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Emotion Suppression: Effects on Mental and Physical Health

May 16, 2011 · 9 Comments

anger faceSometimes when we experience a trauma such as a car accident, witnessing violence or abuse, our minds protect ourselves by shutting off our emotions. The same way our pain receptors shut off to manage intense pain, our mind suppresses strong, negative emotions during times of crises to protect our well-being.

However, suppressing your emotions consciously and deliberately in times when there is no trauma (e.g. death of a family member, loss of a job, argument with a spouse, anxiety for a test, etc.) can lead to damaging effects on your mind and body. Emotion suppression, which essentially is an avoidance of emotion, is a coping strategy that many people employ mistakenly thinking it is healthy or the right thing to do.

Common signs that you use emotion suppression as a coping strategy include

* distracting yourself as a way to keep yourself from reacting

* avoiding talking about the situation because you don’t want to feel negative emotion

* avoiding places, people or objects that remind you of the negative emotions you don’t want to feel

* using substances (such as alcohol or other illicit drugs) to numb the pain

Many cultures, including South Asian culture, believe that emotion suppression is a particularly masculine quality and that emotion expression qualifies you as weak. Unfortunately, no matter how highly it is valued, avoiding your emotions never makes them go away and makes it more difficult for you to manage a similar situation were it to happen in the future.

Research has shown that suppressing or avoiding your emotions in fact can make them stronger. For example, if you are sad because a family member passed away but want to avoid feeling the sadness, you may watch happy movies, try to keep your day as normal as possible and may even talk to friends as if nothing happened. However, the sadness is still present in your mind and a small hiccup in the day may cause you to seemingly overreact to the situation. Even if the object of your emotion is different, this is your body’s way of releasing the pent up emotions. Just as emotion suppression is your body’s way of -protecting you during a trauma, emotion release in a non-traumatic situation is your body’s way of protecting itself from further damage.

Effects of consistent emotion suppression include increased physical stress on your body, including high blood pressure, increased incidence of diabetes and heart disease. In addition, people who engage in emotion suppression regularly rare more likely to experience stiff joints, bone weakness and more illnesses due to lowered immunity.

Research has also shown a connection between avoiding emotions and poor memory as well as more misunderstandings in conversations with others. This is because people who regularly suppress emotion are often less aware of the signals they are sending to others and also less aware of the social cues present in daily conversation. In addition, when one or both partners engage in regular emotion suppression, communication skills often decline resulting in unhealthy relationship patterns and decreased satisfaction in the marriage.

Finally, men and women who avoid emotions, especially negative ones, are more likely to experience high anxiety and depression in their lifetime.

While emotion expression is not always socially appropriate (e.g. you may not be able to burst into tears if in a job interview if you get negative feedback), the importance is to be able to find a time soon after the situation to express your emotions in a healthy manner.

For tips and guidance on how to best manage your emotions, please contact a local mental health professional for a consultation.

How do you manage your emotions? Please leave your ideas below.

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9 responses so far ↓

  • Dwayne K Jackson // September 10, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Reply

    i bottle my emotions ever since i was young and at the age of 21 im starting to see the effects of bottling your emotions. its really frustrating at times especially when it comes to sex. the anxiety just overcomes you and puts you in a bad spot. ever heard of performance anxiety? well, bottling your emotions makes that more of a problem then ever. I cant ever do what i want because of this anxiety and really is starting to piss me off. im writing this comment in hopes that men and women can avoid shruging off their emotions like they are nothing, a habit that is viewed highly in society. That will affect you later in life.
    Excuse my grammer english isnt my first language.

  • ron // May 4, 2013 at 8:28 am | Reply

    i’m suffering from anxiety disorder nd depression.i was unable to form and maintain relationships with people,unable to form bonds.i wanted to but cud not.i cud not understand others’ emotions and also had a tough time understanding mine.i had no social or to be precise no emotional is not that i was emotionless but cud never understand them.this unexprssed emotional build up throughout my childhood slowly and steadily formed an anxiety disorder and depression.i wanted an answer and doubted that i wasn’t leading an emotionally healthy life.after reading this piece of info i’m sure it was a case of emotional i was reading i could actually recall that yes this is what was happening.i unconsciously avoided my emotions cause of some irrational fears,and then slowly started avoiding people nd social events as well.

    Now that after so much suffering, having realized the problem i hope now i can correct it,be more accepting to my emotions and release them and be free and happy.

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  • mark randall lamoste // June 8, 2013 at 10:08 pm | Reply

    more often, im having emotional suppression and try to escape the reality by listening to negative thoughts or social problems that i engaged into. evenhtough im reading some articles about this issues and even coolecting advicers from manyu friends, i still can not able to cope up with and cant express my emmotions against my father. me and my dad dont have a good relationship since childhood. He is alcoholic, smoking, a high school graduate and dont even like to accept defeats, suggestions, and comments. If u wished to argue to him, he burst-out and gone wild like breaking al the figurines inside our house and it made me scared fron then on. I cant express my emotions towards him because im scared. i used to elude or make excuses not to communicate with him due to my wrath and anger to him. What shall i do?

  • chris // October 29, 2013 at 10:24 am | Reply

    i’m not like many people i live by bearing my burdens and stresses alone. i NEVER tell anyone when I am feeling down. I have been suppressing my emotions and at times i feel my Anger on the verge of exploding into extreme rage. i do my best to bat back this rage, and frustration I’ve held for years. If I explode in Rage i’ll hurt many peoples feelings. i still feel angry at my father.

  • Jonas // November 11, 2013 at 9:02 am | Reply

    Hi Mark! My father is somewhat similar to yours, at least he has some common personality traits. And I used to avoid communicating with him, just like you. I found myself waiting for him to take the initiative, before understood that if a change was going to happen, I had to make it happen. So I started making these walks with him. And I focused really hard on avoiding putting blame. I only told him what I felt, in situations that had occured from childhood unitl now, basically what was on my heart.
    I wanted to avoid agitating him, and at the same time teaching myself and him to express emotions in a good way. We are still in this process and it has been really hard. But I think i can see some change in the positive direction.

  • Levi // September 2, 2014 at 1:33 am | Reply

    Addition- I haven’t ever had any big trauma accept when my grandma died (we were extremely close) but even when she passed I didn’t feel a thing

  • hari // October 27, 2014 at 11:35 am | Reply

    Controlling emotions was a usual practice for me from my father was a too stub on kind of person and had always suppressed me through out my life.I was so sick mentally that I wanted my partner to be a simple and lovable girl.but I got a wife who have a disorder.she is more violent than father it seems and shouts and make violent actions in public for very silly reasons not only with me but with the state is like there’s nobody to discuss and I have keep silent.this is happening to me for many years. I think the only way out is to become a saint and meditate for the rest of my life.

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