Many people are quick to stuff their emotions or deny them. Sometimes this is a long standing behaviour, a habit that a person has developed or a defence mechanism. I’ve even heard people say ‘if I were to ever go there I would lose it!’ Indeed, that is what a person may feel like if they have stuffed their emotions/feelings for a long time. This is actually a misbelief about how feelings work and it keeps people from moving through these pile-ups toward healing and freedom. Let’s look at some of the negatives that come from stuffing emotions or denying them.
- Stuffing emotions invalidates the feeling you are having. Why is this problematic? Well, if your red gas tank light kicks on your dashboard while you are driving do you really want to ignore it? Feelings are a lot like those warning lights. Sometimes the messages are very minimal and just giving awareness. When that happens, you feel sad or disappointed. If we invalidate those emotions or judge them we cause the feelings to pile up and like everything that piles up, it’s gotta go somewhere at some point and it’s gonna come out sideways if you don’t address it.
- Stuffing emotions over the long haul causes us to become afraid of our emotions and therefore do a lot of flat lining. Flat lining as you can imagine isn’t a good thing! It literally means to deaden. “Clear…grab the paddles and hit him again!” Some might think that flat lining is better than feeling those unpleasant or painful emotions. The problem with this theory is that emotions are on a continuum and if we flatten one side (the painful emotions) we flatten them all. Therefore we don’t really feel pleasant emotions like love, joy, peace and satisfaction. And frankly, we still feel miserable!
- Stuffing emotions can create addictions and other ways of detaching from life. If you are detached not only do you ‘not feel’ you virtually check out and go onto auto-pilot. This may seem like a good idea at times! Who doesn’t want to miss out on chaos and conflict? The problem with detachment is that it doesn’t help you to recharge or recover from a rough day, having good down time does that. Detachment also requires putting ourselves in a place of disconnect from ourselves which isn’t meant to happen — enter addiction, eating disorders, substance abuse, etc.
- Stuffing emotions is like sticking your head in the sand. The old ostrich pose! Stick your head in the sand and pretend you are unaware of all that is going on around you. In my experience this leaves a wide open target to get kicked!
Dealing with your emotions is not a scary as you think. Nor is it pointless or a waste of time. Emotions are a hard-wired reaction to what is happening in us and around us — we can’t not feel! The emotions serve an essential role in keeping us emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually healthy. They give us information about what our valid needs are so that we can meet them more effectively. For example, anger lets us know when we are being violated in some way. Anger can also give us strength to face something difficult. Fear can spark courage and potentially save our life. Loneliness prompts us to reach out and get connection. Sadness lets us know that we need some comfort. Don’t get me wrong, feelings are not meant to drive! They are just feelings. But they are meant to give us information and help us navigate life. Consider them. Don’t judge them as being stupid or silly. Just notice them. Validate them. You can learn how to recognize and regulate your emotions. Doing so helps you to become more balanced, healthy and well.