive-tree.in.