As human beings, we have a natural need to express our emotions and feelings, whether positive or negative. Human minds are like an assembly-line of emotions, where there is a continuous production of various emotions: interest, enthusiasm, boredom, laughter, empathy, action, and curiosity, are expressions of positive emotions. Expressed in their negative forms, they become apathy, grief, fear, hatred, shame, blame, regret, resentment, anger, and hostility. When we suppress our emotions, for any number of social or self-imposed reasons, it can have profound implications on our health, both physically and mentally.
In this article I will delve into the reasons why we suppress our emotions, the adverse effects of such suppression on our health, and why we need to find ways for expressing or releasing our emotions from time to time.
Why Do We Suppress Our Emotions?
The propensity to suppress emotions arises due to diverse reasons, ranging from societal norms that dictate the acceptability of certain expressions to personal fears and limitations. For example, we may suppress our anger towards our boss because of fear of losing our jobs. Or, we may suppress our feelings of love for someone because of fear of rejection.
Whatever the reason, when we suppress an emotion, the energy of that emotion does not go away. Instead, it remains as pent-up energy inside the deeper recesses of our mind.
Suppression Causes Illness
Emotional suppression causes physical harm, dysfunction and illness. Emotion is sometimes referred to as Energy-in-Motion. Inhibiting the free flow of emotional energies causes serious damage to our physical, mental, and spiritual aspects.
Think of a balloon with limited capacity. If you go on inflating it without release, it will lead to a gradual build-up, ultimately culminating in an outburst. Likewise, stifling of emotions leads to its gradual build-up until it can’t hold anymore. This can result in an outburst that can be physically and mentally harmful.
Unexpressed, stuffed emotions, besides causing psychological problems, also contribute to the emergence of several physical health problems. Medical science has established that our thoughts and emotions “talk” to our cells. Ever since the 1970s, scientists have been building a case for this. The outcome is a fascinating area of study called psychoneuroimmunology, or PNI. PNI says the mind and emotions [psyche] communicate with the nervous [neuro] and immune [immunology] systems, both to their detriment, or advantage, depending on whether it is consciously or unconsciously directed, and depending on the content of that communication.
It is, therefore, imperative that we understand just how badly emotional suppression injures us. Suppression is not limited to just the negative or “bad” emotions. Regardless of the nature of emotions, when they get stuck, they become physiological problems for the body. In fact, all emotions are healthy because they are what tie the mind and body together, explains Candace Pert, PhD, in Molecules of Emotion. What’s important is to avoid a build-up, to let go of them, so they don’t fester, build, or escalate uncontrollably.
Release Your Emotions
Psychotherapists place a lot of importance on emotional catharsis, which implies purging, or throwing out, unwanted and immobilising emotions. For example, crying is a very potent cathartic act. It allows you to release the pent-up feeling of extreme sadness. Other ways of catharsis could be writing your feelings down, talking with your friends, or indulging in a creative exploit such as painting, singing, or playing a musical instrument.
The emphasis is on preventing emotional stagnation and fostering a dynamic balance between expression and containment.
6 Effective Strategies for Emotional Release
Develop Emotional Tolerance
While expressing emotions is healthy, it would be wise not to go overboard and indulging your every feeling and emotion without any regard to consequences. You need to learn to temper your emotions with an attitude of tolerance.
Tolerance involves understanding that emotional build-up can be mitigated by suspending judgment about oneself and others. By accepting that not everything will always align with personal expectations, individuals can develop resilience in the face of life’s uncertainties. Tolerance, as a virtue, offers a pathway to emotional fulfillment, encouraging adaptability to unforeseen circumstances.
The Dangers of Emotional Suppression
Grace, thirty-six, had an embarrassing problem: she chronically pulled her hair out the way other people bite their fingernails. Her scalp was a mess of patchy, straggly hair and great gaps where she had ripped the hair out. Grace went to Dr Joseph Riccioli, MD, ND, a physician and naturopath practicing in Clifton, New Jersey, US, who uses clinical hypnosis to help patients get over depression, cancer, and other serious health problems. In the course of working with Grace, Dr Riccioli learned that she was using the hair-pulling as a way to discharge stress and tension associated with two traumatic events earlier in her life, in the thrall of which emotions she was still gripped. As a child, she had been publicly humiliated in school, and in early adulthood, her husband became an active alcoholic and deserted their marriage. Grace thought these two events happened because of her and, therefore, she deserved to be punished for them, even though she couldn’t figure out why. Her pent-up, conflicted anger was expressed through her hair-pulling; because, she couldn’t find rest or resolution with respect to these two intense experiences, she was transiting back and forth continuously from her present age and those earlier times. Once she understood the connection and remembered the earlier experiences clearly and in full, she was able to discharge the old emotions and stop pulling her hair, says Dr Riccioli.
Another of Dr Riccioli’s patients, Vera, forty-two, was a woman with angry ovaries. She had a serious case of ovarian cancer and was about to undergo surgery. Dr Riccioli learned Vera had endured a highly abusive marital relationship, such that she at times had to lock herself in a room to protect herself from her husband. She knew she had a lot of anger towards him, but had stuffed it away inside herself and never dealt with it. “Vera never dealt with her anger and it eventually turned into guilt,” and she assumed she must have done something wrong to provoke her husband, notes Dr Riccioli.
— Excerpted from The Healthy Living Space: 70 Practical Ways to Detoxify the Body and Home by Richard Leviton. Courtesy: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Charlottesville, VA 22902, US.
A version of this article first appeared in the March 2007 issue of Complete Wellbeing magazine (print edition)
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