Most of us can honestly say that we spend a lot of time and energy repressing emotions, or otherwise finding ways to avoid facing them. This is especially true when it comes to experiencing unpleasant emotions, such as sadness, loneliness, grief, anger, or anxiety.
Avoiding those feelings by simply refusing to acknowledge their existence may seem like an obvious way to deal with them and move on. In reality, suppressing emotions actually makes us more unhappy, frustrated, and unable to deal with life’s ups and downs. There is also a lot of pressure in our society to always act cheerful and optimistic, but doing so can actually end up doing more harm than good.
What exactly is repressing emotions?
Experts agree that emotional suppression is a form of emotional regulation that helps us make unpleasant feelings more manageable. But the problem with suppressing emotions is that while it may temporarily relieve emotional pain, it only serves to exacerbate the problem in the long run. This is especially true when people use drugs, alcohol, or other harmful behaviors to do so. But emotional repression isn’t always so obvious.
In fact, most people aren’t even aware of how and when they are doing it. It takes a lot of work and self awareness to begin to understand the emotions we are trying to repress and how we do so in our day to day lives. For anyone in eating disorder recovery, this is an important step toward building a healthier life and preventing a relapse.
The harm that emotional repression can cause.
Research has been done into the effects of suppressing emotions, and the results are quite interesting. It turns out that a sort of rebound effect occurs when an individual makes an effort to repress specific thoughts or mental images. Instead of disappearing, the thought or image occurred at a much higher rate and made repressing it increasingly difficult.
As a result, a painful memory or emotion becomes stronger and causes more turmoil in the long run. As an individual continues to try and suppress their emotional turmoil, a vicious cycle develops. It comes as no surprise that emotional suppression has been linked to a number of psychological disorders, such as PTSD, OCD, and bipolar disorder.
Finding healthy strategies for dealing with emotions.
The only way to escape a vicious cycle of repression and ensure a healthy recovery is to find new, healthier strategies for coping with unpleasant emotions. There is no way to avoid uncomfortable feelings, as they are a natural part of life. The only thing you have control over is the way you deal with those feelings as they arise.
Emotional acceptance is an important skill that you can develop. As we feel sadness, anger, fear, or regret, our natural reaction is often to push the feelings away. Instead of giving into that impulse, emotional acceptance asks that we turn our full attention to those feelings and experience them fully. Allow the emotion to exist without trying to judge or explain its existence.
By doing this, we teach ourselves that we don’t need to control emotions and that they cannot control us. We see our feelings as temporary states that come and go throughout our lives. A good way to increase our awareness of emotions is to practice mindful meditation, daily journaling, or individual therapy sessions. Learning to become aware of and regulate emotions builds a strong base for recovery and a healthier, more balanced emotional life.