When repressing emotions becomes destructive

14 December, 2020 / Mateusz

Being able to control your emotions is a sign of maturity, but it can also have repercussions. Why do we actually repress emotions? When should we react and when should we be restrained? Is consciously repressing emotions a good way to deal with stress?

The art of maturity

Keeping your nerves in check is one way to deal with stress and its effects, to avoid conflicts, and negotiate success. However, in a situation where this type of tension is accumulated for too long or occurs too often, it can lead to disturbing reactions and attitudes, e.g., closing in on oneself or experiencing outbursts of rage.

When we watch moving scenes in a film, we can notice a faster heartbeat, tears flowing to our eyes, and a tightening in the throat or stomach. They are natural and physiological symptoms of what we feel, reflected in facial expressions. For example, if someone is at a cinema watching a scene of heart surgery, their face will show fear, disgust or both. These are involuntary, aimless reactions that constitute a natural and involuntary expression of emotions. Have you ever wondered what would happen if we tried to stop these spontaneous reactions and pretend indifference?

The furious patient recovers faster

It is true that indifference in social relationships does come in handy sometimes. When a child at school ignores taunts, they may eventually end up stopping them. The negotiator can get a more profitable deal, and the poker player can confuse his opponents. However, what does the research say? One of the psychological experiments with patients in hospitals showed that those who express dissatisfaction, are more difficult, argue more often with doctors, etc., recover faster (!) than those who politely follow all orders and never rebel.

Interestingly, according to specialists, if a person restrains himself from revealing the pain he experiences, he is able to bear a greater load of pain than when he begins to share it. If a child refrains from crying, he will be subjectively less affected by its effects, but at the same time, the time of experiencing this emotion will be longer. This is a significant difference. While suppressed emotions become weaker, they take longer and are harder to break free. “I catch fire, I explode, but I will burn, and it passes over me” – this is how some describe the state of experiencing. If they suppressed their feelings, the anger would be less violent but last longer. It is as though expressing bad emotions burns them out.

When the body is at odds with the mind

We have written many times about the fact that in order to maintain mental and physical health, we must learn to read the signals coming from both our mind and body. The lack of this integration and its effects are also visible in the suppression of emotions. After the readings of the apparatus examining human physiological reactions, it can be seen that when we want to hide our true emotions with all our might, our blood pressure rises, sweating and muscle tension increases and breathing speeds up. The body starts to function as if it were in an emergency. Conclusion? Suppressing emotions leads to many psychosomatic diseases, that is, those that are difficult to “pair” with other ailments or justify with research results. These include chronic insomnia, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, skin diseases, and even depression.