In this article, we’ll discuss two closely related phenomena- suppressing emotions and emotional numbness.
Suppose something very bad happens to you that causes you a great deal of emotional pain. Now there are three possible things that you could do:
- Fix whatever went wrong if possible.
- Express your bad emotions if you can’t fix what went wrong.
- Suppress your emotions by denying that something painful happened to you.
While actions 1 and 2 are the most appropriate ways to deal with your emotions, action 3, on the other hand, can have very harmful effects on your psyche and well-being.
What are suppressed emotions?
Suppressed emotions are simply emotions that you choose not to acknowledge therefore failing to act on them or expressing them in a healthy way. One fact you need to be aware of is that emotions can never be suppressed and ‘have’ to leak out in one way or the other so it makes no sense trying to suppress them.
It’s because suppressed emotions are nothing but you carrying extra energy that you did not dissipate.
All things have a natural tendency to become more stable by releasing extra energy and you are no different. Suppressed emotions have to leak out so that you may become psychologically stable.
Consider the example of an employee who gets scolded and shouted at by his boss for a petty reason. This obviously makes him angry but he doesn’t redirect this anger back to his boss for the fear of losing his job or not remaining in the good books of his boss.
So what happens with his suppressed anger? How does he get rid of his feelings of anger?
He dumps them on his helpless juniors and yells at them. What if he didn’t manage to dump his anger on his juniors due to some unavoidable reasons?
He goes home and dumps it on his wife and children.
Effects of suppressing emotions
As you just saw, suppressing our emotions when they need to be expressed causes us to dump them elsewhere on innocent people if we are not careful. If we keep on suppressing our negative emotions they get buried in our subconscious which often results in mood swings, unexplained sadness, and mild depression. If, in the future, we face any problem, we won’t just feel bad because of the current problem but also because of these suppressed emotions that we are holding on to.
Therefore the intensity of our bad emotions will be more than others who face similar problems!
Suppressed emotions can also leak out in the form of dreams or nightmares. If you are trying to hide an emotion in your life then it will get expressed in your dreams. If you continue to leave the emotion unexpressed, you might even get recurring dreams about it.
Suppressing negative emotions can cause depression, low self-esteem and in some extreme cases physical illnesses! Research has shown that a large number of illnesses have psychological reasons that are directly or indirectly related to stress.
Sometimes we are not able to consciously suppress our emotions because of the regularity with which they occur. We get so used to their presence that we no longer detect them. This is called emotional numbness. It’s like how a new piece of clothing makes you uncomfortable at first. But after some time you get so used to it that its presence doesn’t bother you anymore. That’s numbness.
Even though you’re no longer aware of these emotions you became numb to, whenever something bad happens in the future, they will resurface increasing the intensity of your bad emotions. (see accumulated problems from the past)
It’s so common to hear the phrase “We live in stressful times” that I’ve gotten sick of it. It’s as if we are required to consider continuous stress as something normal and therefore not bother about eliminating it.
Truth is the people who use that phrase are the ones who got so much exposed to stress that they became numb to it and think that it is normal and the way things should be instead of finding the reasons behind their stress and eliminating them.
Emotions should never be suppressed but acknowledged and dealt with by doing something about them like taking actions to fix what went wrong. If that’s not possible then expressing your emotions in some is a good option.
You can express your emotions by talking about them, writing about them, redirecting them to the right people or even by pummelling a poor punching bag ruthlessly.
Hanan Parvez (M.B.A., M.A. Psychology) has written 300+ articles at www.psychmechanics.com, a blog with over 3 million views and 100k monthly visitors. His work has been featured on Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur.