On Supressing Emotions
Suppressing our feelings is an extremely common and often useful, coping mechanism. But if overused, or if the feelings are too strong, there often comes a time when this way of coping is no longer possible.
I like to use the analogy of holding a beach ball under water. If you have ever tried to hold something extremely buoyant under water (like a beach ball), you know that it takes some effort. The further you try to push the beach ball down, and the longer you hold it under, the harder it gets. Eventually, your arms start to get tired and instead of gently bobbing to the surface, the beach ball explodes out of the water. This of course, is what happens to emotions when we suppress them too often, we lose control of them (or at least it feels like we do) and they end up exploding on the surface (often out of our eyeballs). For long time emotional suppressers, this can feel very frightening.
If this analogy resonates with you, here are some other ways to cope with emotions:
1. Go to therapy! This is probably the last thing you want to do because it is the place where you are pretty likely to experience emotions. However, therapy is the perfect safe space, to talk about and experience emotions gradually. It is a controlled, appropriate setting, with a professional, where you won’t be alone, (which are all helpful factors in experiencing emotion safely).
2. Try allowing yourself to experience emotions in non-threatening scenarios. Your emotions need an outlet. Are there less personal situations/triggers you feel are comfortable and appropriate to express emotion around? Do Disney movies make you cry? Try using these safer triggers for emotional expression. Make sure to manage the situation, for example: engage with these things on your own, or with a trusted friend or partner, and when you’re free to stay home or somewhere safe.
3. Remind yourself what the experts (therapists) can tell you about emotions: whatever you are currently feeling, it won’t last forever. I promise. No one has cried or experienced any emotion forever. That’s the great thing about feelings: they pass. Emotions are not dangerous. I promise. They are necessary, and the more you allow yourself to feel them, the less giant and overwhelming they will feel.
4. Examine your beliefs about emotions and emotional expression and then try to challenge them. Do you think showing emotion is weak, or unsafe, or foolish? If so, why? How did you come to believe this? How true are these beliefs? Do you hold other people in your life to these same emotional standards? How do you feel about emotional expression in other people? What is the fear around changing your beliefs about emotions? Examining ways of thinking or feeling about feelings can be a great step in becoming more comfortable with emotions. (and these are all questions your therapist will probably ask you)
5. Learn ways to self-soothe and manage your emotions. Sometimes people who suppress emotions are not sure how to take care of themselves when emotions come up. Try out some different ways of coping and self-soothing and see what works for you. This will give you a foothold next time you’re in the midst of an emotional storm. Here are some links to self-soothing techniques:
For more help managing emotions, and anything else you might bring to therapy, contact us to get matched with a therapist.