“Who swallows too much eventually drowns”, says an old Spanish proverb. Freud also warned us of the dangers involved in stifling the feelings by saying, “The repressed emotions never die, they are buried alive and sooner or later they will come out in the worst way.”
In fact, sometimes popular wisdom finds support in science. In some cases, repressing our feelings and thoughts, for fear of offending others or showing us vulnerable, can end up causing harm to ourselves. The emotions and feelings that accumulate hurt us in silence, become ghosts that damage our body and mind.
If you do not express what you feel, you will not be able to defend yourself
If you do not express your discomfort, it is likely that the person who is hurting you is not fully aware of the consequences that his words or attitudes have on you. Many times we hope that the others will realize that they are exceeding the limit, that they can imagine our feelings and thoughts.
Those that we have next are not fortune tellers and, even if it is true that they can sense some things, at times they may be too absorbed in themselves to realize the negative impact of their words or their behavior. Therefore, it is up to us to point out to them that they are damaging us. We must find a balance between the times when it is wiser to keep quiet and those where we need to speak to defend our needs and protect our emotional balance.
The repressed emotions are transformed into psychosomatic problems
Mind and body form a unity, so it is not strange that repressed emotions and feelings end up expressing themselves through psychosomatic problems. A very interesting study conducted at the University of Aalto revealed how different emotions affect our body, generating different reactions. Repressed anger, for example, has been associated with twice the risk of suffering a heart attack, which is not strange because the manifest rage is concentrated in the upper part of the body.
It is also known that stress triggers the production of cortisol, a hormone that generates inflammatory processes that are very harmful to the cells of our body and are the basis of serious diseases such as cancer.
In fact, a classical study conducted at Stanford University revealed that people who tend to repress their emotions, classified as “repressive personalities”, react with a greater physiological excitement to difficult situations compared to people who suffer from anxiety.
In general, people who tend to stifle their feelings have a greater risk that they come to light in the form of psychosomatic symptoms, ranging from muscle tension and headaches to gastrointestinal problems, dermatological problems or more serious and complex diseases. The calm given by repression ends up in a high price to pay in terms of health.
Emotional outburst: Expressing your feelings is the key to your well-being
Expressing emotions openly has been considered negatively for a long time. In fact, as children we have been taught that we should not cry or get angry. As a result, many adults have never learned to manage their emotional states assertively, they simply repress them.
The neuroscientists of the University of Wisconsin have seen that the brains of those who have developed a “repressive personality” work relatively differently. In practice, annoying or disturbing messages delay longer before moving from one hemisphere to another. But it does not happen the same with neutral or positive messages, which indicates that it is a reaction learned over time.
However, the emotional outburst is the key to our psychological and physical well-being. Talking about how we feel or how others make us feel, without fear, will allow us develop more mature and authentic interpersonal relationships, helping us to establish healthy limits.
How to do it?
1. Be aware of your emotions and their cause. If a person has always repressed his emotions, it is probable that it will be difficult to deepen them. But it is essential that you learn to identify what you feel, that differentiates anger from resentment, for example, and be able to identify what makes you feel that way. It is a profound exercise of self-knowledge for which it is necessary to expand one’s emotional vocabulary through this list of emotions and feelings.
2. Assume that everything has a limit. The limits are not negative, on the contrary, they allow other people to know how far they can go. If you do not put limits in your relationships, it is likely that eventually others will take advantage of your kindness or ability to resist everything without saying anything, so the rope will be tenser. It is important that these limits guarantee the satisfaction of your needs.
3. Saying what you think does not necessarily have to hurt others. Defending your rights does not imply damaging others. You do not have to turn yourself into a kamikaze of the truth, but stoically endure the criticism and the unhealthy attacks of the toxic people will only hurt you. The ideal is that you learn to say what you think and feel with respect for the other person, but taking a firm position.
4. Look for an assertive way to vent your emotions. You cannot always tell the others what you feel. However, this does not mean you should suffocate those emotions. You can make them emerge using techniques like “the empty chair”, in which you imagine that the person you want to talk with is right in front of you. But you need to be careful because the Iowa State University psychologists have seen that some ways of venting emotions can have the opposite effect, making you feel worse. The key is to find a way to vent the emotions that allow you to recover the lost balance, allowing you to escape the control that those emotions exercised from your unconscious.
Nummenmaaa, L. et. Al. (2014) Bodily maps of emotions. PNAS; 111(2): 646-651.
Davidson, R. J. (2013) The emotional life of your brain. Nueva York: Plume.
Bushman, B. J. (2002) Does Venting Anger Feed or Extinguish the Flame? Catharsis, Rumination, Distraction, Anger, and Aggressive Responding. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin; 28(6): 724-731.
King, A.C. et. Al. (1990) The relationship between repressive and defensive coping styles and blood pressure responses in healthy, middle-aged men and women. J Psychosom Res; 34: 461–471.