The “Great British stiff upper lip”, “be calm”, “never let them know you are bothered” and so on. These are all messages we get about not showing our emotions to others, but realistically this is not a great thing to do, and in fact this is really bad for us.
So why don’t we show our emotions? There are many reasons and inevitably everyone is different but here are a few –
- Fear of conflict – we often don’t want to upset other people, or even worse, make them angry. There is also the fear of disapproval if we say what we feel and sometimes we believe that good people/relationships don’t have disagreements
- Passive/aggressive – we all have elements of this in our personality but for some people the way to deal with emotions and conflict is the ‘silent treatment’. We do this to others in the often-vain attempt to make them guilty so that they can suffer too.
- Fear of weakness – we can feel that if we show our emotions or confront someone about an issue then we are weak and vulnerable. For some of us, emotions like anxiety, sadness and even anger are a sign of our vulnerability, and we feel we may be rejected or belittled if we let others know. Our culture applies this to men who have ‘to man up’.
- Hopelessness – for some of us we get trapped in the thought process that there is no point in showing our emotions, as no one is listening, no-one cares and nothing will change. Of course, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and once we give up we establish a one down position in life and we remain hopeless.
- Mind Reading – we often believe others ‘should’ know what we feel and need. How many times have we heard “if you don’t know I’m not telling you”. However, other people do not know what we feel or what we need, and all that leaves us with is a feeling of resentment and an excuse to be passive aggressive.
- Burning Martyr – we don’t want the other person to know they have upset us or we are angry with them as we don’t ‘want to give them the satisfaction’. This level of control of our emotions means the other person is never aware we are being affected and we simply remain upset and resentful.
So, when we hold our emotions inside several things happen to us. Firstly we actually lose our ability to remember events. The emotions attached to an event are part of the memory process and if we deny the emotion our brain must resolve the decision to store the memory with the fact that we do not want to remember the emotion.
“Suppressing our emotions can lead to serious mental health issues, as the brain is not free to do all the processes it is designed to do”
We get tired, even exhausted, as our brains try very hard to forget the situation we don’t want to feel the emotion about. Our brain is also processing new information and emotions all the time while remembering to forget the emotion we don’t want to feel. This results in brain strain and tiredness as the more we try to ignore the emotion the more exhausted we are.
We lose sleep when we are unable to let our emotions out, as our brain remains working to forget emotions when we should be sleeping and processing. The lack of sleep will then affect the brain as it tries the following day to carry on as normal. This can result in exhaustion and a vicious circle begins.
Scarily, suppressing our emotions can lead to serious mental health issues, as the brain is not free to do all the processes it is designed to do. The brain become strained and sick, unable to see reality as suppressing emotions is not reality. A false reality has been created and we can become depressed or anxious and turn to addictive substances.
Unbelievably, when we hold our emotions inside we can put on weight as when our brain denies an emotion it puts the body into stress mode which then releases hormones to get us ready for fight/flight etc. These hormones suppress our appetites for a short period of time, then as most of the hormones dissipate Cortisol remains which will then increase our appetite to compensate. Cortisol sometimes also stores in our midsections as “visceral fat.” Visceral fat is considered the culprit of a “big belly.”
The constant stress of holding back emotions makes us physically ill. Both our immune and digestive systems are strained and we become vulnerable to diseases like coughs and cold which we simply can’t get rid of. Our digestive tract is directly connected to the brain’ In fact we have a mini brain in our gut, and as the brain is strained by stopping us feel emotions the gut is affected and IBS, Colitis and other even more serious issues develop.
The body remembers trauma and painful events too, if the emotions connected with these issues are not expressed mysterious aches and pains may follow.
Sometimes we need to re-learn how to feel and express emotions., For some people just writing down emotions may re-start the process or even ‘faking it till you make it’ can work. By writing down each day the following:
I feel angry because…
I feel sad because…
I feel guilty because…
I feel ashamed of…
I feel happy because…
However, for some of us opening up to our feelings again is really difficult as its been too long or its just doesn’t feel safe to have them. We need counselling then, someone to guide us and help us find our feeling and somewhere to be safe to express them.
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